Holiday Decorating Ideas

Happy Holidays, everyone!  It’s been a while, but I wanted to wish all of you who have supported me through 2016 a happy and peace-filled holiday season.  Since so many of us are busy with gatherings, errands, entertaining, etc. I thought I’d share some simple ideas for decorating your home for the holidays and creating a festive mood for you and your family.  The following ideas were just featured in this month’s Durham Magazine, but I’m including some bonus photos that didn’t make the magazine.  These beautiful photos were taken by the amazing, Merritt Chesson.  (Thanks, Merritt!)

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Simple Ideas for Holiday Decorating


My holiday decorating shortcuts are based on a simple, pre-set color pallet and natural, seasonal elements.  I usually go with various shades of silver, gold and white (keep your colors to 2-3 selections).  Because the color pallet is simple, you can play with and add various objects that fall into the pallet and still have a unified look. I might take ornaments in shades of golds and silvers and sprinkle them along my table runner and then flank either end of the table with a few candles (of all sizes) in shades of white and silver.  The charges might be gold or silver with white linens laid neatly on top.  Then, I always add a natural element: magnolia leaves, pine cones, herbs, or something of this genre.  A little touch like this goes a long way in creating a festive table.
Decorating with a few colors means you can carry the pallet throughout your house (at the entry, with the fire place mantle, on your front porch, etc.) and everything feels collected and unified.  Use creative color combinations like fuchsia and green or gold and blue, to keep it interesting and unpredictable.  This approach is also an economical way to decorate because you can switch things around and collect over the years without feeling as if you need to start over every time. I add something to my collection every year, but don’t need much since it’s easy to integrate into the collection I’ve been evolving over the years.
With this approach, everything works together because the colors are the unifying factor.  And – adding natural elements such as flowers, wreathes, garland and berries warms things up and makes your home feel more cozy.  I usually just clip branches from the magnolia tree in our front yard!  How’s that for easy and economical?
Silver Trees, pine cones and some fresh Magnolia leaves from my front yard.

Silver Trees, pine cones and some fresh Magnolia leaves from my front yard.  We have white a Nutcracker because I’ve taken my girls to see the performance every year since my oldest was 3.

Natural elements warm this up.

Natural elements warm this up.

Even my butler’s tray get’s a little decor…


I use the same formula in every space: white, silver, clear glass, light, and some natural elements (here pine cones).


And the buffet shares peace…


Again, white, silver, light and some natural elements! This easy formula leave you with time to focus on what’s really important: sharing time with your loved ones.


I hope this has inspired you and helped provide you with some ideas for your home.  Questions?  Reach out and comment!

Happy Holidays, friends!  xo Maria

Thanksgiving Dinner: Game On!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  This will be my only post this week, as my kids are home for the entire week and I’ve promised myself I’m taking the week off to focus on family and friendship.  But, I did want to leave you with some tips on hosting your holiday meal.  So here goes!  (I shared these in the spring, so I’m recycling a bit…but, all still apply to Turkey Day!)


If Snoopy can do it, so can you!


There is a lot that goes on before the actual meal to make it look effortless, even though it requires a bit of work (ok, a lot of work!). Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies I thought I’d share on how to successfully host a large crowd for dinner  and still manage to enjoy yourself, which a lot of us forget to do. A combination of advanced planning and a thorough to-do list makes hosting such an affair a lot less stressful and intimidating. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Ask yourself, “What can I do in advance?” Plan out everything you can do in advance and then do those items ahead of time. For example, you can make sure linens are ironed, china is cleaned, wine is purchased, and silverware is ready up to a week (or more!) ahead of time. I even set my table a few days in advance with the glasses turned upside down so they don’t collect dust. Consider tasks like pre-ordering special meats, baked goods or flowers so that they are one less thing you have to worry about as the actual event approaches. You will be so happy you did!
  • Create your menu and then have a corresponding shopping list. I type out my menu in a table and then have a corresponding column for ingredients and notes. By doing this ahead of time, you can check your pantry and figure out what you have on hand and what you need to purchase. This makes shopping so much easier. I usually have to go to at least two different grocery stores so I break things down further by creating a list for each store. There is nothing more annoying or stressful than beginning to cook only to realize you’ve forgotten a major ingredient. An organized shopping list will make sure this doesn’t happen. See sample below.
Menu Item Notes
Chicken Marbella Order chicken from Whole FoodsNeed: prunes, olives, capers, brown sugar, bay leaves
Roasted fingerling potatoes Need: potatoes, fresh rosemary
Salad Need: Bibb lettuce, pears, pecans, goat cheesePrep In Advance: Champagne Vinaigrette

