Like many people, I feel like I totally missed out on the holiday season last year, and I’m looking to bring back some seasonal cheer this year—but in a super easy, low-stress way. On top of the impact of quarantining during the holiday season last year, my Thanksgiving meal was actually the last dinner I ate before becoming a first-time mom (peek inside my nursery design here)! Needless to say, I was in a haze for all of December (and good few months after that!). So, while it feels like my baby’s first Christmas this year, it’s actually her second!

After the stress, anxiety, and loss caused by a global pandemic, layered with the energy and emotion surrounding a new baby, I didn’t think I could find an ounce of extra energy to get ready for the holidays this year. But I knew I wanted to start some new holiday traditions for my growing family. My best friend, Jacqueline, who is a talented floral designer, brought over a winter wreath and a garland for me, and that got me thinking about other easy ways to usher in the holiday season.

This is the first time my husband and I will be getting holiday-ready with our daughter and doing some light entertaining as parents. So this year my plans are all about making easy updates to my home that can last through the holiday season, starting a few new traditions while also passing down some of my old favorites, and hosting effortless, low-key gatherings that celebrate the people I love.

I wanted to share the updates I made to my home for the holiday season with you, in the hopes that it can inspire you for some simple holiday decorating and entertaining!

Step 1: The Entryway

One of my pandemic projects was painting my front door black, and I’ve been looking forward to a green wreath ever since. Instead of the traditional evergreen, I asked Jacqueline to make me a wreath with some softer greens that would dry nicely for longevity. She came up with a gorgeous eucalyptus and bay leaf wreath with white wax flowers. The look is classic, with a hint of modernity, and it has such a fresh smell that welcomes visitors when they arrive.

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Step 2: The Fireplace

The fireplace is one of the best places to get festive with decorations, since it’s a focal point during colder months. I love using garland atop the mantel, with greenery-filled vases and candles tucked in. You can get an extra-long garland to drape down the side of your fireplace for a relaxed-but-lush look. Or, you can have the garland sit the length of the mantel, which is my favorite way to style because you don’t have to stress about getting the perfect shape or if the garland will stay put.

This year I matched the garland, which was also made by my friend, with my front door wreath for continuity inside and out. I also love smelling the eucalyptus in my space! If there are parts of your garland, such as the wax flowers, that may not last more than two weeks, you can always pull those out as they start to fade and leave it with just greens—or pop in a new highlight such as berries or rose hips.

Reality Check

While I planned for this garland to last a good part of the holiday season, two days into having it in my house, I discovered that my daughter is allergic to flowers and greenery. Sometimes you have to let go of your plans and expectations! So, I put the garland outside and came up with a new plan for the fireplace. I channeled my inner 90s mom and picked up a classic, faux garland. Is it the chic, live greenery I envisioned for my holiday backdrop? No. But it’s traditional and nostalgic and can now become part of my family’s holiday decorating traditions for many years to come!

Step 3: The Bar

In the past, I’ve leaned on my bar cabinet when hosting guests, using it as a drink-mixing station for festive cocktails. However, holiday entertaining looks a lot different for us this year; we’ll be focusing on small family gatherings throughout the season that take minimal effort. No multi-course dinners or complicated drink recipes this year! To go along with a more relaxed vibe, I’ve styled my bar cabinet to be a coffee and pastry bar instead.

If you want to transform your bar cabinet or cart into a coffee nook, start by picking out your favorite potables to add into your coffee, tea, or espresso. For me that’s whiskey and sambuca. You might also like sweet or cream liqueurs, such as amaretto or Bailey’s. You could also forgo alcohol all together and set out some decadent treats to stir into your drinks—such as mint simple syrup, sugar cubes, candy canes, rock candy, local honey, or fresh whipped cream. Once your mixers are set, make sure your drinkware is ready to go and incorporate it as part of your styling. And don’t forget to save a space for a tray of fresh baked goods (store bought, homemade, or a mixture of the two!).

For baked goods, I’m setting out a mixture of homemade mini cakes and store-bought sfogliatelle. My baked goods tray also has a little trick: I use a box cake mix but bake it in an intricate cake pan! I used this Nordic Ware Plaque, which creates mini show-stopper cakes that look like they took hours to create (but take only minutes to prepare). When attending rather than hosting a gathering, this is also the perfect treat to bring to a party when you’re looking to impress the host and get a ton of compliments from other guests!

This bar setup allows us to be entertaining-ready in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee, tea, or espresso and put some baked goods on a tray! It makes it easy to invite friends over for a cup of coffee or tea, add a fun touch to after-dinner entertaining, or use your bar setup to create small moments of joy for your household throughout the season.

Embracing Nostalgia

The treats on my coffee bar have special meaning to me, as well. Growing up with an Italian family, I learned about adding a splash of sambuca to espresso from my grandparents. Espresso paired with sambuca was a ritual at their home, and the sweet liquorice flavor reminds me of them. My grandfather’s favorite pastries were sfogliatelle, a delicacy from his region in Italy, and these were a staple for family celebrations. Instead of stressing myself out baking, these are my go-to; it’s a treat most people haven’t tried and is filled with nostalgia for me. I won’t lie, I have literally cried after biting into a fresh sfogliatelle at least once in my life!

Step 5: Setting the Table

As a design historian, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I love vintage china. To create a stellar tablescape this year, I borrowed a Lennox pattern from my mom and pulled out some of the colors with the table runner, and an easy-but-gorgeous centerpiece. But even if you don’t have anything but white dishes, your table can still look extra special with a few thoughtful touches: a table runner or tablecloth, a full set of silverware, and a floral centerpiece.

A table runner is a great alternative to a tablecloth, and the perfect choice if you have a table that you love and want to show off. For me, showing off my reclaimed wood table top was a perfect pairing with the elegant, fancy china, allowing for a slightly more relaxed atmosphere.

I don’t fancy myself a floral designer; in fact, I don’t think I’m even good at arranging flowers. So, for the centerpiece I simply went to the grocery store and bought a few flowers that spoke to me and had the earthy and blue colors I wanted to highlight. I sat at my table after my daughter fell asleep (in the 60 minutes before she’d wake up again!) and just kept adding flowers to a small vase. The more I added the better the arrangement looked! If you buy flowers that can dry out or have longevity, you can leave them on the table with the table runner and candlesticks and elevate your nightly dinners between holiday meals.

And with that, I’m ready for some small family gatherings throughout the next month!

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