Holiday Inspiration

Southern magnolias replace traditional evergreens in two McLean homes decorated for the holidays


Silver and gold Chanukah gifts, flatware and chargers added sparkle to this table setting by Morris DiNapoli.

First house:

Interior Design: Rob Morris and Rose DiNapoli, Morris DiNapoli Interior Architecture and Decorative Arts, Arlington, Virginia

Architecture & Construction: Rob Morris, Morris-Day Designers and Builders, Arlington, Virginia

Second house:
Holiday Décor: Karen Luria, Karen Luria Interior Identity, Alexandria, Virginia
Interior Design: Studio Nuovo, Bethesda, Maryland

A 20-foot magnolia tree—sans leaves—was transformed into a shimmering jewel inside a stunning new Georgian cottage decked out for the holidays by designers Rob Morris and Rose DiNapoli. The business partners, who created and sponsored the Morris-DiNapoli Show House in December 2006 to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, brought the outdoors in for a natural, woodsy holiday theme that accentuated the open design of the home.

“I have magnolias at my house and when one died, I saved it in my garage. There are always ways to reincarnate, so I don’t throw things away,” says Rob Morris. “An evergreen tree would have blocked the light in this space. After three cans of white spray paint, this tree was perfect!”

Morris says the driving factor in this home’s design, like so many homes built in older neighborhoods, was retaining its small footprint. “We had to design so it would fit, yet still look smaller than it is. To maximize square footage, we built vertically rather than horizontally.” An open design provides sight lines to the foyer and front door from many vantage points throughout the house. Deciding where to place the Christmas tree for maximum impact was easy. “You can’t go anywhere in this house without interacting with the foyer, and that’s why the tree is there,” explains Morris.

The home’s spaciousness is further enhanced by the designers’ choice of lighting. “Light fixtures make a unique statement in this house. We didn’t want the holiday decorations to compete,” says interior designer Rose DiNapoli. Czech glass globe lights suspended from the second-story loft above the foyer inspired the team to ornament the magnolia tree with a fine touch. “We played off of the globes, and chose shiny balls in non-traditional shades—sky blue, copper, sage green—woodland colors,” she says. They wrapped the stairway banisters in a grapevine garland intertwined with white lights “in keeping with the bareness of the natural tree.”

The exterior of the four-level home was especially striking at night, with a view of the Christmas tree through a two-story glass alcove and complementary garlands of real magnolia leaves dusted with artificial snow surrounding the front door. Lighted

magnolia wreaths were hung over the front door and garage. “I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and we decorate with magnolia leaves in the South. This house is a pale pink stucco, Charleston design, so it made sense,” says Morris.

The home’s interiors are divided into two zones. The living and dining room constitute the formal zone for entertaining, while the kitchen, family room and breakfast room make up the informal zone. “It’s a 6,000-square-foot home that feels more like 24,000,” Morris says, pointing out the expansive glass doorways between rooms as well as the vertical openness.

In the dining room, lighting again influenced the formal holiday décor. Morris and DiNapoli chose Waterford crystal stemware, silver chargers and gold flatware that all sparkled in the light of the glass chandelier. A silver menorah and gold and silver Chanukah gelt and dreidels added more shimmer. “It’s a very jewel-like table,” says DiNapoli. On the sideboard, the team added mirrored obelisks.

In the casual breakfast room, two bayberry trees and a bowl of red cherries accented the sideboard, and a plate of green olives livened the table. “We wanted to rethink the traditional red and green holiday palette, by using natural elements. The subtle, woodland colors complement the home’s interiors, and with the addition of lots of white lights, we still created the traditional sparkle of the holiday season,” says DiNapoli.

Last year, the grand oak doors of Stacy and Michael Mendler’s home were decorated with Christmas wreaths of magnolia leaves and crimson roses. Just inside, the foyer sparkled with Chanukah blue. Karen Luria, who decorated the home for the holidays last year, believes in a lifestyle approach to interior design, and in this case, that meant the fusion of Christian and Judaic customs, says Stacy Mendler. “I laid out the complexities of the fact that we have Christian and Jewish beliefs in the family and wanted to celebrate both holidays without offending either side. Karen was magnificent—she listened to every word and we were not over the top on either one.”

Luria utilized magnolia leaves, roses, fairies and trains to create a playful, non-traditional holiday theme, making every room “touchable and more interesting for our three sons,” says Stacy Mendler.

In the entrance foyer, Luria hand-tied bows of deep blue satin ribbon on the stairway’s turned balusters, and accented them with alternating pine- cone balls and white rose pomanders. An antique Santa Claus perched on a rocking horse laden with gifts welcomed guests into the home.


An old magnolia tree painted white created a lighter alternative to the traditional evergreen.

In the dining room, the table was set for Christmas Eve. Gold napkins were tucked into fairies’ pockets on the round table, covered with a double-layered burgundy silk brocade cloth. Luria worked with Michael Volanni of Volanni Floral in DC to create three floral arrangements for the client’s antique crystal candelabra. “I wanted to accentuate the candles with flowers, yet keep them low enough so people could see and talk to one another,” she says. Antique cream Noritake china with a gold border and crystal stemware completed the elegant place settings. Luria placed two treated rose topiaries on the sideboard, surrounded by lamb’s ear.

A collection of menorahs added a holiday focus to the Mendlers’ pale yellow living room. Some were wedding gifts, while Luria selected others from designer collections. She also filled bowls with dreidels and Chanukah gelt. The fireplace was adorned with magnolia leaves and surrounded by three iced Christmas trees sculpted of natural twigs. The trio was part of a glowing display of a total of 24 trees arranged throughout the house.

In addition to combining Christmas and Chanukah traditions, the Mendlers, who both have busy careers in technology companies, had a practical request—they asked Luria to avoid evergreens. “I didn’t want to deal with dropping needles,” says Mendler. So Luria ordered an eight-foot-tall artificial tree with more than 1,000 lights, from Hammacher Schlemmer in New York, for the family room. She wound 75 yards of wired gold ribbon through its branches, and wrapped the base in snowy white tulle. Her ornament selection included red pomanders, handmade velvet, sequined and tussled bead designs and gold pears and apples. The Mendlers added Chanukah decorations and ornaments Stacy Mendler has collected since childhood.

To the delight of the Mendler youngsters, who are fans of The Polar Express, Luria surrounded the tree with train tracks and a whistle-blowing train that lights up and puffs real smoke—a perfect finishing touch for the holidays.

Sherry Crisp is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in Arlington, Virginia.


Glass French doors between the breakfast room and dining room allow flexible options for holiday entertaining.

The exterior of the four-level home was especially striking at night, with a view of the Christmas tree through the two-story glass alcove, and garlands of real magnolia leaves dusted with artificial snow surrounding the front door. 


Florist Michael Volanni created an arrangement of white orchids, white mini calla lilies, safari sunset and song of India greens to accent the homeowners’ crystal candelabra in the dining room. 


Designer Karen Luria hand-tied bows of deep blue satin ribbon on the stairway’s cream-colored, turned balusters, and accented them with alternating pine-cone balls and white rose pomanders.

A collection of menorahs and a trio of Christmas trees sculpted out of natural twigs added a holiday focus to the living room.

A train surrounds the family room tree wrapped in tulle.