Party on (on a budget) with advice from these experts

In addition to hosting in 2016, Sacramento designer Kerrie Kelly put together this festive living room for a recent Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour.
In addition to hosting in 2016, Sacramento designer Kerrie Kelly put together this festive living room for a recent Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour.

The holidays can seem overwhelming – especially if you’re hosting company. But a little creativity (and pre-planning) will keep your special occasions merry and bright.

Kerrie Kelly, Sacramento’s best-known interior designer, loves this time of year.

“I am definitely a ‘fall baby,’ being born in October, so I do tend to cozy up to the elements of harvest, pumpkins and fall fashion,” Kelly said. “For me, October is the month that puts the balance of the year into action but allows us to nestle in with food, friends and family.”

Kelly opened her East Sacramento home as part of last year’s Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour, the oldest holiday home tour west of the Mississippi. She shared many of the ideas and tips she used to decorate her home for 5,000 guests.

Mixing metals such as silver and gold or brass and copper adds sparkle instantly. So do crystal, mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Although traditional holiday color schemes still look nice, don’t feel wedded to black and orange for Halloween or red and green for Christmas.

“Mixing metals is still a haute trend and I believe it will continue,” Kelly said. “With the ‘permission’ this trend has given us to mix-and-match, I believe the same is true of color schemes – hot pink and red? Sure. Brown and green? That works. Yellow and blue? Well, OK! As long as it is true to you and your style, you really can pull any color scheme off for the holidays.”

You don’t need to spend a lot to make your home feel festive.

“Living in California allows us to really bring the outdoors in and indoors out,” Kelly said. “Holiday décor that is budget minded is truly right at our fingertips.

“Collect pine cones and stack them in a silver tureen. Trim an evergreen and dress the boughs down the center of the table. Cut some berries and arrange them sky high in a glass cylinder-like vase. Pot some small rosemary plants and set them at each place setting.

“Any of these suggestions not only provide an organic feel and certain drama, they can come for free. There is no excuse to leave your home untended to for the holiday season.”

Don’t feel your home has to look like it came out of a magazine, catalog or web page.

“Decorate your home to reflect you and those who live there, not someone else’s Pinterest board or magazine spread,” Kelly said. “While those layouts are wonderful for inspiration, the holidays are about celebrating traditions that are uniquely yours and continue on for years to come.”

Designer Shiree Segerstrom, who splits time between Sacramento and Sonora, is another holiday home tour veteran, decorating her Spanish mission-style home for thousands to see.

“When I (hosted) the AAUW tour, the line to get in went all the way down the block,” she said.

Segerstrom relied on many favorite family things, tied up with ribbon and mixing old with new.

“What I really love doing is integrating a variety of styles and eras for the holidays as well as for year-round, everyday living,” Segerstrom said. “For holidays, I might have on hand a separate set of fabric slipcovers for the dining room chairs and modern plates with vintage sterling flatware and stemware. I love creating interest and tension with my table top decôr with unexpected combinations. I do something unique each year.”

Combining old and new takes a while to find the right balance.

“It’s certainly more affordable but not easier,” Segerstrom said. “It takes a studied eye and a lot of confidence.”

Pulling from her own garden, Segerstrom uses a lot of homegrown greenery – evergreens, myrtle, boxwood, manzanita, eucalyptus. They’re pretty, inexpensive and last for weeks.

“The very best, budget-minded holiday decorating options are right in your garden and produce section,” Segerstrom said. “For my own holiday decorations, I like to provide continuity throughout the home, much like a professional florist would do but in more relaxed, unstructured arrangements.

“For instance, if in the entry you do pomegranate branches in tall ceramic pots surrounded loosely by moss orbs on the surface of the table, carry it though to the living room and dining room by doing the same vessels and plants in varying sizes.”

To keep your holidays sane, it’s best to work ahead.

“My most important tip to readers is do as much preparation in advance as you can, and for the things you can’t do ahead, keep them simple,” Segerstrom said. “If you’re a nervous wreck when you’re guests arrive or apologizing for the overcooked salmon, they will sense it.

“A hostess that is at ease even when plans go awry creates the best, most fun affairs. It’s far better to join in the fun of your own party than to make everyone nervous and uncomfortable with complaints and apologies.”

Alicia Lund writes “Cheetah is the New Black,” a blog she started nine years ago, shortly after graduating from Santa Clara University. “Cheetah” was her college nickname, inspired by a faux leopard coat. It also represents her fun fashionista style.

“To me, style should be fun, playful and ever-evolving,” she said.

After working at Elle magazine in New York City, Lund and her husband, Tanner, moved to Sacramento to be closer to their families in Chico. Their baby, Rex, is now 10 months old.

Lund, 32, decorates on a budget. For fall, she finds much of her decorating material at the farmers market or nearby farm stands.

“I like seasonal produce and florals,” Lund said. “I go to the farmers market to see what’s most interesting. In October, I love going to Apple Hill and pumpkins. I prefer white or other funky-colored pumpkins; they have a little personality. For Thanksgiving, I go with earthy tones. I like simple greenery around Christmas.”

Remember to look at your own garden for materials.