Need: shallot

Baguettes Order from Guglhuaf
Fruit Tart Order from Guglhauf
Wine & Prosecco Trader Joes – Vouvray & Prosecco
  • Have a “Day-to-Day” Game Plan. After I have thought through my menu and the tasks associated with meal, I break down my to-do list day-by-day. I think about what needs to be done 2 to 3 days before the meal, the day before and the day-of. This helps spread out the work and makes the day of the meal a lot less stressful. For example, I might need to marinate the meat 24 to 48 hours in advance of cooking it so I plan for this. I also do things like chop vegetables, make salad dressing and prep fresh herbs and lettuces by rinsing them and wrapping them in paper towel so they are ready to use.
  • Delegate Tasks. My husband is my go-to-guy. Whenever we are hosting a large meal, he gets a list. He can’t cook, but he is awesome at running errands, picking up food items around town and helping with set-up and clean up. I also delegate food responsibilities to friends that will be attending. This usually means that someone will be coming with a fruit platter or dessert. Every little bit helps!
  • Order some food items. Planning a large meal for over 8 people can be daunting. One of the ways I negotiate all of the work is to simply order some food items. Usually this means I will buy dessert from one of the wonderful bakeries in our area. This makes my life so much easier and just reduces stress. Ina Garten, chef and cookbook author, says she always buys one part of her meal to make hosting easier and more enjoyable. So, consider what you might purchase instead of prepare. Your guests will not mind!
  • Keep notes for next year. If you host an annual dinner for a specific holiday, start keeping notes. A few years ago I started doing this for our Passover meal because there are so many little details to keep track of. Every year, I pull out my notes, update them and then carry on. It is SO HELPFUL. This year, I was especially thankful for these notes because I couldn’t recall some items, but as soon as I took out the notes, I thought, “Oh yeah! How could I have forgotten the parsley?!”
  • Stop cooking / prepping 30 minutes before guests arrive and get yourself ready. Sometimes I have to force myself to do this, but I do it! Over the years I’ve learned that I need to give myself 30 minutes before the meal begins to enjoy a glass of wine and get myself dressed and ready. By attending to myself for these precious 30 minutes, I know I will be prepped to attend to my guests when they arrive. And, your guests will not mind if you are still assembling a platter or heating something up as they arrive. It really is ok to be putting finishing touches on dishes as guests arrive. You will enjoy yourself a lot more if you have carved out this time for yourself.




Holiday Entertaining Made Easy

Good Monday morning, all!  I hope you had a great weekend.  As next week is Thanksgiving and I’m sure you are all starting to think ahead to either hosting or attending a dinner, I wanted to share some tips and inspiration for general holiday entertaining.  I presented these ideas last Thursday at the “Ready for the Holidays” event and they were well received.

As things start to get busy and your calendar fills, please remember:  entertaining during the holidays should be about connection and creating memories. Don’t let the stress and pressure of trying to be perfect and do it all take that away from you and your family.  Here are some ideas to help you embrace this concept.

  • Keep a well-stocked pantry, freezer and wine fridge.
  • Delegate food items to friends and family members when you are hosting a large group.
  • Order food items from places like Parker & Otis, Fosters, Med Deli, Q Shack, Nana Taco & Whole Foods.
  • Order sweets from your favorite bakery.  My favorites for cookies, pies and the like: Sweet Cravings (see contact information below), Daisy Cakes & Guglhauf (all Durham-based).
  • Keep several boxes of fine chocolates on hand for both hosting and as gifts for hostesses. A large “chocolate bar” is such a fun & easy alternative to desserts. Have your kids make decorative “labels” for all the various types of chocolates. Couple this with a “hot cocoa bar” (mini marshmallows, chocolate shavings, cinnamon sticks, etc.) and you are set!
  • Embrace brunch as an alternative to a full dinner. It’s so much easier to do than a full dinner and still gives you the opportunity to see friends and family.
  • Another option to hosting a full dinner is to do a meal of heavy appetizers. Yes, it’s not as formal, but it can be a lot more fun. Order some things, fill in the rest with homemade platters of cheese, crackers, salamis, etc. and viola – you’re done!
  • Another option is to go out to dinner at a restaurant and return home for dessert, coffee and aperitifs. This is such a great way to still carve out bonding time in the privacy of your home, without the pressure of preparing a full dinner (and this is minimal prep and clean up!).

