With much of last year’s holiday festivities toned down or canceled altogether because of the pandemic, 2021 is already shaping up to be a season to remember.
However, Hinsdale interior designer Lauren Ashley Allan says the key theme for 2021 is something we learned from the recent health crisis—focus on the things that make you happy.
“It applies to all kinds of items in your home,” explains Allan, who recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her eponymous firm, Lauren Ashley Allan Interior Design and Architecture Studio. “My two kids Cleo and Van make it more fun to celebrate holidays now, because you can bring them into holiday traditions young and take them through the design process with you.”
When it was time to go Halloween pumpkin shopping last month, she opted to take 4-year-old Cleo and 18-month-old Van to a local farm rather than buying décor or pumpkins from the store. “We selected them together and they learned about where they come from,” she says. “We mixed colors, sizes, shapes. I am teaching them to have fun with scale and to be bold with their choices! It’s all about the experience and building family traditions. Plus, Cleo and Van both are excited and proud of what they mixed together.”
Allan, whose design pedigree includes working as a Senior Designer for Kelly Wearstler and Creative Director for Nate Berkus, says these same concepts will be applied to her family’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday décor and entertaining plans as well. Drawing influences from vintage books and magazines from France and Italy, her signature take on modern glam is all about bringing in unexpected elements and accents you can’t find anywhere else.
“A party is always in season. Come up with a concept such as mixed metals, be bold, and have fun!” she says. “Set-up a home bar that guests will flock to. It should look festive and appetizing. Before you start, make sure you’re pulling in tabletop and bar accessories from different sets. A mix of materials, like brass and ceramics, helps it look curated and rich, like you’re using a fun group of things you’ve collected over the years. I like to bring in bigger pieces that are both functional well as decorative, such as a large organic bowl to hold ice and sodas.”
Allan says holiday entertaining is also the perfect opportunity to put your own signature touch on décor. Rather than rushing out to buy new serving plates or bowls, open the china cabinet to see what’s already there that can be repurposed in a new way.
“Conversation pieces make the bar more interesting,” she explains. “Introduce a select amount of glassware, leaving most out of site behind the bar, with only the frequently used and beautiful decanters up front. Bring in a beautiful tray to give height to different things or a raised tray as a platform for small plates and more accents. Plus, you can slide things under it for extra space.”
Allan also likes to keep a “dialogue with the outdoors,” bringing in fall and winter leaves and branches to add color and height to the bar. Even the smallest details like pretty, well-chosen bartender’s accessories can set the tone for a party that guests will be talking about into next year.
“For instance, serve a small dish of olives, with vintage brass tableware and dish. Scale is important and if everything is big, nothing will shine on its own,” she adds. “When you’re setting up, think about the flow of the guests. Arrange things so they can come, get their drink, their olive, a napkin, a straw—it should be seamless.”
This carefully curated attention to detail has defined Allan’s own signature style over the last year as she has made her dream of opening her own firm come true.
“I am so thankful for the incredible support and outreach by friends, family, vendors, contractors, and acquaintances. Our team, the Hinsdale community, and the community that we have built around the country on social media is so special, people who truly want to support a female-founded business,” says Allan, who is currently working on renovations and high-end, new construction residential projects around the country from the Chicago area to Long Beach, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Florida, and Los Angeles. “It’s important for me to stop and remember to enjoy the journey as each day brings something new. I feel so fortunate to love my work and share that with the world. All you can do is work hard and hope you can make the world better through whatever it is you do.”
She says this holiday season will be even more special for her and many others as we emerge from the pandemic. “I am so excited to be with friends and family again!”
Keep reading for more of Lauren Ashley Allan’s insider décor and holiday entertaining tips. You can also follow her on Instagram at @lauren.ashley.allan.
Pret a Party
Hinsdale architect and interior designer Lauren Ashley Allan shares her favorite tips for planning the ultimate holiday soiree.
