Behinds the Scenes of Celebrity Holiday Homes

Shooting a holiday episode in August’s 95 degree heat is weird. Shooting with a new crew, director, and at a location that you’ve never been to until the day of shooting gets even weirder. But I like weird, and being pushed creatively and physically can often make your work better, or worse. Let’s explore.

Here’s how it all breaks down:

I was asked to do the show in July, a show called “Celebrity Holiday Homes” and was told that Cheryl Burke was the celebrity. I responded “YES!” and then “Who?” I’m apparently one of nine Americans that doesn’t watch “Dancing with the Stars,” but everybody else knows who she is. It’s like how a friend of mine the other day had never heard of Kelly Wearstler and I was shocked, like as if she’s a household name, and then I thought, “Nope. She is a designer.” There are so many famous people that it’s hard for everyone to know everyone unless they are R-pats and K-stews. I ended up really getting along with her and despite only knowing each other for four hours, we really got along. Nothing awkward, nothing weird, she got my jokes and I hers. I was very happy she was my celebrity.

So I was sent photos of her house that looked like this:

You can get a general sense of the space from these photos, and it is pretty dope. I would buy this house in a second. It has a beautiful exposed ceiling and the views are ridiculous.

It’s a lot of gray (like 50 shades) so when I started conceptualizing the design plan I knew that I wanted the main color to be feminine to counteract how neutral and masculine the gray felt. Obviously pink is a very feminine color, and since Cheryl is a dancer and has to wear a lot of sparkly, pink feminine costumes I figured she could handle it.

First things first, the trees. I started shopping and found a few white and pink trees to buy, around $160, and rented a few (for about the same price). I wanted the trees to be lined up across that window. Once I got into the space I realized that three to four more trees would have been more ideal and even mixing in green ones would have been good (which isn’t an option in August, which is why all the shows have fake trees … unless they are shot a year in advance).

So I had about week to prep and $4,000 to spend, which goes REAL fast when that includes shipping and delivery. So here’s what we did:

We painted cake stands:

acrylic_cakestands

We used acrylic paint and just kinda slapped them on all abstract like. Can you put food on these? If you are a risky cake eater, sure — otherwise nope. But for cupcakes or things that have a protective lining they are great. We bought the cake stands from West Elm and painted the hell out of them.

They turned out totally cute. PLUS you can simply strip the paint off of them and the next year do a crazy watercolor effect on them, or polka dot them, gold leaf it, etc.

And yes, we did buy thrift store ballerina figurines and spray paint them neon pink with Montana spray paint (which has crazy saturated colors).

We painted nutcrackers from the thrift store, too.

I like how it looks like we’re nutcracker terrorists, blindfolding and torturing these poor drum beaters.

It was CRAZY hard to find nutcrackers in August and virtually impossible to find white ones (which is why one should always hoard everything you EVER like in case of shoots like this) so we had to scour Goodwill to find these.

Then I found the father of all nutcrackers, the coup de ta, the grand-slam-taking-home-the-prize kinda nutcracker. I was at a secret shopping location about an hour away from Los Angeles, minding my own business when there he was, standing before me at a random antique store.

In case you can’t get an idea of scale, it comes up to my shoulders. It was $200 and I about lost it. $200 for this piece of sh*t from a thrift store in the valley? Sure, it’s cute, fun, weird, WHATEVER, but we weren’t at a fancy vintage store on Beverly Blvd. We were in the middle of nowhere (secret thrifting, sorry) in a crappy store that had items piled from floor to ceiling like a dump. This thing should have been $35. But they had me by the nuts. (Yeah, I typed that). I needed this mancracker. I got them down to $150, final answer, and they took it.

As much as I like this vintage guy looking all vintage it simply wasn’t going to fit in the design plan. So white it must go:

And white it went. We used house paint, water based (although oil would have been more durable, we didn’t have the luxury of long drying time). I loved how it turned out and wanted to hoard it, but then I asked myself, “Emily, Emily, Emily, do you NEED a life-size nutcracker lamp that you only pull out two weeks out of the year? Is that something you need or simply something you don’t want others to have?” It was the latter, so I gave it up. PLUS if you watch the episode you’ll see that Cheryl’s family actually collects them and she grew up with tons of massive nutcrackers during the holidays.

Orlando painted a canvas with different pinks, reds, and white paint:

We just used vinyl sticker letters on top of the paint. Super easy, obviously. That way we can change it out and put weird quotes on it whenever we want to. For instance, I could write “Hey Brian, I’ll love you forever if you fill up my car once a week.” Stuff like that.

