Park City Home Master Class: A Whimsical Wonderland

Bring on the whimsy while decking those halls

'Tis the season!

The holidays are meant to be over-the-top. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, even minimalists know it’s time to abandon their less-is-more aesthetic and embrace all things fun and festive.

Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, partners at the design firm Madcap Cottage, are famous for mixing prints and patterns — stripes, plaids, florals, trellises — in a gleefully chic mélange. Come November, they pull out all the stops and think you should, too. As Nixon says, “Have some fun. Break the rules. Put stars in people’s eyes.”

Put up multiple trees
“The magic doesn’t have to be confined to the living room. You can do a mini forest festooned with simple white lights in one room, your own version of Sweden,” suggests Nixon. Or mix it up and play with different themes, colors, and styles. “Put your statement tree in the living room, a smaller one in the foyer, and a tabletop one in the kitchen.” Every room gets its own dose of charm.

As far as lights go, Madcap has a couple of simple guidelines. For a naked tree that won’t be decorated, stick to white lights. If it will be festooned with ornaments, use colored lights. In that case, says Nixon, “Use as much color as possible. It can be blue or purple or whatever. Pull a lighting color from your ornaments or the tree topper.”

Trim like a pro
When it comes to decorating those trees, Loecke has a few rules of thumb. “You want a mix of ornament sizes. Build from the inside out. The largest go inside the tree, toward the trunk. From there, work outward with smaller ornaments. Do that all up and down the tree.” And he advises using a lot of ornaments. “Depending on your ornament sizes and how full your tree is, I’d use about 50 to 100 ornaments per foot of circumference.”

Fake it
Nothing beats a real tree in terms of olfactory pleasure, but when it comes to decorating, faux is the way to go. And not only because you’re avoiding a fire hazard, says Nixon. “Good fake trees — we like the ones from Balsam Hill — are pre-lit, can be put together in five minutes, and allow us to focus on the decorating.” He cites the annual struggle to erect a real tree as a test of even the best relationship. And, he says, modern fakes are intentionally designed not to look too perfect. Once you load on the ornaments, the result is hard to beat.

One fake feature that nobody loves: the metal base. Nixon says it’s an opportunity to get creative with containers. “It can be a great planter, a drum-shaped surround, or a basket with the bottom cut out. Think about the base of the tree just as much as the topper. And if you have a found object you can wrap it in — a length of velvet or faux fur — it will add value at the base of tree.”

Don’t neglect the nooks
Everyone expects outdoor lights and a big Douglas fir in a place of honor, but Nixon and Loecke believe in creating special moments throughout your home. “It’s about walking through the home and adding slight embellishments as you go. A bowl of ornaments in a hallway. A ribbon tied around a porcelain dog. Bottles of champagne cooling in a bathtub.” Treat guests to a visual surprise as they move from room to room.

Take the diners out of the dining room
Although the Madcap duo love a dining room, they concede that it makes for a fairly formal meal. Nixon says, “If you’re having a smaller gathering, bring it out of the dining room. Place a game table, which is making a real resurgence, in front of a living room fireplace. It’s more cozy, intimate, and unexpected. Or put a hall table in the foyer. Unexpected seating makes people’s eyes sparkle.”

Think beyond red and green
The combo may be classic, but it isn’t the only color option in town. “This year we’re having a Mexican moment, with bright oranges and purples and lots of tin ornaments inspired by Acapulco back in the day.” Nixon encourages people to think about moments in your life that made you happy, and to bring those moments to life. “Why not have a garden themed Christmas, with bright floral ornaments and some shaped like garden tools? If you love seashells, do a beach tree — you don’t have to live at the shore. Or why not mix pink and orange? Have some fun!”

And don’t worry about matching your holiday décor with your home’s overall design. “If you have a modern home and you want to go traditional, go for it. Midcentury décor in a traditional home, great! Use color to unite the decorations with your interior scheme.”

Get creative with garlands
No need to stop with mantels and stairways, the traditional spots for greenery. “We’ve done a beautiful swag on the antique dish rack in our kitchen. Swag a bathroom mirror. And if you don’t feel like finding needles in the carpet in five years, try a fake garland. It can be magnolia leaves, even honeycomb party balls, a mix of rounds and stars and suns and all sorts of fun shapes.”

Master the mix
Combining patterns and textures without creating a chaotic scene can sound intimidating. Nixon says that if you’re scared, “Pick one color and carry it throughout your tree and holiday accents. If it’s blue, for example, use navy, aqua, turquoise, and royal blue. You can layer the prints and patterns but the eye will still connect all the dots.”

Set the table with joy
Again, the Madcap team like to mix it up at the table. “Bring in Granny’s china and layer it with your everyday dishes. Make it fun and easy and evocative. Do low-scale floral arrangements. Use place cards. Break out the great flatware. Scatter objects across the table.”

Loecke has a few how-to’s for turning supermarket flowers into a low-slung holiday centerpiece. “Look for a color palette that works with your décor. Cut the stems short, then mix in cut evergreens or holly for a holiday scent. You can find all kinds of floral picks at crafts stores, to add sparkle and luster. Put a scattering of cranberries down the table. Add a bowl of oranges and lemons in a beautiful tower and top it with a wired ribbon.” The produce aisle is full of inspiration: pomegranates, clementines, even artichokes.

Tell your story
Above all, says Nixon, think of your tree as a story. “Our living room tree is full of ornaments we’ve collected over the years and pieces we’ve created during our journey. We have ornaments John made for his mom and the angel I made in grade school. Just as in decorating, you don’t want your tree to look like a showroom. Our tree is a nostalgic celebration of family and the places we’ve been. It brings our story to life.”

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