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Natural Inspiration on St. Catherine’s Holiday House Tour

Six homeowners in the Hampton Gardens neighborhood of Richmond opened the doors of their festive homes for the St. Catherine’s Holiday House tour last Sunday. Alison and I always enjoy this biannual tour and were eager to see what inspiration trends we’d spot for indoor and outdoor Christmas decor. We couldn’t have been more delighted to find that simple and natural equalled quiet holiday elegance throughout all of the homes. 

Serendipitously this morning as I read an article by Shane Connolly (floral designer to royalty and the über wealthy) in the House & Home section of the Financial Times entitled It’s Christmas…naturally,

Shane Connolly's column in the FT © The Gracious Posse

Alison sent me this blog post, Holiday Trend Alert: The Natural Look is In (And It’s Way Easier). Looks like our Richmonders on the house tour are right on trend. Take a look at what we mean.

Outdoor Decor

outdoor planter © The Gracious Posse

porch tablescape © The Gracious Posse

outdoor tiered arrangement © The Gracious Posse

outdoor container and wreath © The Gracious Posse

Boxwood wreath on front door © The Gracious Posse

wreath with dried limelight hydrangea © The Gracious Posse

outdoor boxwood wreath with crushed velvet ribbon © The Gracious Posse

Indoor Decor

rustic tablescapen of greenery and blooms © The Gracious Posse

topiary and rose © The Gracious Posse

roses, cedar and magnolia © The Gracious Posse

orchids and greenery © The Gracious Posse

lush table arrangement © The Gracious Posse

Freesia, Veronica, Boxwood and Cedar © The Gracious Posse

festive branches in glass container © The Gracious Posse

Christmas cards on display © The Gracious Posse

Birch limbs and magnolia © The Gracious Posse

Lemon Leaf Garland © The Gracious Posse

We couldn’t decide if this garland of lemon leaf was real or faux. After the tour the floral designer Christina McCoy confirmed it was indeed real. Either way it’s a lighter alternative to cedar, fir or pine garland.

Boxwood wreath with crushed velvet ribbon © The Gracious Posse

In Shane Connolly’s column (I cannot link to it because the folks at FT require a subscription to read their online content), he shared his two rules for Christmas decoration:

First, distinguish between the home and a department store. It is all about imagination and atmosphere rather than grand impressions.

Second, remember that everything has been done before, but anything inspired by nature and “homemade” is likely to be more original and interesting than anything man-made.

Imagination and originality were on abundant display in the natural designs the homeowners shared at the open houses. The simplicity of the designs and the use of natural, readily available elements encouraged us to consider freshening up our Christmas decor, too. How fortunate that being on trend this year means saying good-bye to grand impressions necessitating heavy outlays of cash and Hello, Mother Nature with fresh bounty from the great outdoors.


December 7, 2016

Welcome, December 2016!

Waterlogue house tour Christmas tree from 2012 © The Gracious Posse

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Well, at least most of the time. It certainly is the busiest time of the year. Fortunately a lot of the busy will get you in the spirit of the season. Most of the events that we are looking forward to happen every year, and when you take advantage of any of them every year with family or friends, like magic they become a tradition. Here are some of our favorite old and new traditions rocking RVA and beyond this December.

Bizarre Bazaar

Bizarre Bazaar 2016

Thursday, December 1st – Saturday, December 3rd
10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 4th
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Richmond Raceway Complex
this used to be one of my favorite shopping traditions when cousin-in-law aBr lived in RVA. Still miss her and think of her when I go.

Dominion Christmas Parade

Dominion Christmas Parade 2016

Saturday, December 3rd
10 a.m.

St. Catherine’s Holiday House Tour

St. Catherine’s Holiday House Tour 2016

Sunday, December 4th
1 – 4 p.m.
homes in Hampton Gardens
get tickets here
find more holiday house tours here

Messiah Sing-In

Old Cabell Hall

Tuesday, December 6th
8 p.m.
Old Cabell Hall
The University of Virginia, Charlottesville
read about one of Ellen’s newest Christmas traditions with LDB here
get more information and tickets here

Tacky Light Run

Tacky Light Run

Saturday, December 10th
6 p.m.
don your ugliest Christmas sweater, wrap yourself in Christmas lights and embrace RVA’s claim to fame as the City of Tackiest Lights
more information and registration here

Richmond Ballet Nutcracker

Richmond Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Performances run Saturday, December 10th – Friday, December 23rd
my favorite Richmond tradition with my daughter
get more details and tickets here

Tuckahoe Plantation Christmas Open House

Tuckahoe Plantation Christmas Open House

Wednesday, December 14th
4-7 p.m.
all are welcome to Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home

New Year’s Eve Family Frolic

New Year’s Eve Family Frolic at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Saturday, December 31st
2-5 p.m.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
roll down the hill to the Rose Garden and other fun
more details and tickets here


That’s more than enough outside traditions to put on my calendar to join my family’s private traditions, which always includes partaking of Richmond’s tacky (and not so tacky) lights tour. What traditions have we missed that you love to share with your family and/or friends? Please let us know in the comments below.