We shopped the hell out of the flower/craft market downtown and Stats Christmas store in Pasadena, and got loads and loads of holiday decor:

By the way anyone can shop at the craft stores downtown. They definitely serve more of the wholesale, designer, stylist, event planner, set decorator population, but anyone can go down there, you just pay more, but it’s still fun and cheap. I love GM Florals Company, which is in the same building as the flower market (check hours here for normal people hours, but be warned they close by 9am, yes in the morning). You can get flowers for CHEAP and tons of vases, vessels, pretty wood boxes, ribbons, ornaments, pretty much ANYTHING to throw an amazing dinner party. I need to do a whole post about it, but it’s so LA centric that I’m not sure it will be worth the amount of time and energy it will take me.

After all the shopping and prepping we started shooting on a Thursday for two days, which sounds like a lot of time but it goes really fast and most of it is not actually decorating the house. Read on.

Day one starts with unloading, unpacking, and organizing outside.

The camera crew shot the “before” photos inside while we unpack. Then we did an interview with me about what I’m going to do and my plan, etc., so we only had from three to six hours to actually decorate the space. You read that right. Three hours and that was it. This was because of Cheryl’s restrictions on the house.

We had one more hour the next morning to finish it off before they had to shoot all the “beauties,” which mean the after shots of the finished room.

Then we did all the interviews and the scenes with Cheryl and I.

Cheryl was only available for a few hours. A lot of you pointed out that she was talking about what was about to happen in an interview whilst sitting in front of the finished holiday decorations. That’s because she was only available to do an interview at the end instead of constantly throughout the shoot like the other celebrities.

The two days flew by and not everything got done, but here’s what happened:

 

TREEES!!!!

God, that photo is terrible. I took it real quick with my iPhone, but it’s very underwhelming. The snow even looks kinda dirty, but it wasn’t.

pink-christmas-buffet

I didn’t see this credenza in the “before” photos, so when we got into the space I didn’t have any plan to style it. So as we wrapped that night I was feeling a little defeated until Orlando said, “What about those paper flower you’ve been hoarding in the garage? We can make a wreath out of them.” Yes. Orlando, you genius, we can. So we just basically taped them to the wall in a wreath shape and it might be my favorite thing in the whole space. You might have recognized them from THIS post. 

Those mercury glass vessels are from West Elm, the pillows are from CB2, the deer are from GM floral in downtown LA, and the branches are figs, in case you want to copy them. I love how masculine they are in that very feminine setting.

 

The snow. I love the cotton/snow because it softens all the lines of everything and instantly brings in a soft wintery feel. We bought a MASSIVE roll of cotton from Stats in Pasadena for $75, which ain’t cheap, but it did go a long way. I bought some for my house, too, and I like the snow I bought this time better (you’ll see those photos posted on Thursday of this week).

Also, you’ll notice more dancers in cloches (glass domes) naturally. As far as garland goes, I used lemon leaf for a couple reasons. 1. Pine, evergreen, or anything that is terribly “Christmas” isn’t available in August, so I had to think of something else. Lemon leaves are always available, not expensive ($3 a foot, basically) and that color of green really pops. I ordered the garland from Mayesh at the flower market just two days in advance. They gave me 100 feet and a few wreaths for $350, I believe. Not cheap, but 100 feet is A TON so I’m sure you’d only need around ten for your mantel. Mayesh is my favorite flower vendor down there, by the way. If you don’t live in LA and want a traditional garland you can order 12′ garlands from Lands’ End for $59.99 (30 percent off right now and free shipping. HERE.

Wrapped presents are the CHEAPEST big impact holiday decor around. WE all have random boxes laying around, right? Shoe boxes, boxes from Christmas packages coming in, etc. So just wrap ‘em up, stack ‘em up and you have instant huge impact holiday. The key is getting different sizes (big on bottom, then build up) and different wrapping within a consistent color palette. And if your kids are going to be bummed about no gifts inside, come up with something clever about how they are magical and the gifts appear on Christmas Eve when Santa injects toys into them, then wrap a ton in the same wrapping and maybe they won’t notice.

I painted the wood logs white (with just primer so it really stuck to them). I actually love how they turned out for so cheap. Naturally I want to go further and paint some gold and hot pink, but we didn’t have time. But if your fireplace is empty and you want to deck those halls, just buy firewood and paint them white or whatever color is in your color palette — or make it more of an art installation, paint a pattern on them, etc.

