- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Plotting home decor for the holidays can stretch the budget as well as the imagination. However, the former need not shortchange the latter, suggests Mike McCann, co-owner with his wife, Carole, of Greenworks, a floral and decorating firm responsible for dressing up many of the city’s best-known hotels at Christmastime.

“If you are working on a budget, don’t try to do the whole house,” he advises. “Don’t take $200 and do every nook and cranny. You want to impact the spots, and rooms that you use frequently — especially if you plan to do any entertaining. Take one or two areas and blow it out.”

The best approach is to think of the project as an investment in future years, to be selective and spend wisely, Mr. McCann says. Someone buying decorative ribbon, for instance, should choose quality brands that can be pressed and used again in future years.

People who like putting garlands around doorways and on top of fireplace mantels should consider using multicolored fabric on garlands of artificial greenery instead of fresh-cut versions.

“The [fresh] stuff dries out and can be dangerous for kids,” he says.

The safety factor enters into other holiday displays as well, as outlined by the nonprofit Home Safety Council, located in the District, which offers detailed tips on its Web site (www.homesafety council.org).

Where candles are concerned, the site emphasizes the importance of never using lighted candles on or within 3 feet of a Christmas tree or other evergreens. All candles should be placed well away from drapes and blinds, and burning candles should be up high, out of reach of children and pets.

Greenworks uses only white electric light clusters on the huge artificial tree the firm has filled with an array of Christmas ornaments and toys in the downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Garlands are trimmed with burgundy and gold-rimmed silk ribbons and fabric to give an air of gaiety and light to the public areas. Shiny balls are strung throughout the garlands. The general effect highlights the hotel’s interior scheme of gold, taupe and rose.

Creative individuals can do likewise by buying unusual and dramatic fabric swatches and novelty items in stores with an eye to turning them into colorful accessories that will match a special area of the home, suggests Terry Smith, in-house florist in charge of decor at the Ritz Pentagon in Pentagon City, decorated this season in what he calls “Della Robbia style.”

Pheasant feathers are included among the garlands filled with pine cones, fruit and berries. Their lobby contains a 12-foot-high gingerbread house lit from within.

It was Mr. Smith’s idea, too, to decorate a long table with several red glass vases containing column candles and surround them with gilded pine cones, foliage and white hydrangeas. The hotel is sponsoring classes conducted by its chef on Dec. 18 to show children how to decorate a gingerbread house with candy trimming.

The Willard Intercontinental, also done by Greenworks, shows some traditional touches in the elaborate use of red ribbons and poinsettias in public areas. But along with a parade of trees lit with all-white bulbs — a decorator trend this season — an outdoor woodsy look prevails in the long ground floor promenade.

There, fantasy reindeer made of metal wire “prance” among white birch branches. (A similar look might be achieved at home by bending old coat hangers into whimsical shapes.)

In their own home this year, the McCanns will decorate their fireplace mantel with fresh red pomegranates and persimmons tucked among fresh mosses and magnolia leaves. “You don’t have to go with sappy pine,” he says. “You can get two weeks’ out of them [fresh fruit].”

The most impressive decor, Mr. McCann notes, incorporates a theme. Thus at the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel, his company did something he calls “off the wall”: a sculptural form consisting of three imported bamboo trees, the highest of which is 12 feet tall. Hand-painted koi fish and stones — familiar oriental elements — are incorporated into the design. “It’s a piece of art,” he says.

A number of Washington’s hotels are considered works of art purely by virtue of their historic significance even before they have put on their Christmas dress. The Corcoran Museum of Art yesterday introduced a new program billed as an insider’s tour of Washington’s historic hotels that had 45 persons taking a look (plus luncheon and tea) inside the Willard, the St. Regis, the Jefferson and the Mayflower.

Led by Leesburg journalist Trish Foxwell, author of the paperback “Historic Hotels and Hideaways,” the group saw some of the oldest and most established hostelries in their seasonal best.

The Willard, associated with the many presidents who have lived or visited there, dates to 1901 on the site of an earlier hotel of the same name that went up in the 1850s. The Jefferson, another beaux-arts style edifice, began life as an apartment building in 1922. The St. Regis, formerly known as the Carlton Hotel, opened its doors in 1926 with President Calvin Coolidge cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

Rob Porachan of Blossoms & Wicks, a special event florist based in Pittsburgh, was in charge of the St. Regis’ decor.

“Christmas trees are a big floral arrangement basically,” he says. “I like to stay away from the expected red, gold and green and think in terms of the image of the place. You approach it by looking at the overall architecture and play off the decor and feel of a room.”

Mr. Porachan applied this idea when deciding on a theme for the three trees on the first floor, in the lobby, the restaurant and the ballroom, keeping in mind that “you have to use safety grade ornaments because there are a lot of children around and you don’t want [the ornaments] to break.”

The restaurant’s tree ornaments consist of miniature wine and champagne bottles and labels reading merlot, cabernet and bordeaux. as well as 5-inch-high tree ornaments that resemble waiters serving trays of food and wine.

Only white lights are used, he says, since “in a lot of places [in the hotel] it is dark and so you need the extra brightness.” The 16-foot-high ballroom tree has a color scheme that basically reflects the terra cotta tones in the room, Mr. Porachan says. Its ornaments include sparkling teardrops and miniature picture frames in gold with a copper-and-green mesh woven throughout. The frames are see-through so branches of the tree remain visible.

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