Designer and expert hostess Mary McDonald shows how to pile on bold essentials for a fantastical, yet casual, California holiday.
Exuberant, fashionable, dramatic—all words to describe the inimitable and witty Mary McDonald. On the cusp of the holidays, C ventured beyond the glossy black door of her Hollywood Hills residence to see how the daring interior designer prepares for a season of entertaining.
When do you get started? I hoard a new theme as early as Halloween. I don’t ever put anything up before December, though.
What are your entertaining traditions? My father is British, and it gave me the opportunity to arrange a giant Christmas breakfast buffet of all the items I love that I never have—sausage rolls, bangers, pastries and blood sausage—for a big group of family and friends. I try to get a gift for everyone so even drop-bys have a little something to open. I also host an evening Christmas party that alternates between sit-down dinner and buffet. I’ve probably thrown a dozen all-out Willy Wonka-style gingerbread house decorating and cookie dough ornament parties for my godchildren. Down the table, I set monochromatic or striped candy in silver dishes on different pedestal heights. I really get into the whole stage production of it.
Your philosophy on outdoor decorations? I prefer only white twinkle lights, unless you are masterfully talented at some sort of natural theme, such as pinecone wreaths with green garlands.
This season’s thematic inspiration? I wanted to use part of my Schumacher fabric and trim collection for table decor and to pair that with the black, red and green pressed glass I have collected over time. It is incredibly durable, since it mimicked cut crystal during financially trying times. The lack of delicacy makes it all the more fun to collect and actually use.
What’s your secret? Repeat a base theme tonally and add one simple pop. I am a more over-the-top type, but my profession and style have been practiced to accommodate that. Starched linens, polished silver, narcissus and greens are the most elegant base for tartan table runners, red felt underskirts or velvet-trimmed napkins.
What has been your most elaborate design scheme? Huge rooms simultaneously decorated in distinct themes. One was only white, greens and silver with real pears and grapes affixed to garlands; the next was persimmons, tangerines, coral-hue balls and embroidered ribbons with authentic peacock feather ornaments, fans and birds. (I decided from then on that papier-mâché fruit would be just fine.) I love that you can actually be sort of insane at Christmas and somehow, it is excusable if done with a good eye. marymcdonaldinc.com.
Written and Edited by Alison Clare Steingold
Photographed by Jessica Sample