Christmas with a twist: Inspiration from holiday homes tours

Holiday decorating is trending toward the more minimal but, as the recent Homes for the Holidays house tour shows, there are still plenty of ways to add some pop.

Now in its 15th year, the sneak peek into some of Ottawa’s most interesting homes  all decorated for the season by top florists and designers  continues to be a popular draw. More than 1,200 visitors strolled through eight homes last month to get ideas for their own holiday decorating while enjoying homes in a range of architectural styles.

A recurring theme was an effort to decorate using subtle accents that highlighted the features of the homes, rather than blanketing them in the typical red and green.

“A lot of the new way people are decorating is very minimal, very clean lines,” says Elizabeth Young of Flowers Talk Tivoli, which decorated two homes. “This year I felt as if all the designers really worked with the home and they weren’t trying to force the Christmas look. Peoples’ arrangements went with the decor of the home perfectly.”

In the homes Young did, for instance, she sought to complement the contemporary feel of the spaces. Picking up on the “party atmosphere” of one of the homes, which is owned by artists who designed it to be flexible for multiple types of entertaining, Young went with a New Year’s Eve theme. That theme is obvious in the kitchen, where the island is loaded with sparkly champagne bottles and party favours, but elsewhere, the look is understated and elegant.

In the other home, which was built for former Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejad just before he was traded to the New York Rangers, Young took her cue from the home’s warm tones and extensive glazing, using magnolia and lots of natural greenery in unobtrusive ways to reinforce the connection with the outdoors.

This Cowley Avenue home was formerly owned by Ottawa Senator Mika Zibanejad (photo BRIAN T. HUM)

Yet there were still flashes of flamboyance on the tour. A highlight was the eye-popping chandelier in the foyer of a stone bungalow decorated by Rebel Petal Floral Design Studio.

Featuring an upside-down arrangement of burgundy amaryllis and giant pine cones hung from the fixture, it made a stunning statement that set the tone for the home.

“There’s very few flowers where you can do something so whimsical and crazy like that,” says Rebel Petal’s Michelle VandenBosch. “As soon as I walked in the door to have my first look (at the home), I knew we were doing that.”

Preferring a timeless, elegant look – “I’m anti-theme,” VandenBosch says  her goal was to accent the home rather than trying to reinvent it. And while it does feature traditional Christmas touches such as the tree the homeowner wanted to include, it can be enough to decorate seasonally, with seasonal foliage and maybe a bit of red and white, she says.

One of the most understated homes on the tour was a Glebe condo where Karen LeRoy of Alta Vista Flowers took the homeowner’s minimalist leanings to heart, choosing to subtly add to the rooms with small groupings and a white palette.

This condo on Craig Street in the Glebe was decorated by Karen LeRoy of Alta Vista Flowers  (photo BRIAN T. HUM)

“Christmas has become a lot about either being super uber-traditional or very modern and different colour schemes all together. I wanted to try to take a different approach,” she says.

The condo had great outdoor space, so LeRoy put more emphasis on the holiday aspect outside, while keeping the interior “a bit of a winter wonderland-y feel that connected the outdoor space.”

And minimalism was key in the restored Victorian home of designer Henrietta Southam, whose eclectic tastes and love of travel, tradition and great finds meant her home was already stuffed with a carefully curated collection of pieces.

Caity Paine and Krista Sharpe of Mood Moss flowers incorporated home owner designer Henrietta Southam’s decor in their designs.  (photo BRIAN T. HUM)

Calling it a “smorgasbord of awesome” that nevertheless made decorating the home a challenge, Mood Moss Flowers designers Caity Paine and Krista Sharpe knew they had to go with a less-is-more mantra. They combined floral arrangements that drew from the plethora of colour schemes in the home with non-traditional “Christmas-with-a-twist” items from Southam’s own collection to create an overall Christmas feel.

“Our theme was really Henrietta’s taste,” says Paine. “Just be as crazy as we could possibly get with our design because we knew it would work.”


 Advice from the pros

What should homeowners keep in mind when it comes to their holiday decor? Are there certain rules we should live by or should we simply follow our heart? We asked the experts who took part in this year’s Homes for the Holidays tour for their advice, with mixed results.

Do what you love, says Lynette Deir-Mullen of Stoneblossom Floral Gallery. Although an artist and designer, she loves using popcorn in her home to carry on a cherished childhood tradition. “I don’t think there’s any real rule.”

Caity Paine of Mood Moss Flowers agrees.

“It is something that comes from the heart,” she says. “It’s the heart of who you are as a family and what you have inside of your home that speaks to your taste.”

Elizabeth Young at Flowers Talk Tivoli feels it’s important to work with your home. If it has more modern touches, limit traditional ones to areas such as tree ornaments. And rather than a faux garland, opt for a real one. Young prefers a minimal focus, looking for things that will work with your decor, not fight with it, such as simple wreaths of just greenery.

Having a few key elements goes far, says Michelle VandenBosch of Rebel Petal Floral Design Studio. She points to the reindeer that took centre stage in the home she decorated for the tour. It’s a $400 piece, “but he’s the only thing you need in the kitchen,” which helps to keep clutter to a minimum and leave more room for entertaining.

Karen LeRoy of Alta Vista Flowers believes following the design principle of creating a focal point is important. “You’ve got a place for your eye to go,” she says.

She also likes using candlelight for the softness and warmth that it brings. “Softer, natural touches without being overdone … is important and I would encourage people to do that.”

But, having said that, she also feels it’s important to follow your heart and decorate with pieces that are meaningful.

Christmas decor is a personal preference, adds Jessica Barrett of Mill Street Florist. “As picky as I am with decor, I’m really quite goofy when it comes to Christmas … Definitely, follow your heart.”



 Christmas trends

What’s popular in Christmas decor this year? Here’s what designers from this year’s Homes for the Holidays tour are noticing:

Heavy metals: “Gold is back big, but not in a glittery kind of way,” says Elizabeth Young of Flowers Talk Tivoli. Think aged, hammered gold. Other dulled metals, especially silvers that lean into greys, are also hot.

Geometrics: Just as they are in general home decor, geometric patterns are popping up in holiday pieces, says Lynette Deir-Mullen of Stoneblossom Floral Gallery.

Going green: Greenery is great for bringing the outside in, Young says. Adding texture by mixing three or four types of greenery is beautiful, easy to do and lasts a long time.

DIY: “DIY is really popular this year,” says Caity Paine of Mood Moss Flowers, which offers popular workshops on making your own wreath, outdoor planters and table centrepieces. “People love to be able to say, ‘Hey, I did this.’”

Rustic shift: We’re moving away from the folk art and primitive theme, says Young. “People are still doing rustic, but with a bit more of modern twist to it.”

Tradition: Karen LeRoy of Alta Vista Flowers finds there are typically three themes on the go and this year it’s succulents, softer tones like whites and creams, and the staple of traditional. “Traditional never goes out of style,” she says.

Simplicity: Christmas has been simplified, says Jessica Barrett of Mill Street Florist, with clean lines and design. “It’s more about picking special pieces that make a statement.”


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