Sample Menus for Easy Holiday Entertaining

(* Denotes items you can keep in your pantry or freezer)

Mediterranean Tapas Tex-Mex Round-Up Southern Gathering, Y’all! Asian, Tapas Style
*Jarred olives * Corn chips Pimiento cheese dip *Pot Stickers
* Crackers of various flavors * Jarred Salsas * Cheese Straws *Egg Rolls
* Cornichons & other pickled items * Quesadillas (I keep tortillas and shredded cheeses in my freezer) * Peanuts Sushi
* Spiced Almonds Guacamole Order-in Fried Chicken or buy it frozen; pulled pork sandwiches


*Seaweed crackers



Assorted Cheeses & spreads like *fig jam, quince paste & cranberry relish Black Bean Salad (combined rinsed blacked beans, corn, diced red peppers & onions, cumin, cilantro, s&p, and EVOO with a bit of lime juice) * Cornbread muffins (make from mix in your pantry) * Mahi-Mahi skewers or grilled fish with soy sauce, garlic, ginger & honey glaze
Assorted cured meats, such as prosciutto and salami (these will keep for a while in your fridge so keep them in stock)


Rice & tortillas (El Superior Latin Grocer in Durham makes them fresh daily! $1 per pound) Mac ‘n Cheese / hush puppies *Sesame Noodles with a toppings bar: shredded chicken, julienne carrots, slivered green onions, cilantro, chopped peanuts
Hummus or other type of bean dips Bar of fixings: shredded lettuce & cabbage, diced tomatoes, shredded cheeses, diced green onions Biscuit sandwiches Seaweed Salad
Baguette slices Grilled fajitas (simply slice up peppers & onions with s&p) Deviled Eggs Dumplings / Wontons
Drinks: Wines from Spain, France, Greece or Italy & don’t forget the bubbles: Prosecco, Cava & Champagne Drinks: Sangria, Mojitos, Margaritas, Coronas with limes Drinks: Mint Juleps, Bourbon-based drinks, various beers, refreshing white wines to complement salty foods Drinks: Sake, Asian Beers

For our event last week, we actually sampled these ideas and created a wonderful appetizers offering.

Here, a chocolate "bar" with various boxed chocolates and mini-cupcakes we ordered were offered alongside cheeses, dips, cured meat and crackers. All of this took one grocery store run and one bakery stop.

Here, a chocolate “bar” with various boxed chocolates and mini-cupcakes we ordered were offered alongside cheeses, dips, cured meat and crackers. All of this took one grocery store run and one bakery stop.

My biggest piece of advice is to order some items and take things off of your “to-do” list.  I don’t love to bake so I always order my pies and cookies from a great baker, Jessica Satterlee.  She’s a local Durham baker and does an amazing job with pies, cookies and cakes.  Check out her offerings @  She also does custom orders, so if you don’t see something you like, she can work with you.

I hope this gives you some ideas and most significantly, helps you take a less stressful approach to hosting your friends and family.  Embrace “easier” this holiday season!





“Ready for the Holidays” — A Recap!

Happy Friday!  The sun is shining and there is a nip in the air this morning….LOVING this November day!  I’m still on a bit of a high from the wonderful event I hosted last night with curator extraordinaire, Jen Devlin.  Her amazing store, Vintage Home South, was the backdrop of a lovely evening where we shared inspiration and ideas for staying organized and personalizing your home for the holidays.  Here are some fun shots from the event:


Great people, yummy food and a beautiful setting…such a wonderful night!