AHHH, that photo is sooo bad. I didn’t have time to hire a photographer because we actually broke down the room at 6pm on the second day (remember that it was August so clearly she didn’t want Christmas for five months). There was a set photographer so I figured I’d get more/better-than-my photos of this space, but I didn’t, so I sincerely apologize for this travesty of a photo. I really wanted to show you the entire space.

Normally I can’t talk about my mistakes because I don’t want the homeowners to read it and think of their house in a negative way at all. I try at all times to avoid leaving ANYTHING in the house that I don’t think is right (and remember they don’t pay for anything so I never feel actually guilty), but yes, there have DEFINITELY been houses where I’m like, “Whoops, my bad,” and there isn’t much to do about it because of the time and budget constraints.

But in this case, it was just holiday decor so whatever mistakes I made can be easily fixed and there was way less emotional attachment to it than there is about someone’s new semi-permanent living room.

Here’s the breakdown of the budget so you can see where every penny went (financial voyeurism is one of my favorite types of voyeurism).

Huntington Collection

Brass Candleholders

$20.00

Stats Floral Supply

Pink Tree, White Tree, Lights, Cotton Bale, Ball Ornaments, Spray Paint

$1,144.20

King’s Collection

Toy Soldier

$163.00

Lenors Treasures & More

Ballerina Sculptures

$15.00

GM Floral Supply

Mini Pink Tree, Ball Ornaments, Glass Domes, Rustic Bowls, Wrapping Paper

$623.25

Mendocino Farms

Lunch (BD + EH) while Shopping for CHH

$25.23

Michael Levine Inc.

Fabric for Runners, Table Coverings

$151.71

West Elm

Mercury Glass, Tabletop, Vases, Silver Branches, Circular Cake Plates

$107.88

Beverly Center Parking

Parking

$1.00

Paper Source

Glitter Wrapping Paper, White Wrapping Paper, Tape

$21.64

Rapid Gas Inc.

Gas, while shopping for C.H.H.

$57.88

Cost Plus World Market

Tapered Candles

$34.66

Baller Hardware

Spray Paint, Stain

$34.81

Baller Hardware

Spray Paint, Acrylic Paint

$22.61

Mike’s Firewood

Logs for Fireplace

$20.00

Little Flower Candy

Candy

$20.00

Wokano

Lunch for BD and EH while shopping for CHH

$17.35

Ikea 

Red Pillow, Linen Pillow, Placemats

$53.77

Crate&Barrel

Napkins, Chargers, Champagne Flutes

$65.22

Michaels

Mini Trees, Canvas, Acrylic Paints

$159.73

Goodwill

Small Nutcrackers, Little Christmas Village, Angels

$24.93

Mustard Seed Café

Lunch for BD, OS, EH, while painting packing

$35.72

Trader Joe’s 

Prop Food and Drink

$92.51

Lark Bake Shop

Prop Desserts

$68.75

Green Sets

Pink Trees Rental

$489.38

Koontz Hardware

Staple Gun, Command Strips, Hooks, Wire

$93.70

Blick Art Materials

Extra Spray Paint

$32.45

Mayesh

Garland, 2 Wreaths

$348.00

Studio City Hand Car Wash

Car Wash for Driving Scene

$16.00

Mayesh

Branches, Dhalias

$17.00

Flower Market Parking

Parking

$2.25

Choice Flower

Dhalias

$18.49

Wholesale Flower

Hot Pink Flowers

$22.00

Willie Sanchez Flowers

Fig Branches

$12.00

MERCH TOTAL

$4,032.12

 We did buy and return some items (like the cb2 pillows), which is they aren’t on there at all.

So on to what I would do differently:

1. I would have added one more major color; I think bright emerald or peacock blue. The hot pink, red, white, and gray felt underwhelming on camera. I thought that the amount of gray would counteract the red and pink, and in person it really looked super high energy and fun, but when I saw it on TV I wished there was peacock blue or green in there.

2. I wish I had bought more trees. I think that whole window wall should have been lined with a forest of pink, white, and green trees. Sure, for real life it was enough, but on TV again I just felt underwhelmed. But, I’m also VERY self critical.

The whole experience was EXTREMELY fun, wild, and totally weird.  Thank you so much Orlando and Bonnie for helping so much. And obviously HGTV for making that happen.