December 1, 2016

Advent Calendars Kick Off the Season

Sunday, November 27 marked the first Sunday in Advent. With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday just passed, you’re likely in the middle of making your list and checking it twice, trying to get your act together for the gifting, cooking, decorating, donating and celebrating that the holidays demand.

I love Christmas season as much as the next elf, but this year at The Gracious Posse we’re going to kick it off with a focus on Advent. Fear not, we’re not waging a war on Christmas, just circling back to its origins. Advent is the season of anticipating the birth of Christ, watching for Christ’s love to appear amongst us, and waiting for his second coming.

The advent calendar is my favorite visual and active reminder of the season of preparation. Do you have one? Years ago I bought one at the Bizarre Bazaar in Richmond.

Buoyer Advent Calendar © The Gracious Posse

My children adored pulling an ornament out of the pocket each day and putting it on the tree. Growing into adulthood hasn’t diminished their joy of this tradition. This weekend as my girls brought out the boxes of decor, it was among the first to be hung with glee.

Many of you also cherish hanging your vintage advent calendars.

KK advent calendar © The Gracious Posse

KK’s parents crafted her heirloom calendar from wood. 

bJm advent calendar © The Gracious Posse

bJm’s mother-in-law vJr made her calendar. The ornaments attach to the tree via snaps. I think the unused snaps look like twinkling lights.

dNz advent calendar © The Gracious Posse

dNz’s advent calendar tells the story of Christmas 

dNz advent calendar interior © The Gracious Posse through twenty-four mini books. 

If you don’t have an advent calendar and want to use one, it’s not too late! Although Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent (it begins on the closest Sunday to November 30), Advent season is 24 days. So you have a day to spare this year. Take a look at our ideas for the countdown.

Purchase an Advent Calendar

A number of my friends use a new calendar each year, where each day reveals a small treat, usually chocolate, like this one I found

Advent Calendar from Fresh Market © The Gracious Posse

at Fresh Market and

Caspari’s Nativity Pop-Up Advent Calendar

Caspari’s  Pop up Christmas Tree Advent Calendar that you can get on Amazon.

If you want to invest in a re-useable calendar, check these out: nativity fabric advent calendar from Vermont Christmas CompanyThe manger scene on Vermont Christmas Company’s calendar reminds little ones of the real Christmas story.

luxe advent calendar from Pottery Barn Kids

Luxe Velvet Advent Calendar from Pottery Barn Kids

Train Advent Calendar from Meri Meri

For the train lover of all ages, Meri Meri’s found at Paper Source delivers.

Make Your Own Advent Calendar

If you’re interested in creating your own advent calendar, check out our Advent Calendar Pinterest board for ideas. Likewise, you might find inspiration in commercial places like catalogs. A Pottery Barn catalog inspired daughter mBf to make her own, with an assist from me.
mBf advent calendar © The Gracious PosseWe had more fun collecting the trinkets to display on each of the 24 days to personalize our calendar.

Maybe you want a grown-up Advent calendar, because after all, Advent isn’t just for kids. I thought it would be interesting to combine two ideas from our Pinterest board

advent calendar idea collage © The Gracious Posse

to produce a thoughtful and less caloric calendar. Instead of photos on the back of each day, put a random act of kindness.

Use a Virtual Advent Calendar

If you’re not the crafty type, try visiting a virtual advent calendar. This one on Pinterest

Virtual Advent Calendar via SSJE

was created by Friends of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Each of the 24 days provides a photo of the season and an Advent word-of-the-day.

No matter the means, whether you are ready or not, it’s time to

Let the holy countdown begin!


November 29, 2016

Thankful for Flower Arranging Tips from RVA Master, David Pippin

Just in time for the holidays, floral designer extraordinaire David Pippin shared his talent with my garden club last week. Members were asked to bring in unusual containers to Stump the Designer, but not much stumps this man who for over 30 years has been creating fabulous arrangements for Virginia weddings and events and now even the Governor’s Mansion. He takes what he is given, whether it be greens, flowers, container or space, and lets his creativity flow. Maybe some of David’s tips from that evening will inspire you to rethink your own arrangements for the holidays.

