Jewel Box Christmas

Sybil Sylvester brought the wow factor to her friends’ antiques-filled condo by decorating it in unexpected colors and filling it with fresh flowers and lots of lush greenery.

For the living room, Sybil introduced a coral color that pops against the green walls. The swag over the mirror contains mixed evergreens and several types of amaryllis with a generous use of coral Midori silk ribbon. Photo by Jean Allsopp

A Belgium tapestry, a Napoleonic chest, an 18th-century Swedish classical mirror, a Dutch marquetry miniature cabinet, and an Italian table make up just a handful of the treasures that fill the elegant rooms in the Highland Park condominium of Chris Carter and John Dorsett. After downsizing from a house with an abundance of square footage, Chris, a former antiques dealer, had to make some hard choices, but the pieces he kept are very special to him. They include family heirlooms, antiques of varying periods and provenances, pieces he bought on travels with his grandmother, and newer items that Chris just likes. Guests are treated to a host of fascinating stories about the furnishings and art. But visitors at Christmastime, when the house is bedecked by Chris’s longtime friend and floral designer Sybil Sylvester, experience something even more unforgettable. “Sybil fills our home with fresh flowers, greenery, and satin ribbons,” says Chris. “And last year, visitors on the Independent Presbyterian Church Holiday Home Tour got to view her amazing work inside our home.”

In the entry, an outstanding gilt mirror and an Empire chest and chairs, set against metallic gold Nina wallpaper, welcome guests and give a hint of what’s to come inside. A turn into the living room reveals a glorious presentation of coral-colored ribbons, abundant roses, lush greenery, and amaryllis. “The coral hue really stands out against the green walls, and the red florals tie in with the décor,” says Chris. For the dining room, the palette switches to jewel tones of teal and purple paired with chartreuse silk ribbons. “I pulled these rich shades from the beautiful rug,” says Sybil. “We also used these colors in the tablescape, as well as for the ornaments hanging from the chandelier, the sconces, and the candles.”

An antique ormolu-mounted rose bowl (which Sybil lined to protect it) shows off a mound of garden roses
in varying shades of pink and red. Photo by Jean Allsopp

Throughout all the rooms, Sybil used Chris’s existing pieces to hold lush, textural, and colorful arrangements, taking care to line them or use water picks to protect the antiques. In her capable hands, a white soup tureen is perfect for lilies of the valley that appear to grow out of a bed of purple allium and green dianthus. “Sybil even placed a specially wrapped package on each child’s chair in my collection,” says Chris. Delicate satin ribbon tied to a handmade mini garland hangs between two urns in the master bedroom. To balance out the abundance of floral décor, the designer added simple, classic boxwood wreaths that adorn candelabra, mirrors, and a wooden statue in the den, along with mixed evergreen garland that festoons the crown molding and tops of mirrors. Best of all, Sybil and Chris had a grand time planning and putting it all together. As Sybil notes, “There was nothing more fun than helping one of my dearest friends put his best face forward at Christmastime!”

The dining room called out for shades of blue, green, and purple. The tablescape features white Paris porcelain serving dishes filled with flowers and placed on a boxwood runner. Photo by Jean Allsopp

Sybil Says

Although we all want to get the decorations up early in the month, I recommend waiting to put greenery inside until the middle of December so it does not dry out and lose its beauty. I know it’s hard to wait, so placate yourself by decorating the outside of your home with wreaths and garlands at the beginning of the month.

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Step outside your house and gather greenery, vines, berries, and branches. You’ll save money, and the just-plucked items from your yard will be fresher than those from the nursery—and they may last longer.

For Chris’s home, “more is more” worked because of the style of his interiors. However, if your décor is more contemporary, keep it simple and use a lot of greenery, ivy, and magnolia leaves. I like to spray-paint them in metallic finishes—silver, copper, or gold. Mix the sprayed pieces in with the evergreens for a subtle shine.

If you are entertaining a crowd, you want to make sure your decorations are visible. That’s why we hung the garland on the crown molding in the living room and decorated the tops of mirrors and the chandelier in the dining room. The height allows everyone in the room to see the festive décor.

As far as the color palette, anything goes these days! Last year, we did an ombre Christmas tree. It started out white on the bottom, then went to pink, peach, coral, and finally white on top. And you don’t have to do the same thing every year. Experiment and have fun—that’s the most important part!

Designer: Chris Carter, 205.908.9566; Floral design/holiday décor: Sybil Sylvester, Wildflower Designs,, 205.229.2416

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