This past month I’ve watched with awe as blogger after blogger after blogger posted the most gorgeous pictures of their homes all dressed up in their Christmas finery! It’s amazing and inspiring to watch the effort, care and love that is put into holiday decorating. The hard work really pays off – the pictures posted on the design blogosphere have been beautiful!! A few Cote de Texas readers have emailed me wondering will I be decorating for Christmas. The quick and easy answer is no. As many of you know, we are Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah at home, not Christmas. But, do Jewish people even decorate for Hanukkah? No, not really, although people like Martha Stewart have tried to create that image. Families with young children might put up festive blue and white lights, but usually Hanukkah is a very low key affair. In fact, I know of only one family that decorates their house for Hanukkah. While glorious Christmas decorations can make a design-obsessed Jewish girl a little envious - make no mistake, it is a badge of honor and extreme ethnic pride to not decorate.
A beautiful antique menorah – the centerpiece of Hanukkah.
This month I started wondering, why do people decorate their houses for Christmas but not Hanukkah? One reason may be that Christmas is the holiest day of the year for Christians. Yet, Santa Claus is a very important part of the holiday. Many decorations are either Nativity Scenes or Santa-related. Hanukkah, by comparison, is really a very minor holiday marked without much fanfare. You don’t go the temple for Hanukkah, in fact, it is not even mentioned in the bible! It was only in this century that Hanukkah become commercialized and is now referred to as the Jewish Christmas. For the children, gift giving, one present a night for eight nights, is the highlight of the holiday. In this way, the two holidays are alike. But gift giving is not the only way that Hanukkah and Christmas are similar. Hanukkah is a time to get together with your family, say the prayers and light the Menorah, eat some delicious food like the traditional latkes, or potato pancakes, and just have a good time. Both holidays are the same in the most important way – celebrating with family. But decorating the home for the holidays remains a major difference between the two December celebrations. Drive at night through a neighborhood and the streets are ablaze with colored, twinkling lights, red and white candy canes, and faux reindeer made of wood. The one dark house on the street will probably be lived in by the Jewish family! I think I have finally solved the riddle of why there are Christmas decorations! This way Santa knows which house to go to and which house to leave for Hanukkah Harry!
Note: to read my blog from last year on the history of Hanukkah and antique Judaica, go here.
So, for moi, while others are getting their houses ready for Christmas, I am also busy tidying up my house for my big entertaining event of the year - Hanukkah. My sister Cathy loves to entertain and does so beautifully and with great ease, but I dread such events. I worry about every detail, and fret over each dirty window and unorganized closet – as if my guests will be dining in one! Cathy takes care of most of the entertaining responsibilities in our family, thank God, and her daughter-in-law, my niece Allison, is swiftly proving herself quite capable in following her lead. That leaves me with just two major family holiday entertaining events: the Hanukkah dinner party and Father’s Day Brunch. Quit laughing! To me the menu is always secondary to the flowers and place settings and Ben likes to say that each event costs him a fortune because he knows I’ll be doing more “dreckorating” than cooking! And sure enough, I’ve been finding myself making changes around the house getting ready for the main event this Sunday – the first night of Hanukkah. So, while I can’t show you the most fabulous Christmas tree in the world, I can show you the latest furniture changes I’ve made.
At a temple with a gorgeous marble floor, a rabbi lights the Hanukkah candles.
We underwent a small kitchen remodeling this past month, and that has really spurned me on to take a critical look at the adjoining rooms. Being a major nester, I’m always picking up accessories for this or that room. After a while, it gets a little crowded and needs some culling, just like the deer population. My family room has lately been bulging at the seams and was in great need of a sharpshooter to come rid it of the overgrowth. Rather than call on Sarah Palin to do the dirty deed, I did it myself. It’s always hard for me to banish loved objects to that great wasteland that is my garage, but this year, with the kitchen all fresh and clean, it’s been somewhat easier.
My family room has seen many different designs during the past 15 years. I’ll spare you the earlier the versions such as the English inspired room with bamboo and wicker and red paisley and toile everywhere ala Lynn Von Kersting. A few years ago, after a home tour in West University of a most beautiful house, I banished all the reds and khakis and went white with black and gold accents. Last year I added trendy zebra pillows and the suzani to update the look. The blue and white porcelains have been, and will remain, a constant.
This was how it’s been looking this year – filled to the gills. It’s just too much and trust me – I had already done a lot of culling at this point! More deleting still needs to be done.
This is how the right side of the family room looked before today. The suzani covers an antique wine tasting table that was once my breakfast room table. Again, this is just too piled up with books and globes. For years Ben and I have been collecting the antique maps and engravings of Israel and the Middle East that are hanging 0n the wall, but they are going to go on vacation for a while. The suzani is going to where all trends die – EBay! Enough with suzanis for the next decade! Even Michael Smith who started the suzani craze has moved away from them – just as Target has discovered them.
