The Sylvesters’ halls are typically decked a little later in the season than most homes. “It’s the cobbler/shoe situation,” says Sybil Sylvester, a beloved Birmingham floral designer. Only after her many clients’ homes and businesses are dressed in their Christmas finery does her personal holiday décor come out to celebrate. And celebrate it does! The Sylvesters opened their home for the 71st annual IPC Holiday House Tour last year, and even though the event was virtual, Sybil and her husband, Bill, did not skimp on a single ornament or decoration. Every inch of their 3,500-square-foot townhome was festooned with fresh greenery and intriguing magical wonderlands incorporating bright color, sweet treats, playful patterns, and fanciful collectibles the couple has amassed over the years—a perfect expression of Sybil’s own artistic creativity and joyful persona.
A Festive Welcome
Dramatic black-and-white wallpaper creates a festive atmosphere year-round in the home’s entry. With Christmas décor layered on top, the space feels like it’s holiday party-ready 24/7. Garlands wrapped in twinkle lights swag both handrails along the stairs leading to the second floor. A variety of ornaments tuck into each garland and also peek from the top of the Sylvester family’s handmade stockings. “They are embroidered and beaded on velvet—each one unique,” Sybil says. “Whenever a new member joined our family, my close friend and longtime colleague, Joyce Hudson, would lovingly stitch a new stocking.”
Sybil’s tree is exuberant with Christmas joy. “I always top it with my petit-point angel tree topper,” she says. “The topper is then surrounded by a whole choir of tiny, wooden, painted German angels that I have collected for over 50 years. There has never been a Christmas without these angels celebrating the season.”
Sybil hangs wreaths on doors, windows, and art, and swags garlands on walls, chandeliers, and stair rails. “The majority are a heavy mix of spruce, cedar, fir, and pine—all fresh and fragrant,” she says.
Living in Cheer
“Incorporating a tree is always tricky,” Sybil says of squeezing the holiday must-have into an already fully furnished room. “Last year, we had to shift furnishings around.” A recurring holiday tradition involves adorning the living room mantel with flowers—peach amaryllis blooms with branches of red Ilex berries mixed with other colorful blooms and greenery, arranged each year in Sybil’s favorite A’Mano vases. “They complement the Dale Chihuly painting,” she says, adding that the artwork is the famous glass artist’s impression of his glorious ceiling installation at the Bellagio Hotel. A colored glass-ball garland echoes the painting and acts as a literal connection between the flower arrangements. “Sybil is always working to create an ‘Art in Bloom’ moment,” Bill says.
Gnomes Gone Wild
On the Sylvesters’ screened porch, multi-color twinkle lights, garlands, wreaths, and more encapsulate the space in childlike wonder and cheer. “The gnome village is an example of me letting my imagination come out to play,” she says. Personifying the little elves, she continues, “They built and planted a cabbage farm on my porch table and then invited all of their elf and mushroom friends to bring their trucks and crash the party. And they kept on with their celebrations until there wasn’t a surface left to decorate.”
“A gang of gnomes came in and took over my porch as if it was their own. They strung lights in every direction, creating the effect of looking into a snow globe.”
When Work is Play
Tartan plaid slipcovers (created by Sybil’s lifelong friend Jennifer Given) envelope the contemporary white-and-mirrored kitchen’s chairs, counter stools, and even the light fixture in traditional red-and-green holiday pattern. “Jennifer stitched and installed the slipcovers, and they add so much cheer to the kitchen, just as I’d hoped,” Sybil says. She then placed a “bonnet” of Christmas greenery on top of the light fixture, creating the look of a floating gift box overflowing with fresh greens. “Tucked around are favorite Christmas vignettes and collections, including Santas, stuffed animals, angel orchestras, antique children’s cars and trucks, and red-and-white polka-dot mushrooms,” says the floral designer. Gabby, the Sylvesters’ 8-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, “rules the roost and moves from one comfortable perch to another,” Sybil says.
Festive and Fun
Floral designer Sybil Sylvester offers her tips for filling your home with Christmas cheer.
Timing. Sybil usually decorates her home around December 15th to ensure everything is still fresh on Christmas morning. However, to make the deadline for the IPC Holiday House Tour, she had to decorate by December 1st. “When it comes to hanging fresh greenery, later is always better,” she says. “Last year, it was a struggle to keep it looking good. By Christmas Day, the tree was raining needles.”
Say “Yes.” Sybil lives by a single rule when it comes to choosing what to decorate with: “Use the things you love and that are meaningful to you. Period.”
The Bare Minimum. “If nothing else, be sure to dress your front door, the mantel, and your dining table,” Sybil says. “These three places will always make your home feel festive.”
Accessorize. “Think of pairing your holiday décor with your home’s year-round look, just like choosing the right pair of earrings for a dress,” says the floral designer. “You want everything to work together.”
Fresh Ideas. “Seek creative ways to use smaller wreaths inside your home,” Sybil says. In the kitchen, she hangs boxwood wreaths from tartan ribbons on white cabinet doors.
See more of Sybil’s holiday work here.