Decorator: Barry Dixon, Elway Hall, 8394 Elway Lane, Warrenton, VA 20186; 540/341-8501, barrydixon.com.
Decorations: Barbara Hamilton, Ociana Group, 202/550-5750, ociana.net.
Text by Jenny Bradley
Photographs by Gordon Beall
Deck the halls. And while you're at it, deck the dining room, too, please. That was designer Barry Dixon's holiday charge when he partnered with Traditional Home to decorate the Lee Entrance Hall and Dining Room at Blair House--the president's official guesthouse for foreign heads of state visiting Washington, D.C.
"These hallowed halls have witnessed key moments in American history," says the Virginia-based designer (and holiday decorator extraordinaire). "Reverence for the history of this venerable manse was paramount as we spruced it up for the holidays."
With the help of floral designer Barbara Hamilton, Dixon set about transforming each space into a colorful yet understated, traditional yet unconventional celebration of the season.
Bypassing the standard red-and-green holiday scheme, Dixon instead opted for a chartreuse, jade, cornflower, and silver palette inspired by the restored 18th-century chinoiserie wallpaper in the adjacent Lee Drawing Room. Set against the barely-there blue of the history-rich dining room (President Truman held weekly luncheon meetings with his Cabinet here), the scheme added energy to the space without overlooking its significant genealogy.
"We wanted to be respectful of the history that Blair House emanates and at the same time look fresh and current," Dixon points out. "Even the most elaborate homes can radiate a sense of warmth, approachability, and invitation."
In the dining room (now used for private meetings and meals with Blair House guests), notable furnishings were delicately swathed in holiday flourishes. A diminutive Christmas tree cradled in a silver punch bowl and strewn with Victorian beadwork and antique silver Spanish Arts and Crafts ornaments was placed atop an early-18th-century English chest of drawers. The Chippendale-style dining table was set not only with Blair House china but also with Dixon's own antique Limoges dinner plates in robin's-egg blue--adding a punch of color to the otherwise subdued dinnerware. A garland of cedar and juniper adorned with eucalyptus pods, magnolia leaves, nut clusters, and Hypericum berries framed the carved mantel, highlighting the nontraditional holiday palette.
"It's not the expected holiday formality," Dixon notes. "But it's still rich. And the edible nuts and berries are perfect for the feasting room. It's a bespoke Christmas decor. You simply have to look around your house and find inspiration for your own Christmas scheme."
The Lee Entrance Hall at Blair House.
The orange and green palette of the Lee Entrance Hall is carried over to the garland on the stairway banister.
A traditional cedar garland is given an update with persimmons and oranges embellished with cloves.
Table settings were inspired by the Blair House Chinese export porcelain and blue-and-white needlepoint chair seats.
Instead of a floral centerpiece, Dixon filled a large bowl with art glass ornaments nestled in magnolia leaves.
Official Blair House china.
Victorian beadwork and antique ornaments adorn a small tree.
An overscale wreath is dotted with edible treats--apples, lemons, and nuts--as well as Hypericum berries and osage oranges.
Designer Barry Dixon.