David Pippin and designs © The Gracious Posse

1. Nandina Berries

They are in full flush now and can look gorgeous in arrangements. Separate them from their leaves and lay the berries on a mantel or other surface. So long as you don’t put their stem in water, they won’t continue to develop and will stay red and intact for a long time. Branches sans berries need to be put in water, though, and will also provide long-lasting enjoyment.

David Pippin’s low arrangement in free form pottery container © The Gracious Posse

2. Strip Leaves

that will otherwise be underwater in your arrangement. Whatever the plant material, submerged leaves will shorten the arrangement’s life and can make the whole thing smell pretty bad, too (I know from experience).

3. Never Use Just Four of One Type of Flower

A couple of years ago, I described the Fibonnaci approach to the number of flowers used to design arrangements. David supported this theory by telling us that using four of any one flower (not in Fibonnaci sequence) is his big no-no because four means death in Ikebana – not a good vibe whether for a celebration or daily living. I’ve already implemented this advice in my Thanksgiving arrangements.

David Pippin’s complementary reds arrangement © The Gracious Posse

4. Hand-Tied ArrangementsDavid Pippin’s hand-tied tall arrangement © The Gracious PosseHand-tied arrangements work great sitting at the top of a tall container like this classic green and white beauty. To achieve this look follow these steps:

  • First prep all of your plant material (i.e., strip leaves and cut to generally uniform lengths) before starting to arrange.
  • Start with your center flower, hold it in your left hand if you are right-handed and lay the next stalk at an angle to the left of it, then twist the stems one-quarter turn counter-clockwise. Lay the next stalk the same way, twist them one-quarter turn counter-clockwise and repeat until you have a full arrangement.
  • Secure the arrangement with 12-gauge aluminum wire. Apparently it is available at craft stores in many different colors.
  • Cut stalks even but not too short at first. Check to see if the length works for the container. If not, keep trimming a bit at a time until the arrangement sits evenly right on top of the container.

Esperance roses in David Pippin’s hand-tied tall arrangement © The Gracious Possegorgeous Esperance roses

5. Look at Plant Materials in Different Ways

David Pippin’s rustic design with petal-stripped sunflower © The Gracious Posse

We all freaked a little when David started pulling all of the yellow petals off of the sunflower (center above) for a very rustic arrangement. He was left with a dark bullseye on a thick stem. Not necessarily my pretty cup of tea, but in the right setting you can see it working. Similarly, he stripped fading leaves from a fig tree branch and used it as the centerpiece of this iron dragon container.

David Pippin’s dragon lady arrangement © The Gracious Posse

the branch reflects the shape of the claws holding up the container

When life gets stressful, nothing brings me peace like a sink full of flowers and time to arrange them as a gift or for my own home. David’s tips got me thinking of different ways to flower-up spots throughout my home for the holidays. I’m always thankful for inspiration that gets my creative juices flowing: just one of the many reasons that I am thankful for all of the readers of the Gracious Posse and your many suggestions. Please keep them coming.

May your Thanksgiving be as fabulous as David Pippin’s arrangements!

Happy Thanksgiving 2016 watercolor © The Gracious Posse


November 22, 2016

In the Pink with a Budget-Friendly Closet Makeover

For the age of my home (circa 1956), I am fortunate to have a walk-in closet in my bedroom. Curiously, it isn’t wide enough to accommodate two parallel hanging rods as it was outfitted. When we first moved in, we attempted to use both rods and did so for several years, but we grew weary of feeling like a running back facing the defensive line of the Seattle Seahawks each time we entered it.

At one point I tried the band-aid approach and delegated the re-design to a handyman whose choice of hardware left me aghast

closet before with rod hooks circled © The Gracious Posse

(the unused rod hooks were painful to the backside as well as the eyes)

until I realized the hardware was the best, lowest cost solution. First lesson learned: Do it right the first time, or, as tKs says,

spend the money to do it right the first time and you’ll only cry once.

My Mantra: Not Having a Cocktail Party in Here

After suffering long enough with the first whiff, I was ready for take two. This time I would tackle the job myself as I just couldn’t justify spending LDB‘s hard-earned income on a fancy closet. I mean, if I’m not going to have a cocktail party in it, what’s the point in fancy? Yet because it’s a room we use every day, I was determined to make it happier and friendlier, all while not breaking the bank.

The Inspiration

House Beautiful’s cover photo

House Beautiful September 2016 cover 

of Richmonder Katie Ukrop’s living room, inspired me to put more pink in my life. My closet seemed the perfect place to add some, and I reminded LDB that as real men don’t shrink from pink, he could embrace it, or at least cope. 

