This is what my house looked like last year, the day before Thanksgiving, after several days of Halloween photo shoots (which, ironically, you won't see until next year.) What you don't see are the living room walls painted several different shades of gray, from the palest to the deepest charcoal, used as backdrops for one of the shoots. Not something you can just tidy up in a hurry, and a move I was willing to make because I'd decided I needed to repaint my living room anyway.
In case you're wondering why I took this photo, it's because I saw my son's feet peeking out of all the mess as he carved out a little niche for himself to watch television. I had a vision of a future session on a therapist's couch, lamenting how his mother had ruined holidays for him, how his house was just a whole lot of crazy growing up. I snapped the shot so he'd have proof. No revisionist history here. I'll just own up to it and we can move on. It was bad enough that the one developmental marker that he didn't achieve on his Kindergarten report card was being able to "identify the customs attached to each holiday." Yes, my fault! I know that not everybody makes Christmas ornaments when it's 4th of July or dyes Easter eggs on New Years Day. But I digress.
Through some crazy delusion that could only have been brought on by lack of sleep, I truly thought that I'd quickly put everything away, paint my living room the perfect shade of gray, and decorate for Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year. Maybe I'd be a few days off schedule, but no sweat. Yeah, anyway.
No one told me that the "perfect shade of gray" is hard to come by, that it changes from morning to night (drastically) and that it really takes about a week for it to cure, before you can see what the final color will be. Cut to the week after Thanksgiving, possibly a dozen different paint swatches covering the walls in patchwork fashion, and the holidays felt waaay out of reach. I was a little panicked. I have a child. We couldn't just cancel Christmas!
By December 21, we finally had a freshly painted living room and no trace of Halloween or Thanksgiving were to be found (but no trace of Christmas, either). We bought a tree, strung some lights on it, and then kind of gave up. My son asked if anyone was going to help him decorate the tree, but when he realized he could decorate without even a smidgen of input from his very particular mother, well, he was ecstatic. So our tree had its little row of ornaments, all just about eye level of a 6-year-old. I didn't move a thing. In fact, we never quite got around to pushing the tree against the wall. It sort of hung out between the pocket doors in the living room. I just couldn't get there.
Santa came, my son was happy, oblivous to his parents' exhaustion, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we'd made it through. Then a few days after Christmas, Ann, the editor-in-chief at Christmas Ideas asked if she could photograph my house for the 2013 Christmas issue...and I said yes, because that's what (crazy) professionals do. She scheduled the shoot for the end of January.
My husband picked up a towering 9-foot tree at the airport, along with 45 lbs. of greenery and 75 feet of garland, fresh off of a farm in Oregon. In a normal city, someone might have questioned why my husband was carrying a fresh tree on the car in the middle of January. But this is New Orleans. We see weird stuff all the time.
I played the carols, made dozens of white ornaments, wrapped the (mostly) fake gifts, and somewhere in that month, I found the Christmas spirit that I hadn't been able to find the entire holiday season. Though I admit, it was awkward when I caught one of my neighbors eyeing me through the window as I decorated the tree the last week of January. I knew instantly I had become the crazy cat lady of the neighborhood. It wasn't like I'd kept my tree up too long, no, I was just getting started with Christmas - a true freak. I started closing the shutters after that. Christmas in private, please.
And this is what my house looked like for the Christmas that almost got away in 2012. You can't tell how crazy it was getting there, and while you may be inclined to believe it was all make believe, it wasn't. It was as real as real can be. Because if there's on thing I've learned in my business - it's Christmas whenever you want it to be.
Photographs by Brie Williams
You can see more of this story, along with lots of other homes and projects in Christmas Ideas, on newsstands now, or available as a digital edition here.
I've been getting lots of emails regarding various items shown in this story. So here they are. (For all of the natural elements, I'll be doing a post on sources for winter items shortly.)
Papier-Mache Stags Head from West Elm
Tiered Display Stand from Matthew Mead Vintage
Reindeer Cookies from PfConfections on Etsy
Milk glass tumblers can usually be found on Etsy or Ebay
Preserved natural moss is available in mat and roll form. You can find it here at Save-On-Crafts
Realistic artificial snow also available at Save-On-Crafts
Wall color in living room is Nimbus #1465 from Benjamin Moore