“This summer was all about cooking and floral arrangements, straight from the garden,” she said. “It’s beautiful and affordable. I love carrying that into the holiday season.”

For long-lasting floral decorations, Lund enjoys using dried flowers. “I love all of them. I just did a dried flower wreath and a really pretty dried floral arrangement. And they can last.”

Those dried flowers go beyond wreaths and vases. Lund also ties them with twine into mini-bouquets to decorate gifts wrapped in brown parchment or use them as part of other decorations. “It gives them a personal touch,” she said.

Here are more ideas for specific fall and winter holidays:


Think beyond orange, Lund said.

“I like a moody black dining table; all black – black tablecloth, napkins, dishes. It doesn’t look cheesy, but grown-up. It’s clean. With the black, I contrast it with white pumpkins and maybe a touch of orange. For an all-adult party, all black sets a fun mood, but it’s sexy and sophisticated.”


“I love Thanksgiving because it’s such a convivial occasion,” Segerstrom said. “It’s my favorite holiday by far because it’s so much less stressful than Christmas. It’s always a four-day weekend, and it’s a formal affair. I’ve always extolled the pleasures of a formal dining room to my design clients over a great room and if there was ever a holiday meant for the stand-alone, formal dining room, it’s Thanksgiving.”

Since it’s always on a Thursday, that helps with planning – and recovery. The big meal is followed by three days of rest.

“I love Christmas, obviously,” Lund said, “but Thanksgiving has less pressure. It’s just about family. I love that. This is family time, the meal and sitting around and hearing Dad’s stories.”

Both designers suggest getting help with this feast.

“Ask friends or family members to bring a dish,” Lund said. “It makes the meal more fun and allows the hostess some more time to enjoy it.”

A special dish can make the meal. Segerstrom swears by her pies. “Everybody wants pumpkin and apple, so I make both.

“I love my pie crust. People don’t realize, if you use all butter, it’s too greasy, Crisco makes it flaky, so I use half and half.”


For Kelly, the holiday season really gets going Dec. 1.

“Our family celebrates the Holiday Kick-Off Dinner on Dec. 1,” Kelly said. “My mom used to completely outfit my parent’s home with Santas, wreaths, ornaments and lights and dress the table for a wonderful home-cooked meal that she had never made before – always a new, yet comforting, recipe.

“Now, we have taken on the tradition and celebrate the Kick-Off Dinner – and Mom – with friends bringing their traditional holiday dishes to our home at a long table for 20, set on our brick driveway under the Italian white lights.”

Then comes the serious decorating.

“I adore holiday decorations,” Lund said. “I hang wreaths in the windows with beautiful ribbons.”

Lund incorporates dried flowers into her holiday decorations (particularly the wreaths). She also uses fresh evergreens (fir, cedar, juniper, etc.) and other fragrant cuttings to add festive scent as well as color.

Memories make the holidays special.

“Incorporating new fresh dishes, ornaments and ribbons is always fun, but I find the most personal touch comes from using china, silver and decorations that have been handed down year after year,” Kelly said. “We save cards from friends and loved ones and display them at the dinner table so we can reminisce about previous celebrations.

“When gifting, I like to ‘assign’ certain wrapping papers to match the recipients’ favorite things or colors and take the time to write a heartfelt card instead of a computer-generated version without signature.

“Holidays are a time to reconnect, reflect and reset, and I think taking that extra time to highlight a loved one or tradition is one way to do that.”

During her decorating, Segerstrom reconnects with memories and favorite things.

“I love to decorate for the holidays with sentimental items like my husband’s, son’s and my sterling engraved baby cups or my vintage cranberry red footed dessert cups.

“Another favorite: For my tree, I have never found a commercial Christmas tree skirt that I like,” Segerstrom added. “They’re far too structured and predictable. I much prefer the loose, ‘blousy’ look of a quilted Christmas throw.”

A special dessert can be part of those good memories.

“For Christmas, I always make gingerbread with foamy hard sauce,” Segerstrom said. “I love the simplicity of whiskey, butter and powdered sugar. It is very decadent.”

As for beverages, “I love making mulled wine around Christmas – or starting now (in October),” Lund said. “I love adding berries to champagne for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. It makes it look festive.”

New Year’s Eve

Metallics and crystal add some sparkle and bling.

“For New Year’s Eve, I like candles for the soft light and playing with metallics, especially silver, crystal and twinkling lights,” Lund said. “It sets a sophisticated yet fun mood.”

If planning a party, think about the mood you’d like to set.

“When I sent out invitations, I include a dress code,” Lund said. “That’s one thing I miss about New York – getting dressed up. People in Sacramento tend to dress down for everything. By dressing up, you make the whole event feel special.”

To add to that atmosphere, Lund creates a signature cocktail for the evening in addition to one or two adult beverage choices (as well as nonalcoholic drinks).

“I set the mood with music – something upbeat – then hand them a signature cocktail (if they like) when they walk in the door,” Lund said. “That instantly gets them in the mood.

“I want people to feel relaxed and get into the spirit of the party right away. So, I try to create a comfortable but festive setting with nothing too fussy, just fun.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington