Today I’m so thrilled to feature a series of guest posts from one of my favorite designers (and people), David Stark! Welcome, David! xo, grace
My team and I just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We decorated the storied Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department in Washington D.C. to celebrate the holidays and the rooms’ 50th anniversary. What an honor —Time, Inc. and InStyle Magazine invited us to collaborate with them on this amazing project, and our co-conspirator, Ariel Foxman, InStyle’s fearless leader, set the course for our creative journey.
Like any project we do, we are extremely reactive to the spaces at hand. Few people know — and I was at the head of the line — that these rooms even exist. But with over $100,000,000 worth of American heritage antiques, this is one of the country’s most important museums, and yet unlike other museums whose sole purpose is to showcase art, this museum is busier than Grand Central Station, hosting diplomats, ceremonies, meetings, summits and international and national celebrations. Thus, any décor that we created for the holidays needed to be flexible. It had to be able to move, it could not attach to walls, we could not screw or nail into anything and we had a pretty short window of time to install it, simply because the rooms are in such high demand for use.
Ariel and I wanted to honor the unique period of the rooms, and yet, we also wanted to give them the modern, creative zing that is so endemic to InStyle. Glamour is not about being expensive. Rather, in this case, it was about using accessible materials — ribbon, Christmas balls and gift-wrap in extremely creative, unexpected ways.
CLICK HERE for the full post (and TONS of beautiful photos) and DIY holiday projects after the jump!
The entry hallway is grand and yet there were few surfaces we were able to touch. The solution? An area rug of peppermint stripes immediately changes the context and sets the tone for the guests’ arrival.
In the Jefferson Room, a mirrored plexi-tree is at once modern in shape and material but classic in iconography. Invented by Susie Montagna of my team, the tree perfectly captures the balancing act we were going for. It reflects the room in its every angle, so it is absolutely grounded in the space, BUT it is totally modern at the same time. You need fewer ornaments, too, as the mirror magnifies the quantity in its reflection. (Wink!)
It was great fun to mix high and low. We were lucky enough to use many of the house antiques, like the vases on the mantle that host a burst of our recycled paper and Mylar flowers or even antique cake stands where a menagerie of holiday ornaments, wrapped gifts and other glimmering moments — like West Elm’s chic mercury birds or our mosaic mirror bottles — make for a great holiday moment.
Ribbon (about 5 miles of it) was our hero in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room. Instead of traditional fir trees that I am always sad about cutting down, we invented ribbon trees with scallops of gold balls that amped up the other gilded architectural details of the room. Ribbon wreaths and other décor moments inspired by the art in the room rounded out the detail.
A room where some of the highest-level executives host dinners and lunches houses a grand table, running its entire length. We turned this into a winter forest to get lost in. I simply adore these nutcrackers — classic in their form, made modern in their lacquered white.
I am a big believer in balancing complicated décor moments with simpler, quiet vignettes. These, inspired by the art works in the room, rely on wrapped gifts as décor and an array of clustered, stylized trees to further extend the views in the paintings.
The folks at the State Department could not have been lovelier to collaborate with, and we had such fun with Ariel and the team from InStyle, inventing and making cool stuff. But I have to thank my team immensely, who are really the stars of this show. I always say that David Stark Design is a team sport, and this project could not have been a better example of that! You guys amaze me — constantly.
Now . . . while the rooms are certainly grand, many of the ideas that we employed are not. The garlands, in particular, can be carried out to many visual ends, whether in metallics or even vintage ornaments. Here’s how:
- plastic-beaded garland
- ornaments (the kind with the detachable metal cap)
To attach an ornament to the garland, gently pull the metal cap from the ornament and separate the wire loop from the cap. Place the cap back on the ornament. Slip the wire loop around the garland and, pinching the wire ends together, insert them through the cap on the top of the ornament so that they spring open inside of it and hold it in place.
I have always loved the English tradition of holiday crackers, and I have always thought about using leftover cardboard toilet-paper tubes for SOMETHING. Spencer from our team came up with a fun idea that combines both interests. (Wink!)
Store-bought crackers traditionally contain a crown, a little gift, a joke, a candy or two and confetti. There are deluxe versions of this with silver offerings, and there are more basic models with plastic trinkets, but any which way, they are fun.
Here’s what you will need:
- 1 toilet-paper roll
- old book pages
- decorative paper
- 1 riddle
- 1 Mylar crown (we used our David Stark for West Elm ones, but you could make or buy others that roll up tightly)
- shredded book pages
- cardstock or heavier-weight paper
- a piece of candy or small toy
- metallic cord or ribbon
- 2 cracker devices per cracker (available at www.oldenglishcrackers.com)
You will also need:
- X-Acto or craft knife
- hot glue gun
- Scotch tape
- double-stick tape
- paper towel roll to use as a guide
1. Begin by cutting the pretty paper into a 6.5” x 12” rectangle. Cut one 6.5” x 3.5” strip of the book pages for the center, and two 6.5” x 1.5” strips for the ends. Cut two 6.5” x 2.25” strips of the cardstock. (These will be used to keep the shape of the ends of the cracker.)
2. Cut the paper towel roll in half. Roll the decorative paper around the paper towel roll to create an overlap, and apply a line of glue to form a tube, being sure to glue the paper to itself and not to the paper towel roll.
3. Slide both pieces of the paper towel roll out so that you are left only with a paper tube. Then insert a toilet paper roll in the center of the tube.
4. To help the ends of the cracker keep their shape, roll one of the cardstock strips and insert it into one end of the paper tube and glue in place. Do the same on the other side.
Tip: at this point, you can gently score the paper tube by running the knife all the way around the tube in the middle (as if you are cutting the cracker in half) to ensure that when the cracker is pulled apart, there is a clean break. Be sure not to cut all the way through the paper.
6. Finish decorating the tube by wrapping the book paper strips around the center and ends of the tube and affixing with glue or double-stick tape.
7. Now it’s time to add the device that creates the “pop” sound when the cracker is pulled apart.
Tip: It is possible to use a single cracker device per cracker. However, for a more satisfying and reliable “pop,” double them up and reinforce them by taping along the length of each side, leaving only the center exposed.
8. Insert the party cracker device and, using glue, attach one end of the device to the inside edge of the tube.
9. To add the stuffing, first cinch one end of the tube and tie off with ribbon or cord. Fill with the crown, shredded book pages, riddle and anything else you want to include.
10. Then cinch and tie the other end of the tube. Finally, glue the free end of the cracker device to the inside edge of the tube on the side you’ve just tied. Trim any excess from the end.
11. Place on a folded napkin at each place setting.
The British party tradition, as I know it, requires all of the guests around the table to open their crackers simultaneously. At once, every guest holds one end of their cracker in one hand and an end of their neighbor’s cracker in the other hand, creating a chain around the table. On the count of three, everyone pulls, and with a bang and a smile everyone compares their surprises inside. FUN!