 

Saturated colors are apparently in, folks.

There you have it. What did you guys think?

 

  1. Jenni

    Love the pink dancer, silver reindeer, the nutcracker lamp… Love it all! Thank you for the post, it gives me tons of neat-o Christmas decorating ideas! Hehe, used the stacked gift idea in your Christmas party post already! So cute :)

  2. I L-O-V-E this! You did an amazing job! I totally get the perfectionist, I-wish-I-had-done-…-feeling but hindsight is always 20/20 and the rooms are so full of life and personality even without the additional color. I definitely took away a TON of amazing ideas! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. I love it! I can only imagine the amount of work and stress to make this happen in such a short time. The sprayed vintage pieces are genius. I am always amazed how you can do these makeovers on such a tight budget. Awesome!

  4. Ali

    I watched the episode and I was so impressed by the way you created this modern and colorful Christmas decor. I love the color palette and I think that painting the nutcracker white was GENIUS!

  5. My favorite thing in the room is the lemon leaf garland, but the hot pink, white & grey color scheme is super fun. And, the Nutcracker lamp!

    Thanks for sharing the budget – so interesting to see how you spent your dollars.

  6. My heart started beating faster when I saw that budget breakdown. So cool that you included that :]

  7. Wow this is so amazing and high energy! I agree, some splashes of emerald in there would have made it look even better. But dang, it was pretty great to begin with!

  8. Allie

    The nutcracker lamp was amaze-balls. For reals. I am totally stealing that idea. My father-in-law, who has a thing for nutcrackers, and makes these massive 7ft tall ones, loves the idea and is going to help me make one. Thank you for all the fun inspiration. The lemon leaf garland was also beautiful.

  9. Yay! So glad you blogged about this. I seriously watched the special more than once this weekend. The budget breakdown is super helpful, I always wonder how much it really cost to pull a lot of these things off. Everything turned out so good. Seriously in love with the idea of a pink Christmas. I am def going to pull inspiration for my upcoming holiday party!

  10. I have been on and off the Design Star train, mostly because I forget about it and realize more than half way through the season that it's on. I wish I saw your season though, because I LOVE your style. I tore our your home from the HGTV magazine and not sure how I stumbled on your blog, but now I not only love your decorating style, but also your writing style. So funny. I browse most blogs, but I actually enjoy reading yours.

    I thought your decorations in Cheryl's home were AWESOME, and if I weren't married, I would probably have a pink explosion in my own home, instead I stick to gold/silver and pink and teal accents for my holiday decor.

    Thank you for inspiring me. Can't wait until I get a home and I will use the bottom photo here -> http://www.undeclaredpanache.com/2012/11/its-friday-im-in-love_16.html that I found through your blog. It's one of my favorite rooms of all time (today anyway).

    If you get a chance, come visit me over at http://www.undeclaredpanache.com. Sorry that was the longest, rambling comment ever.

    Cheers,
    Lauren

  11. Amy

    that paper flower wreath is SO BOSS!!! i'm making one. right now. LOVE IT!!!

  12. Lea

    LOVE the lemon leaf garland. You get overwhelmed with pine here in Minnesota very quickly. Also love the budget breakdown but I think you may have accidentally named your super secret thrifting location in doing so…

  13. Janie

    Watched this episode last night. You did a great job (of course)…. But Cheryl looked like a REAL PILL to work with!!

  14. Bethany

    Love that lemon leaf garland, the "manly figs", and most of all the canvas with the words (very Cheryl/ dancer appropriate; made it feel more personalized).

    Did you have to take your big Nutcracker to an electrician to get it lamp-ified? Great idea to do that!

  15. LOVE all the pink! What a fun styling gig. I especially love tranforming the nutcracker with white… and the "dancer" painting. Love all the layers!

  16. N

    I am very curious, if this episode was shot in August, do you go back during December and set it all up again or is it all just for the show? The Christmas HGTV episodes are my favorite! So fun :)

  17. Love all the pink! …and the nutcracker in white…Looks like a fun shoot. Happy styling! And happy holidays!

  18. Emily, I just found your blog from Pinterest and am totally hooked, you are so talented, I love your voice, the way you write, you are so funny and charming. I subscribed to your wonderful blog instantly and look forward to reading more about your adventures!
    I am so bummed we don't have the same kind of flea markets here in Vancouver that you have in LA.
    Love this post about the pink christmas!!
    Maria