Tennessee homeowner Genia Gilchrist shares her tips for decorating a Southern home for the holidays.
Christmas is Genia Gilchrist’s favorite time of year. The owner of the Nashville store Gilchrist-Gilchrist finds creative ways to incorporate vintage Christmas decorations into the holiday with simple touches, like fresh greenery, sparkly ornaments, and special decorations. One way she accomplishes an effortless, old world Christmas look is by turning her everyday finds into holiday decor standouts, decorating vintage pieces she's collected throughout the year with unique holiday touches. She's even made a tradition of adding new, yet antique-feeling pieces to her vintage Christmas decorations, picking out a festive Santa to add to her heirloom collection every year with her daughter. She fully commits to her heirloom holiday decor with no room left untouched, decorating small spaces in her home with few bottlebrush Christmas trees. Take a tour of Genia's vintage-inspired Christmas home, and you'll be sure to gather vintage Christmas décor inspiration, tips, and tricks along the way.
Mix Vintage Finds and Fresh Greenery for Simple, Southern Holiday Decor
Christmas is Genia Gilchrist’s favorite time of year. The owner of the Nashville store Gilchrist-Gilchrist finds creative ways to incorporate vintage items with fresh greenery, sparkly ornaments, and special decorations. She shares her simple tips for adding Southern touches to old and new holiday icons.
Welcome Guests With Festive Porch Planters
Genia’s holiday spirit starts at the front entry, where she plants small spruce trees in white urns and embellishes them with magnolia clippings. Placing an urn on either side of the porch creates a welcoming and well-defined space with a seasonal touch. Draw visitors to the door with a boxwood wreath framed by a garland of spruce, cedar, and boxwood.
For the Full Effect, More is Better
When it comes to lighting her 9-foot Colorado spruce Christmas tree, Genia applies the philosophy that “more is better.” She adds depth to the tree by stringing every inch with white lights and embellishes the illuminated base by mixing metallic silver, gold, and white mercury-glass balls with other vintage ornaments in whites and creams.
Southern Icon: Keepsake Ornaments
We Southerners treasure tradition, and the holidays are a great time to pull out passed-down heirlooms for display. Trimming the tree becomes a family event when ornaments remind you of special people and past Christmases shared together.
Sneak in Sentimental Pieces
Genia skirts tradition when dressing up her tree’s base. Her vintage petticoat-turned-tree skirt was a gift from a dear friend, and she wanted to incorporate it into her home decor. She easily took the skirt apart at the seam and laid it around the base of the tree for a feminine, personal touch.
Turn Vintage Finds Into Seasonal Standouts
’Tis the season to play up great finds like this vintage window frame and table. Genia dresses up the frame with a boxwood wreath, a group of bottlebrush trees, and a few fresh magnolia leaves. She accents the Christmas spirit by grouping shiny mercury-glass pieces.
Mix Metallics with Fresh Evergreens
In Genia’s family room, ordinary items receive special holiday accents. Even a simple clamshell feels festive when filled with shiny gold and silver ornaments and a large sprig of magnolia. Genia replaces sprigs every two to three weeks to keep her decorations fresh.
Southern Icon: Magnolia Leaves
Take clippings from your own trees, or purchase a few from a nursery to layer throughout garlands, centerpieces, wreaths, and more. Magnolia leaves add a Southern touch and give holiday greenery a full, fresh look.
Indulge All Your Senses
To make sure everyone’s tastes are satisfied, Genia fills a jar in the family room with delicious Christmas cookies. Putting the cookies in a clear glass jar allows the treats to take center stage. Tuck few sprigs of seeded eucalyptus into the display to complete the holiday look.
Test Kitchen Favorite: Check out our Slice-and-Bake Shortbread Cookies for a delicious treat to fill your cookie jar. Four easy variations give you plenty of options. Store-bought cookies look great on display, but we can’t pass up the aroma of freshly baked goodies.
