By Courtney Phillips
Cynthia Ross of CP Ross Designs stays busy year-round planning and creating décor for parties, weddings and special events.
For the Christmas season, she allots time to decorate several local homes and businesses.
One home always gets particular attention at the holidays – the Haymount cottage that Cynthia shares with her husband, David, and their cat, Prancer.
Just after Halloween, Cynthia starts decorating the home on quiet McNeill Circle. Cozier than many of the spaces that Cynthia decorates for clients, the cottage is a perfect size for the couple, a perfect backdrop for her designing talents and a perfect example of her decorating tips for smaller homes.
The front porch serves as a canvas for a unique blend of texture and color that captures the attention of passersby. A buffalo-check tablecloth pops from the street and a closer look reveals an inviting outdoor living area, with a black wicker sofa and table, rocking chairs, a lamp and a black chest of drawers, with an antique sled propped askew against it. The scene is accented by Cynthia’s signature blend of artificial and real greenery and berries, including pine and holly cuttings from the couple’s farm in Montgomery County.
“If we lived in a colder climate, I’d have all fresh greenery, but you can’t do that here,” Cynthia said.
Vibrant green Cryptomeria shrubs, a perfect accompaniment to Cynthia’s holiday designs, stretch up from the ground beside the front porch. Already part of Cynthia’s Christmas plan for this year, she says the evergreens “will be ready to clip.”
Guests are warmly welcomed into Cynthia and David’s home. While they lack the space to host a large cocktail party, the Rosses’ sense of hospitality aligns perfectly with the size of their home. Preferring small dinner parties, Cynthia never misses an opportunity to orchestrate revelry and intimacy among a handful of guests with both conversation and aesthetics. At one Christmas brunch, Cynthia took time to write a funny, endearing fact about each member of the party and place it under their plate. When read aloud, the result was conversation that lasted well into the afternoon.
Comfortably appointed and skillfully designed for a tête-à-tête by the fireplace, the living room features sentimental Christmas accents and a showstopping mantle arrangement, built piece by piece.
Overlooking the living room is a portrait of Santa, depicted in a snowy forest, surrounded by woodland creatures. David says it’s among his favorite Christmas elements in their home.
Cynthia’s tree is consistent with the rest of her decor. A conservatively-sized, pre-lit artificial tree is the base on which she creates her magic. As with all of her projects, there is a system. After lighting comes ribbon. Large, inexpensive balls are placed into the tree to create depth. Important ornaments should be placed on sturdy branches at the forefront.
Cynthia appreciates modern and elegant ornaments from the likes of Christopher Radko and Mark Roberts but is also quick to highlight homemade creations she has had since she was sixteen years old. “You see her?” she asked, pointing to a yarn angel with bright yellow hair. “That’s the first ornament I ever made. She goes in there every year.”
A small gathering never sways Cynthia’s penchant for formality, but only because she loves to shower her guests with hospitality. “I don’t care how you sit at my table – pajamas or jeans – I just like a formal setting,” she said.
Her dining table is outfitted in Lenox Christmas china and places are set with a personalized menu for the event and a sprig of greenery. Built with wet oasis, the arrangement on Cynthia’s dining table is never fake. “I love the smell of it,” she said.
Above, Cynthia’s chandelier is designed specifically for the pleasure of her guests: beautiful from top to bottom. Beginning with an artificial wreath as a base and attaching elements in a stepwise fashion yields the result for which Cynthia is known. “If you have guests coming over, put real stuff in it just long enough for the event,” she said. “Sometimes I put a fairy and greenery. It just depends what mood I’m in. You can make it fancy or whimsical. It’s an easy formula for anybody to do with any look. I love it!”
Cynthia cautioned that general Christmas preparation must be done early, and with gusto. “The most important thing you can buy for Christmas decorations is a collection of realistic greenery. Anything that looks real, just buy it,” she said, laughing. “And you can’t have too many red berries, in my opinion.”
If guests can pull themselves away from conversation at the table, they might meander to the kitchen, a modern, updated cheerful space to grab a cocktail or one of Cynthia’s signature Christmas treats – homemade chocolate pecan clusters and Mexican sugar cookies.
Whether entertaining, or enjoying a morning on the porch together, the Rosses look forward to the season of Christmas in their Haymount cottage. “With us, Christmas isn’t just a day,” David said, “it’s a season.”
Cynthia’s Tips for Decorating a Small Home
You do not have to have everything; just have what you love.
Plan your areas not with everything you have, but items you love most.
Use a tree that goes with the size of your house.
Plan where your tree is going and rearrange and remove furniture, if necessary.
A small home is not conducive to a holiday party. Rather, an intimate gathering serves better, unless you put a tent in your back yard!
For entertaining, nothing is better than pillar or floating candles.
If you have a theme, carry the same colors throughout, to make the flow seamlessly– don’t chop up your rooms!
Create Your Own Chandelier Wreath
- Faux Christmas wreath to fit the underside of your chandelier (measure before you purchase). Note: Stacking two wreaths, attached by floral wire or by twisting greenery together, can create more depth if you don’t have a lot of accents.
- Faux berries and greenery.
- Green floral wire.
- Wired ribbon no wider than 2.5 inches.
- About 5 yards of ribbon to weave in the wreath. More than one type of ribbon can be used. A bow will require 1.5 yards.
- Attach wreath wire-side up to bottom of chandelier by twisting greenery to secure to each arm.
- Cut ribbon in long lengths and weave in and out of the greenery on the outer sides so it’s visible to people standing and sitting in the room.
- Attach long ribbons, then bows to the base of each chandelier “candle.”
- Insert sticks of berries, holly, pine cones or additional greenery into the wreath as you like.
- Check your creation for balance from all sides while sitting and standing and adjust accordingly.
Create Your Own Holiday Mantle Décor
- 8-inch tiles, to provide weight for your design (four were used for Cynthia’s mantle)
- Floral oasis for dry or wet flowers.
- Floral tape.
- Faux berries, pine cones and long and short pieces of various kinds of faux greenery.
- Floral wire.
- Paper towels or the like to keep your mantle from being scratched.
- Tape oasis to tiles and place tiles on mantle with paper towels underneath.
- Begin with greenery, placing longer pieces on the sides. Stack and vary in length.
- Position greenery in the middle. (This doesn’t have to be as long as the sides.)
- Add more greenery, longer pieces at the base and shorter pieces at the top, making sure each side of the mantle mirrors the other.
- Step away from your design to look for balance.
- Weave ribbon, beginning at one end and finishing at the other
- If using battery-operated lights, add, tucking the switch in an out-of-sight but accessible place.
- Add berries and other items as desired, working from the outside to the middle.