LIGHT THE WAY While it might initially get overlooked, lighting is an easy way to dramatically alter the vibe of any space. Used effectively, it evokes mood and sets the pace in terms of elegance and glamour. From candles to dimmer switches or a roaring fireplace, a warm glow adds an inviting allure to the mix. Everything and everyone (from appetizer pairings to the guests) looks better in great light. Try to avoid harsh down lighting that creates unwanted shadows. If you don’t have dimmer switches, you can switch out your light bulbs for a warmer, softer hue. Even adding touches of exterior lighting in the garden helps to extend the inside out and make your spaces feel connected to nature. Luxury is a perfectly lit party.
SPICE IT UP Mix and match tableware for a graphic feel. The soulful juxtapositions of metallic and winter whites is my go-to holiday palette. Pattern mixing captures a sense of easy elegance and infuses even the most refined setting with an effortlessly chic spirit, keeping the mood fun and spontaneous. This especially applies to fine china. If you don’t have enough of a particular place setting to accommodate the full guest list, break the rules! Mix and match family china patterns from your wedding or grandparents for a look that is meaningful, artful and eclectic. Use complementary colors and a hierarchy of scale and texture that is vibrant, yet harmonious. It can then be tied together with your linens and florals. My go-to floral is Phillip’s Flowers in Hinsdale, they can do anything.
FESTIVE FRANGRANCE Scent your home with holiday cheer. Before an event, try choosing a single scent to place about your space in entryways, powder rooms, and gathering areas. I always start cooking before the guests arrive so that the house smells inviting. Stick to unscented candles around catering and bar set-ups to allow the food to shine on its own. Candles can bathe the environment in rich, soothing tones. Holiday aromas in wood, cinnamon, or sage add a festive touch.
CONCEPT COCKTAILS Ingredient-focused mixology. A cleverly named beverage cultivates a vibe that is thoughtful and special, such as: Fruits of Labor Margarita, Magic Hour Moscow Mule, or Harvest Moon Mojito from cocktailcourier.com. Choosing an easy, signature cocktail for the evening can simultaneously streamline the bar menu, add a collective holiday spirit and a whimsical welcome. Even with a full bar, cocktails pre-prepped and served upon arrival keep bar lines abbreviated while receiving guests in style. Colorful drink garnishes like flowers, fruit, or mint add a pop of color.
ARTFUL ACCESSORIES Guests will remember the little things that make an event stand out. Elevated barware is one of my favorite places to splurge. It adds so much to the party experience and is fun for me to curate! It is all about the art of entertaining. From patterned straws to brass bottle stoppers, setting the scene with spirited accents and soulful accessories channels an unexpected, distinct voice. Add an extra special touch with personalized cocktail napkins that are cheeky and fun.
When it comes to trimming the tree, Lauren Ashley Allan says, “the sky’s the limit.” Here are five ways to reinvent this Christmas classic.
1. In lieu of color (skip the traditional red), decorate with all winter whites—white sparkly lights, head to toe white garland, white flowers, and even the ornaments give lots of textures and a fun vibe for any space. One year we even included an all-white peacock for a whimsical touch!
2. Reinvent your version of the Christmas tree each year. If your tree is artificial, go with a real one this season. Also, you can have more than one tree and they can each be decorated differently with a different concept based on the room it is in, or different size such as a table tree. If you have kids or grandkids, one tree can be just for them … with all custom-made ornaments (also a fun project for the kids!). Try pasta garland, colorful pipe-cleaners, and paper cut-outs..
3. Go for a tree with a more natural vibe. In lieu of a traditional tree skirt, do a seagrass tree collar. Mix in all white lights, matte white, or down-to-earth colored ornaments instead of shiny, and top it with an unlacquered brass star. Mix and match fun neutral sand color gift papers or buy craft paper and paint your own using white painterly strokes.
4. Try an ultra-glam, jeweled tree that is dripping with crystal garland, sparkling ornaments, and dazzling colors for a luxe look all its own. Add unlacquered brass and mixed metal tone accents throughout the tree.
5. Embrace Chinoiserie chic. Use holiday classic ball ornaments but get them in only blue and white china patterns. It’s so much fun to give your tree a concept and go all in with it—be bold and have fun! Then you can even match your table décor to your tree, depending on the room the tree is in.