For those of you that came out, THANK YOU!  We loved the exchange of ideas and sharing design inspiration.  For those of you that weren’t able to make it, fear not!  Here’s what we shared…

Ideas for Staying Organized and Finding Calm This Holiday Season

  • Look at the 6 weeks of the holiday season as a whole. (Thanksgiving week through New Year’s weekend.)
  • Map out your travel
  • Look at the weekends and prioritize what you will say yes to. “Saying ‘no’ to one thing means saying ‘yes’ to something more meaningful.” You may decline a party or dinner in order to carve out some downtime for you and your family. That’s ok. Don’t put pressure on you and your family to accept every invitation.
  • Decide what events are “must attend” and what events you will pass on.
  • Book babysitters ahead of time for parties and events.
  • Make sure you intentionally plan out DOWN TIME. (This will provide you with opportunities to regroup emotionally and physically – and give you some time to connect with your family.)
  • Order / Reserve anything you can ahead of time: holiday cards, food, desserts, tickets to events, dinner reservations, etc.
  • Avoid the post office if possible. Your carrier can pick up your shipment free during regular mail delivery if you’re using an expedited service like Priority Mail®, Priority Mail Express®, Global Express Guaranteed®, or Merchandise Return services. All of this can be arranged online at You can also order holiday stamps online. Do it now!
  • Keep a master list of “To Do’s” on hand and prioritize 3 things a week that need to be accomplished.
  • If you have family coming into town to stay with you, consider what you’ll do for meals ahead of time and also think about what “activities” you’ll do with your guests while they’re visiting. Have a “master list” of fun activities you can do and then reference it while they’re in town. Don’t forget about Umstead Park and Eno River Park for hiking, the Nasher Museum, Ackland Museum, NCMA, 21c Museum, NC Orchestra holiday concerts, DPAC, Duke & UNC Performances, etc.
  • Make time for exercise. Giving yourself 30 – 60 minutes a day will be so powerful in helping you manage stress and giving you more energy. Endorphins are a wonderful thing! Connect with a friend by making exercise social.

Ideas for Personalizing Your Home

The Mantle ~

  • Center (or slightly off) an old window frame, large art canvas, framed photo or map, old tin tile, vintage architectural piece, etc.
  • Layer things in front of your “center” piece but always make sure to vary heights to create interest.
  • Add in a natural element for texture and a sensory treat – preserved boxwood, lavender, freshly cut pine, pinecones, etc.- really depends on the time of year but the texture of adding these in are great.
  • Incorporate illumination – either by battery-operated copper pin lights, tea lights or varying sizes of candles.

To create this mantle, we started with the mirror as a focal point, then framed it with two lamps.  We varied the height of the display with holiday trees, a festive sign and a nutcracker. Golds and silvers play well together and add a bit of shimmer to this otherwise distressed buffet.

The Dining Room ~

  • Use unexpected items in the center of your table – an old cutting board, marble, pedestals, etc. will create interest and are practical for placing serving dishes. Vary heights but make sure all guests can see one another.
  • Layer on fabrics – burlap, lace, linen, metallic fabrics for shimmer
  • Incorporate family heirlooms – one the best ways to personalize is to actually use treasured items instead of leaving them on a shelf or in a drawer. e.g. Grandma’s lace doilies can be layered under a serving dish, teacups or a vase.

Here, Jen used an oversized cutting board to anchor her table setting. She added candles, votives and greens to add interest, texture and natural elements.  Those adorable velvet pumpkins are the perfect accent to this rustic table setting!

Sofa/Chair/Bed ~

  • Switch up pillows, throws or bedding each season – color, pattern and texture changes can transform the look quickly.
  • Add a personal touch with a city or home state pillow – these make great gifts too!

Add Warmth to Any Space or Corner ~

  • Layer in candles of various scents, sizes and shapes.
  • Cluster lots of tea lights together for drama or scatter them around a table, mantle or console.
  • Add evergreens, chrysanthemums, paper-whites for color and texture.
  • Display seasonal photos: snow play, Santa visits, ski trips, etc.
  • Have a basket of blankets of various textures and sizes next to sofa or fireplace: knit, chenille or cashmere.

Have a wonderful weekend and I hope this inspires you to start looking around your home and envisioning how you will decorate for the holidays.