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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:


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:



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.


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


Stats Floral Supply

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

$1, 144.20

King’s Collection

Toy Soldier


Lenors Treasures & More

Ballerina Sculptures


GM Floral Supply

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


Mendocino Farms

Lunch (BD + EH) while Shopping for CHH


Michael Levine Inc.

Fabric for Runners, Table Coverings


West Elm

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


Beverly Center Parking



Paper Source

Glitter Wrapping Paper, White Wrapping Paper, Tape


Rapid Gas Inc.

Gas, while shopping for C.H.H.


Cost Plus World Market

Tapered Candles


Baller Hardware

Spray Paint, Stain


Baller Hardware

Spray Paint, Acrylic Paint


Mike’s Firewood

Logs for Fireplace


Little Flower Candy




Lunch for BD and EH while shopping for CHH



Red Pillow, Linen Pillow, Placemats



Napkins, Chargers, Champagne Flutes



Mini Trees, Canvas, Acrylic Paints



Small Nutcrackers, Little Christmas Village, Angels


Mustard Seed Café

Lunch for BD, OS, EH, while painting packing


Trader Joe’s 

Prop Food and Drink


Lark Bake Shop

Prop Desserts


Green Sets

Pink Trees Rental


Koontz Hardware

Staple Gun, Command Strips, Hooks, Wire


Blick Art Materials

Extra Spray Paint



Garland, 2 Wreaths


Studio City Hand Car Wash

Car Wash for Driving Scene



Branches, Dhalias


Flower Market Parking



Choice Flower



Wholesale Flower

Hot Pink Flowers


Willie Sanchez Flowers

Fig Branches



$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?



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