Mary Carol Garrity — the Midwest’s answer to Martha Stewart — was in Omaha last week to share holiday decorating inspiration at a luncheon sponsored by the Lauritzen Gardens Guild.
Known nationwide for her Nell Hill’s home decorating stores in her hometown of Atchison, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., Garrity has spent the last 30 years helping fans create enviable living spaces.
In her Omaha presentation, Garrity referenced elements in her 140-year-old Greek Revival home in Atchison, which she opens to the public for two days each November.
This year’s theme — executed by the Nell Hill’s team — is a soft and serene ode to Mother Nature.
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“Great greens” are at the heart of the displays. Fallen branches, faux pine boughs, pine cones and red berries, some dusted with artificial snow, ice or sugar, lend a bit of shimmer.
One household item may be the hero of the decor.
“Zip-Lock ties are our best friend,” Garrity told her Omaha audience, referring to the team’s method of holding decorations in place on banisters, chandeliers and other areas.
There was a time when Garrity only wanted to decorate with real greens because she loved the aroma and natural look. But now that artificial greens have become so authentic in appearance, Garrity uses them almost exclusively.
“They’re so tidy. They don’t drip sap or drop needles.”
Her “new” favorite is magnolia garland with showy white blooms. She uses it throughout her home, starting at the front door. Her most dramatic displays are a combination of magnolia garland entwined with evergreen garland.
For Garrity, trees are an indulgence. She has several throughout her home, and each has its own personality. The tree in her dining room is dressed with an array of orbs made from organic materials, including pine cones, reeds and wicker. A few white pine cones break up the mostly brown, tan and green color scheme. The tree is topped with a pheasant resting just below a plume of frost-kissed floral picks.
“What is outside your window can look great in your holiday celebration,” she said. Take a walk and gather things of beauty that catch your eye — a fallen bird’s nest, a cluster of acorns, dried branches.”
“I usually go for shock and awe on my dining room table,” Garrity said. “The table is a stage just waiting for a story.” This year, she decorated with a woodsy cluster of tall, glittery branches in small pots in the middle of the table. She perched a few small birds on the branches for added interest.
Other tips for enviable displays
>> Berry garland screams Christmas so loudly that you don’t have to add much else to create a cheery display. Run a string of berry-laced garland down the center of a buffet or mantel. Loop it through the arms of a dining chair. Adorn statuary with a playful sprig or two. Berry wreaths also look cheery in front of mirrors, pictures and window sashes.
>> Magnolia stems and long-needle pine garland, boughs and picks are great for adding texture and color without bulk to mantel displays. Garrity’s mantel features a lush mix of greenery in varied heights. Pine and magnolia stems star among boxwood topiaries, small pots of white narcissus and silver trees and balls.
>> Dress up a banister with miles of garland. Divide your banister into three even sections. Mark the beginning of each section with a twist of green pipe cleaner. Swag the garland using the pipe cleaner as your anchoring point.
>> Trees need height for visual impact. Garrity loves the effect of trees in urns. Start with a 3-foot pedestal-style urn and a 5-foot tree. Set the base of the tree in the urn, securing it so that the tree stands straight. Place the potted tree in a corner of your room or on a small table in the room’s middle. “It’s half the lights; half the ornaments and half the time,” Garrity says. “And it looks substantial.”
>> Protect your mantel by creating a plywood base for your display. Cut the plywood to the dimension of your mantel and paint the wood to match. When the paint is dry, staple artificial greens along the length of the board. For the best effect, allow sprigs to dangle irregularly over the edge. Set the board on your mantel and fill in with other decorative elements, including battery-operated LED lights. After the holidays, simply wrap the board in plastic and store for future use.
>> Don’t overlook your ceilings. Dress up chandeliers and pendant light fixtures with greenery, red berries and pine cone spikes. Gather and arrange your stems, then secure with Zip-Lock ties. Position your creation among the arms of the chandelier and use ties to hold them in place.