Decking The Nation's Biggest Halls
On Sunday, Dec. 15, host Genevieve Gorder took viewers inside the nation’s most prestigious address for a behind-the-scenes look at the 2013 White House Christmas decorations. We spoke to Gorder and got her take on the stunning holiday transformation by volunteers.
Although Gorder has visited the White House during the holiday season several times before, she said this was the best year she'd ever seen it.
"This year just knocks my socks off," she said.
Powered by volunteers
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, volunteers spend five days decorating the Executive Mansion for the holiday season. Her one word to sum up the holiday decorating experience at the White House? "Happy."
"You're just so happy. Everyone is happy to see you. Everyone is happy to be there," she said. "It's an incredibly joyous event — however cliche that sounds."
It's a huge honor to get invited to come and decorate the White House, Gorder explained, and "you're operating in this house as if you were decorating your own."
"Everyone learns of the concept right when they get there, so no one's been planning for years, and it's really about play and figuring out just what to do and where to do it and how to do it together and have a really good time, and it always turns out beautiful."
Trends and traditions
Even though she has visited the White House several times for holiday decorating, she describes this year's White House Christmas decor as being "unexpectedly beautiful."
"Its not always so traditional and predictable." The color palette this year has a lot of pinks, taupes, plums and blues. "Blue is trending so hard in interiors, and they definitely brought it into the decorations this year at the White House, from deep teals to sky blues to turquoises."
While the White House Christmas themes are updated annually, the ornaments and decorations are repurposed. There's no wasting, Gorder explained. "The First Lady is adamant about the recycling of everything they use, and they do a really good job."
Every year before they start the decorating process, volunteers dig through storage and pull out old items to reuse. Gorder said they also save holiday decorations from past presidential families.
"If I wanted Jacqueline Kennedy's ornaments, you dig in a box."
The room that will make you cry
Gorder's favorite room in the White House without decorations is the Green Room. "It's beautifully decorated with this silk grosgrain wall covering, and it's just the most sublime green with this warmth and depth to it." She said there's an incredible art collection in the room that will "bring you to your knees."
Her favorite decorated space for the holidays changes each year, and this year it was the East Room "by leaps and bounds."
"It was so off the chain," Gorder said excitedly.
"We had such an incredible exploration with scale and proportion with these enormous paper gold roses that were handmade out of watercolor paper and hand-cut garlands," Gorder described. Items that took weeks to hand prepare were brought into one space for an extraordinary impact.
"The proportions of the room are so enormous you can use such big, oversized crazy things that you can't use in a normal house."
"There's one thing in the Red Room that, when you watch the show, you'll never forget. It almost brought me to tears it was so beautiful," she said.
She wouldn't tell us what it was that caused her to tear up — you gotta watch to find out — but she gave us a hint that it was made of sugar.
Looks good enough to eat
One of the most amazing elements of the White House Christmas is all the different types of edible decor used. A White House replica gingerbread house weighing over 300 pounds typically takes center stage, but this year the team kicked it up a notch.
"Not only did they make a gingerbread house, they made an entire life-sized hearth and fireplace out of cookies!" There's even a working fountain and sugar trees, she mentioned. "It's insane."
While she's never tempted to nibble on the actual gingerbread house (they work on it for months in advance, she pointed out), there are plenty of treats out for her to sample while volunteers are putting it together.
"I'm good friends with those pastry chefs," she boasted.
"There is a 'White House Licker,' though," Gorder explained. "He's one of the technicians that installs it, and he always takes one lick of it before it goes out." A lick for good luck.
Go big or go home
"It's over the top," Gorder described the experience. "It's Christmas to the third power."
Everything is grander, bigger and more opulent, but in a refined way. "It's not Las Vegas," she clarified. To fill an 18-foot tree like the one in the Blue Room you have to have ornaments numbering into the thousands.
The White House is really sophisticated, and there is so much beauty that you have to "complement, not compete with." Gorder says the design team has it down to a science, and every year she is blown away by the gorgeous displays and always walks away with new techniques that she's learned from the pros.
"You're walking on history through such a beautifully designed representation of Christmas. It's really inspiring."
Until you go home and start doing your own Christmas decorations. Then she says it's like, "Well, this sucks, because you were just at the White House and it was so great."
"It was beautiful and I didn't want to leave."
Catch the encore presentation of HGTV's White House Christmas 2013 on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
More holiday decorating inspiration
Photo credits: HGTV