Step 1: Remove all Items, Evaluate and Edit

Closet Before © The Gracious Posse

(the before)

This was the hardest step of all, but once I removed everything, I was motivated to finish the chore asap. Plus, I didn’t want to re-hang clothes that we weren’t going to wear.

Step 2: Remove and Replace Shelf Brackets, Move Hanging Rods

Long before HGTV became popular I learned the thrill of using a drill. Armed with my ratchet screwdriver

I find ratcheting screwdrivers easier to use than cordless models.

and drill, I removed the old brackets and hung the new ones, switching the hanging rod from one side to the other to stop smacking into it when we enter the closet. Unlike HGTV, where things seem to happen in a jiffy, this task took me longer than I’d care to admit. Knowing that I could move the edited clothes back and work on the fun stuff as soon as this was done and the space painted, I persevered. 

Step 3: Paint

After testing several swatches of paint on the wall, I selected Benjamin Moore’s Early Sunset for the walls and a high gloss white for the ceiling and trim.

Step 4: Accessorize!

Your closet is another room in your home, so why not make it pretty? Using a combination of new and repurposed items, I enjoyed decorating my little pink chamber with touches of gold and pink.

Use Your Accessories

It’s a shame to keep some of your cherished accessories hidden away. My vintage Enid Collins bags prove my point. Pulling them out of one of my other closets, I now use them to hold my stockpile of old costume jewelry. Since I don’t use the jewelry or the bags often, they reside on the top shelves.

Enid Collins bags on shelf © The Gracious Posse

Lucky for me I discovered a vintage handkerchief of my grandmother’s embroidered with rose gold floss. Inge at Frame of Mind selected the perfect mat and molding for this sentimental accesory that I now see every day.

Laundry shelf and framed vintage handkerchief © The Gracious Posse

Ironing Supplies

My ironing board and supplies live in my closet for convenience. Our home will never have one of those cool laundry rooms complete with fold-out ironing boards, but that doesn’t mean their storage needs to be ugly utilitarian. To the shelf in the closet’s small nook (above), I added a repurposed gold wire basket to hold laundry odds and ends and rescued a square bamboo serving tray from the basement, brushed the bamboo with gold paint, and placed the iron, starch and water spray bottle on the tray. 

My ironing board was due for a new cover, and I looked forward to finding a pretty one. Silly me. Have you shopped for a cover lately? The commercially available ones really need facelifts. Fortunately I remembered Cath Kidston, the British brand of housewares, and found this hydrangea-adorned cover. Perfect! Finally, my old ironing board/iron hanger never worked well to begin with, so I found a stylish solution on Pinterest using large brass coat hooks.

Ironing Board with Cath Kidston cover © The Gracious Posse

Another coat hook went to work holding my robe.

Hook for robe © The Gracious Posse

While not a huge fan of using baskets and bins for organization because they tend collect unused items, I thought this gold wire basket would suit for my small handbags.

Gold basket for small handbags © The Gracious Posse


The old ceramic bare-bulb socket really had to go. LDB expressed one preference here: he liked the industrial bulb look. I wanted a glass and gold pendant, so the search was on. Fortunately I found a home-grown solution at Shades of Light, and my electrician hung in no time.

 Pendant from Shades of Light © The Gracious Posse


By far the least expensive way to update your closet is to replace your mish-mash of hangers with one style. Because my clothes co-exist with my husband’s, I discovered that a one-size-fits-all hanger is not a good solution for our closet. The flocked hangers work great for my garments, but not for his dress shirts that come from the cleaners already hung on wire hangers. I’m not willing to spend time transferring them; I have limits. Our solution is to use the same hangers for each type of garment.

Regarding those flocked hangers: using kids-size hangers for my pants on the lower right rod saves me 4 precious inches all the way down. They aren’t suitable for LDB‘s casual pants, which hang at the back anyway.

Kids hangers for pants © The Gracious Posse

my pants hang on kid-size hangers in foreground

Given that the width of the closet was the initial problem, I wish I’d thought of this space-saving solution earlier. 

Tip: if you want to recycle your wire hangers, ask your cleaners if they accept used hangers. Hand Craft Cleaners does and even supplies a handy caddy.

Hanger recycling bin © The Gracious Posse

My closet won’t make the pages of House Beautiful, but for us it is an upbeat and organized space. We can now walk in and not be tackled by towering rods full of clothes on either side, and I get more pink in my life.

Finished Closet © The Gracious Posse

Isn’t it amazing how such a seemingly small change can have a major impact on your daily life?


November 17, 2016