By Rebecca Bull Reed, photography Ralph Anderson, styling Rose Nguyen
Decorating comes naturally to this Santee, South Carolina, couple.
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Natural Christmas Decorations
The winter sky at dusk is unbeatable in these parts. Old oaks and hickories are silhouetted against its wash of indigo blue, and houses hung with wreaths shine like lanterns at the ends of long, sandy drives. One in particular is an area favorite: the home of Dave and Susan Shuler.
Two weeks before Christmas, and not a day before, the couple readies their place for the holidays with greenery clipped from their garden. “We don’t use anything artificial. For us, fresh greenery reinforces what Christmas is all about―a celebration of life,” says Susan. From windows sporting wreaths on the outside (we counted 17 of them) to mantels billowing with juniper and pine on the inside, no spot is left undone.
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A Hospitable Arrangement
“When I was little, we’d line our nanny’s windowsills with branches of juniper and chinaberry cut from trees in her yard. It’s about using what you have,” says Dave. One of his most dramatic displays―the palm-and-pineapple arrangements pictured to the left―just may be the quickest. (How does 15 minutes per arrangement sound?) To create your own, follow these steps.
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Fill a Champagne urn with water-soaked florist foam. Insert the frond of a swamp palmetto into the back, and then add two fronds, edges trimmed, to the sides to form a cradle.
Spray-paint five to seven pampas grass blades gold, and insert them just in front of the back swamp palmetto frond.
Position a pineapple in the center of the urn (skewer it into place to keep it steady, if desired), and finish the front with magnolia leaves.
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The closest things you’ll get to snowballs here are the white roses Dave places in the living room fireplace display. Here’s how to get the look.
To create a sago palm fireplace fan, tightly fit water-soaked florist foam into a heavy, low container. Insert the middle frond first, and then fill in with fronds on either side.
Place a decorative container in front of the fan; fill with water-soaked florist foam. Add magnolia branches and white roses.
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Make the Most of the Mantel
Line the mantel with 6-inch trays filled with water-soaked florist foam. Use nuts and bolts to weigh down the trays. Insert a row of pine branches horizontally across the back, followed by a row of magnolia. Front the arrangement with a row of juniper. Tuck in white and jade roses and eucalyptus.
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A Wreath for Every Window
Predictability is a virtue in the Lowcountry. It’s the kind of place where a pot of rice is put on to cook while one decides what’s for dinner and where sweet tea is a given regardless of the meal―or the occasion. It goes without saying that Dave’s magnolia wreaths are a holiday tradition that neighbors have come to expect. The only thing that has changed over the years is how he makes them. Dave’s process is so simple we hope you’ll be inspired to make your own.
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Making a Magnolia Wreath
Start with a 15-inch florist foam wreath that has been soaked in water. Dave prefers the Oasis brand wreath base (item number SMI-1030 at www.afloral.com).
Set the florist foam wreath atop an empty 3-gallon nursery pot. The groove on the bottom of the form fits perfectly on the pot, which helps keep it stable.
Insert individual leaves directly into the foam so they are perpendicular to the form. No need for wire or glue. Four concentric rings of leaves will cover the wreath.
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Hanging Your Wreath
To hang your wreath, tie fishing line to the form and loop the line over a finishing nail driven into the top of the window frame. Red velvet ribbon hides the fishing line and nail. Finish with a festive bow.
Tip: Dave reuses not only his bows but also his wreath forms from year to year. To get an extra year of life out of the foam, simply unsnap sections from the plastic form, flip over, and use the other side. Store the forms and bows carefully, and you’ll be set when Christmas comes around again.
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Stockings on the Staircase
There’s a certain romance to coming down the stairs on Christmas morn. Laced with smilax vine, the staircase makes an eye-catching first stop to see what Santa has brought. “Smilax holds up only for about a week,” says Dave, “but we love the look, and it’s easy to replace.” A quick step outside reveals a plentiful supply.
Stockings, rightfully guarded by nutcrackers, find a not-so-traditional home here on the side of the staircase. We think this is a nice way to spread holiday joy to all rooms of the house while keeping clutter at bay.
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Don't Forget the Bedroom
Even mom and dad’s bed gets special treatment. Draped with ivy and elaeagnus, it’s the perfect place to rest one’s weary head for a much-needed long winter’s nap. A touch of gold ribbon encircles the canopy and is tied in bows at the posts.
Collections are a part of Christmas. Whether you’re fond of villages or angels or nutcrackers, as Dave and Susan’s son Charles David is, part of the fun is setting up the display. Out of more than 150, his favorite is the hunter―very fitting for a young Lowcountry gentleman.