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Green Acre #360: Red Room Reboot

The Red Room of the White House, Christmas 2021. The theme of this room is Gift of the Performing Arts. LittleBird Stephanie doesn’t find it artsy enough. / Official White House photo.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THROUGHOUT the White House this year, tabletops and mantels have been heaped with an effervescent mix of greenery, shiny baubles, paper butterflies, glittery birds, ribbon and flowers—not the usual sorts either: red chrysanthemums, yellow gerbera daisies and fabulous pink and purple orchids laced with ribbons and white lights.

And then there’s the Red Room’s mantel, where it seems the decorating elves must have run out of . . . well . . . everything. Greenery, decoration, inspiration . . .

A single, sad garland lolls along the white marble mantel, dripping downward and weighted at the corners with a precious few dangling brass instruments. The room’s theme is supposed to be a “gift of the performing arts.” Some gift. 

Why not a glittering stand of flutes, a lighted display of miniature harps or a trumpet on a pedestal? And, please, please, more greens. 

Which is all to say, take the Red Room as a lesson in what not to do with your own mantels. Turn instead to that tried and true rabbit hole of ideas, Pinterest.

LittleBird Stephanie’s mantel treatment last year was abundant but definitely not in the standard Christmas red and green. A bit on the Goth side, actually. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

There are flowering mantel arrangements so overblown with roses and orchids and hydrangeas they gave me palpitations. Constructs so voluptuous that they spill and drip and puddle and stream onto the floor, or reach like fantastical flowering trees to the ceiling. 

Of course they cost the Earth and tend to quickly drop dead, thus one may only spy such displays at over-the-top weddings or affairs of state. 

Yet! If you rummage through and don’t get sidetracked by the impossibly fabulous, there are plenty of ideas for the marginally talented. Like using less-common flowers and unusual colors—spring blooms feel so fresh—and employing a touch of asymmetry, perhaps a tall candelabrum or massing of flowers at one end, stepping down to greenery and a sprinkle of blossoms dancing off to the other. Or a collection of simple, mismatched glass beakers, each with a single white flowered stem with white votive candles at their bases—which would be smashing against a dark wall, on a white mantel in a traditional setting, or in a hypermodern loft.

 An effortless start? A lush garland on the mantel—nothing skimpy, please—has instant impact, creating a luxurious base for fanciful embellishment. You can buy one and fold it over on itself to create volume (25 feet for $20 at Costco, says Baby),  but if you’re feeling both thrifty and crafty, they’re easy enough to make. Head to any Christmas-tree lot, and the purveyor will be happy to send you off with piles of trimmings. Line up the branches on the floor, cut off any strays, tie the garland together with floral wire, and flop it onto the mantel (you may need to tack it in place).

Still leaning toward the dark side, this year’s mantel chez Cavanaugh boasts a bright pink peacock. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

If the mundanity of evergreenery isn’t your bag, try something unexpected, such as a feather boa. Mine is a fabulous one—if you’ll allow me to crow—made of peacock feathers that Baby and I drooled over in New Orleans (where else) and she dutifully ordered for me shortly thereafter.

No matter your garland of choice, amp it up by tucking a string or three of warm white lights throughout the spread, then finish with fresh blooms (poke the stems into those little plastic water holders) or buy flowers in small pots and shove them in here and there. Trader Joe’s has a wonderful assortment of potted cyclamen and orchids, stems of hydrangea and roses, and fluffy bunches of gypsophila (baby’s breath) that won’t bust any budgets.

Et voilà! A fanciful display worthy of the White House itself . . . if only they’d asked me. 



3 thoughts on “Green Acre #360: Red Room Reboot

  1. Mary K Weddle says:

    You’re hired! Love these ideas – so creative and unique!

  2. Jean Gordon says:

    I like it.

  3. Maggie Hall says:

    Cheers! Hurrah! Good to see/read that someone has had the guts/nerve/bravado to have a go at the Biden White House over its pathetic Red Room holiday decor…..

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