WASHINGTON, D.C. — First lady Michelle Obama officially opened the holiday season at the White House Wednesday, importing Chicago talent to style the world’s most famous home into a fragrant and elegant wonderland.
Gather Around is the theme of this year’s White House Christmas, the Obamas’ fifth. It is intended to signify people coming together to share the stories of the season and of the country’s heritage.
The exquisitely decorated mansion is home to 24 trees, the tallest a Douglas fir that rises 18.5 feet in Blue Room.
Just three weeks from Christmas, military families and children were among the first guests to gather around for glimpses of the holiday finery. Several ornaments honor the men and women of the armed forces.
Bo, 5, and Sunny, 1, the Obamas’ Portuguese water dogs, were on hand for the festivities.
Ashtyn Gardner, 2, from Germantown, Md., lost her balance while admiring Sunny, but recovered like a little trooper. She was with her dad, Navy Lt. John Gardner.
Gardner and other kids made merry in the State Dining Room, where the first lady joined White House executive chef Cris Comerford, executive pastry chef Bill Yosses and florist Laura Dowling to help them concoct holiday sweets and crafts.
Eighty-three volunteers from coast to coast helped spruce up the house, awash in hues of bronze, copper, purple, teal, red and warm green.
Chicago artist Brent Rogers, 26, of Ignite Glass Studios, crafted 120 glass-blown ornaments, shaped like bell jars, for display on tall trees in the East Room. The jars were filled items such as miniature portraits and tea services.
Chicago event planner Gabrielle Martinez, 41, managing partner of agencyEA, a Near North company, collaborated with the first lady in designing and producing this year’s decorations and brought with her 13 colleagues from Chicago for the final days of work that began the day after Thanksgiving.
Martinez, who began the planning in March and presented concepts to Obama in July, said the first lady sought to balance classic traditions that respect the “natural ambience of the house” with “forward-looking, modern twists.”
The event planner said “repurposed” classic pieces from years past were combined with new crafts handmade by the volunteers with an eye to achieving the “wow” effect that White House guests expect.