Think outside the box and use your surroundings. For example, I like to go to Jefferson Variety and find interesting, inexpensive fabrics instead of ordinary off-the-shelf ribbon on the tree.
Don't be a store snob. It's a little bit like dressing. If you have a good sense of style, you can go anywhere and find cool stuff. It's about your own personal style and interpretation. I shop at upscale stores and big box stores. I scavenge everywhere.
Narrow down your theme. Get a general concept and stick to it and don't go all over the map. Continuity is key.
There is nothing wrong with recycling things from year to year. If your theme is snowflakes, you probably have some silver or white things you can incorporate.
Things should be contained. For example, instead of piling candles on a table, group them on a pretty tray and accent them with powdery snow. Keeping things contained gives a display a stronger sense of organization.
For 15 years, attorney and art collector Jim Mounger has turned to his friend, event designer and display artist Bently Graham, for help creating memorable holiday decor at his Uptown home. Typically, the two bounce ideas off each other and narrow them down. This year, when Graham asked what the theme would be, Mounger had an instantaneous, one-word reply: snowflakes.
"It's always a collaboration between Bently and myself," Mounger says. "It's really a Christmas installation. It's not your normal green tree."
A traditional fir would fall flat in the Mounger residence, where contemporary furnishings and art are set against a clean, high-ceilinged backdrop that looks like an airy Soho loft. Mounger bought the circa-1900 house, which had been carved into a four-plex, 11 years ago. He gutted the interior and returned it to a single family home with as much wall space as possible for showcasing his colorful collection of paintings, sculpture and other art — much of it by Louisiana artists. He often is asked to host charitable events and conceived of the small kitchen at the rear of the house as a place for caterers to set up.
"Jim always wants something different and out of the mainstream," Graham says. "He likes the Christmas decor to be new and fresh and to make a statement like the art."
One year, Graham worked with artist Erica Larkin to construct a tree of green metal piping. Another year, he wrapped a tree in swaths of green tulle.
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources: the cerulean blue of a Dale Chihuly glasswork hanging in the entryway; an installation of chains, wire and other raw metals shown at Prospect. 1; fluid environmental works by European artist Christo; and display windows of high-end, iconic retailers like Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.
"It's never a literal interpretation, but we have used some of the elements [of those things]," Graham says.
From there, they begin the process of bringing the idea to life. Some years, Mounger peruses a favorite store in Baton Rouge for items to incorporate. Most years, Graham shops at big box stores for ordinary materials (such as inexpensive fabrics) that can be used in extraordinary ways.
This year, Graham, who also decorates The Shops at Canal Place for the holidays, amassed a trove of white ornaments, lacy snowflakes, snowy branches and bags of powdered paper snow along with a retro, iridescent tree. He began creating a winter wonderland during the balmy week before Thanksgiving.
The result is just what Graham and Mounger envisioned — especially at night, when hundreds of tiny white lights are aglow. Graham topped the succulents flanking the footpath that leads to the front door with snowflakes and suspended Mylar tassels trimmed with illuminated snowflakes from the house's upper and lower galleries. Against the leaded glass panes of the double front door, he hung wreaths from last year. He tweaked the Champagne-colored wreaths to fit this year's theme by replacing their blue embellishments with silver ones and adding sprays of miniature snowballs.
A tree in the entryway serves as a centerpiece for the decor. Mounted on top of a snowbank of sheer organza and twinkling mesh, it is a focal point in a room filled with impressive art. Behind the tree, a wedding dress of hand-carved wooden words by New York artist Lesley Dill echoes the color and conical shape of the tableau.
For the dining room's triptych of glass-topped tables, Graham filled towering vases with an arrangement of paper snow, twigs and glistening foil. In the sunroom just beyond the kitchen and dining areas, he festooned a wall-mounted pair of vases by local artist Mitchell Gaudet with rivulets of snow and light. Outside, he decorated the wooden-decked patio with Mylar garlands, LED snowflakes and a pair of white metal tabletop trees. He added silvery, light-reflecting shoots and glitter-encrusted snowflakes to the tall, magnolia-filled vases displayed behind the sofa.
This year, as in years past, Mounger and Graham critiqued the display over a glass of wine. "I love working with Jim," Graham says. "We have a similar design sensibility. I'll do something and he'll say 'Yeah, I love it' or 'Let's add this or that.' But it's always similar."
In early December, Mounger heads to New York for a few days. "I go to get the feel of Christmas," he says. "I like the spirit of the people and I like the cold." On the other hand, he knows he needn't go far to experience a white Christmas. Even if this year brings record high temperatures, there will be plenty of snowflakes at home.