Today – this is how it looks. I took away the extra side chairs next to the big white chairs and rearranged the shelves somewhat. I pushed the sofa back towards the windows to make more room – I don’t know why it was so far away from the windows to being with. Without the two side chairs and with the sofa pushed back, it immediately looks so much bigger and cleaner.
The right side today– much cleaner and less cluttered, though it definitely is not minimalist. I can’t really live without some degree of clutter. The wine tasting table looks so much better with the bulky suzani gone. The lamp was changed out for the lighted lantern that once hung on the wall behind the sofa. The big bowl of pictures moved here from the coffee table. The prints were replaced with an antique mirror that was in my old kitchen. The globes are on the shelves now, but Ben’s been hinting that he bought me another one for Hanukkah, oy!
And looking down from the stairs. Now, the big issue is the coffee table. We bought this table for our anniversary when we moved here – it’s an old Irish dining room table cut down by the crazy Irishman with a shop in Montrose. My sister bought one too, as did a number of my clients. I love the table and all, but I would like something more refined now – maybe a black chinoiserie tea table? I tried an extra wine tasting table of mine there that is pretty low and I thought it looked great, but Ben insisted it was too high for him to see the TV over it. Trust me, it wasn’t. One rather nasty fight happened over this coffee table – for some reason he’s particularly attached to it while I’m so over it. He uses it as an ottoman, so I think I might get a large rectangular slipcovered ottoman as a compromise. Maybe something like Suzanne Rheinstein’s famous race tract ottoman like this:
I love her ottoman – so it’s a possibility. If fact, I love this room! The chairs are to die for, the fabrics are subtle and beautiful – it’s one of my favorites of Rheinstein’s interiors.
I really like this ottoman too with its long skirt that Jane Moore designed for her daughter, the owner of Wisteria. I suppose I’ll let Ben pick which one he likes best. Maybe.
The other change downstairs, beside the kitchen, is the foyer. I went years and years with no center table, but I always knew I would put one there. As soon as I had an extra table, I moved it to the entry hall. I finally had a stage for my vintage birdcage. Here it was with the two Mary McDonald inspired blue and white pots and my lilac transferware and way too many chairs, books and just too, too much. The transferware moved up to the guest bedroom.
The guest room with the moved transferware. The lilac color looks so much better here with the seafoam green.
Look what interior designer Jackye Lanham did with her lilac transferware! I love, love, love this! Lanham likes to decorate with plates – something that I can completely relate to!
Before: This tablescape is one of my favorite of the bunch. I think the hydrangea is gorgeous here with all the blue and white and I added one piece of blue opaline from my collection for color pop. But there isn’t always a hydrangea like this available – and it died, plus Ben brought home a white orchid to replace it. And there was this urn that needed a landing spot…..
Today’s changes: the birdcage moved on to greener pastures. The white urn now takes center stage and the large white orchid that Ben bought takes the place of the blue hydrangea. I like the hydrangea better than the orchid, so I’ll switch that back when possible. But what do you think – should I put the birdcage back (ugh, no!) and move the white urn somewhere else? What do you think – I’m conflicted. I wish I had a large blue hydrangea to take the picture with the urn to show you the true look.
So, these are my decorating changes before the big Hanukkah party Sunday night. The living room and dining room passed muster, for now. Next blog– the kitchen! I'll show you the befores and afters. We didn’t do a big remodeling, just some updating here and there, so don’t expect a lot!! And then, after the Hanukkah party – I’ll show you my table settings. And don’t worry, I won’t bore you with any recipes!
One last note on holiday decorating. When I casually mentioned on another blog feeling a little left out design-wise during December, my dear friend Valorie Hart aka Visual Vamp wrote the most gorgeous piece on decorating a Jewish house for the holidays. Please be sure to stop by and read Visual Vamp’s article here for some great ideas which I would love to incorporate in my Hanukkah celebrations. And here is what has to be the cutest Christmas tree of this year : Visual Vamp’s - A Breakfast at Tiffany’s Christmas in New Orleans!
Visual Vamp’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s Christmas in New Orleans. And yes, those are real Tiffany boxes she bought on EBay.
And now, for something completely different: Would you like to be the next Eddie Ross?
Who wouldn’t? Cote de Texas recently received an email from HGTV – and no, they weren’t looking for any of my brilliant design advice! – they are looking for the next Eddie Ross. If you think you might be interested in submitting a video application for next season’s Design Star – please go here. If you do win – you get to star in your own TV series on HGTV! Good luck to those who do apply!