Wreaths of Three Unify a Space
Much holiday preparation takes place in the kitchen, so Genia creates a cozy atmosphere for visitors by hanging a boxwood wreath on each window. Placing decorations in groups of three creates unity in any space.
Style Secret: Add a pop of color and heighten the anticipation of Christmas morning by stacking a few wrapped presents in unconventional spaces, away from the tree.
Tie It Together With One Color
Each year, Genia picks a signature accent color and buys different types and textures of ribbons in that color. She combines all of the ribbons for bows on window wreaths in the dining room and kitchen. The textures play off one another without appearing too matchy.
Style Secret: Unify your holiday theme by using the same type of ribbon as that used on wreaths when wrapping presents. Your combination will look effortless, and you’ll save time on purchasing materials for presents.
Clear Glass Serves as a Subtle Backdrop
Clear glass stands allow you to stack decorations but don’t distract from the display. In her kitchen, Genia stacks footed dessert stands to hold her favorite hot chocolate-ready Santa mugs.
Don't Forget the Small Spaces
Add holiday hints to rooms that don’t usually get the full gamut of Christmas decorations. A few bottlebrush trees of various sizes give a seasonal touch when grouped on small shelves.
Group Heirlooms for Impact
Every year, Genia finds a new festive Santa for her collection―a family tradition started when her daughter, Shenia, was born more than 25 years ago. Instead of spreading small trinkets around the house, group them together on a table or sideboard for impact. They’ll create a seasonal accent, and the stories of the individual pieces will serve as great conversation starters.
Hang Fragrant Garlands in Unexpected Places
Garlands shouldn’t be confined to front doors and banisters. No piece is forgotten in Genia’s home, as even the furniture gets a festive dressing. She frames an armoire, shelves, and other furniture with fragrant spruce, cedar, and boxwood garlands for instant holiday appeal.
Southern Source We Love: The Garland Farm
Indoors or out, we love the smell of fresh, fragrant evergreens. The Garland Farm supplies just about any type of fresh garland, from simple strings to mixed combinations; thegarlandfarm.com or 877-327-9010.
Embellish What You Already Have
This time of year, Genia incorporates vintage bottlebrush trees and reindeer into her year-round mercury-glass display on the mantel. She tucks in sprigs of greenery and seeded eucalyptus for a few hints of holiday color and scent.
Set the Mood with Mercury Glass
A silver tray serves as the base for a perfect pairing of candles and mercury-glass ornaments. Set these trays just about anywhere―Genia displays hers on an oversize ottoman―and allow the candlelight to reflect in the mercury glass for a touch of warmth and romance.
Care Tip: Submerging mercury glass in water may cause unwanted peeling. Wipe pieces with a damp rag to keep the sparkle without stripping off the mercury.
Tips for Buying Mercury Glass
Mercury glass looks great year-round, but its shimmer and sheen make it perfect for the holidays. Follow Genia’s tips to ensure you’re getting the best products in your price range.
- Start with reproductions. They tend to cost much less than older mercury glass and allow you to quickly accumulate several pieces for your collection. Mix in unique vintage finds as you can afford them.
- Find an honest antiques dealer. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions before you buy. See if the dealer is selling reproductions of other items, and skip mercury glass that contains decals, logos, or trademarks. Instead of buying online, go somewhere that allows you to get a feel for the product and environment before making your purchase.
More Tips for Buying Mercury Glass
- Consider the wear, tear, and tarnish. If it’s an authentic piece at a good price, embrace its worn patina―true evidence that no two pieces are alike. Some reproductions are also made to appear worn, so don’t assume all tarnished pieces are authentic antiques.
- Weigh your options. Mercury glass reproductions can weigh up to four times more than the real thing. Although this method isn’t foolproof―some reproductions feel hollow throughout―it will often help you differentiate between the two.
- Buy in the off-season. Genia displays her mercury glass year-round and loves mixing it with other holiday decorations, especially at Easter. Also known as “poor man’s silver,” mercury glass takes on many roles and maintains elegance throughout the year.