Three full-size Christmas trees are a lot to most people. But not to Bonnie Speer McGrath.
“I grew up in a house with a mom who had six,” she said.
Going over the top at Christmas is a family tradition that McGrath embraces, from inviting people into her home for festive gatherings to pulling out all the stops with her decor. Her lavishly trimmed trio of trees includes one almost tall enough to graze the 17-foot ceiling of her “mini-ballroom.” But that’s not all.
There are dozens of wreaths, swags, garlands, lights, baubles and bows — enough to transform McGrath’s Edina home into something out of a Hollywood holiday movie.
And this movie’s in Technicolor, with seasonal decor that coordinates with the hues of the various rooms — purple in the mini-ballroom, teal in the family room, orange on the lower level — even a burgundy feather wreath for the dramatically dark powder room.
“People are really surprised by all the colors that we use,” McGrath said of her holiday decorations. And a lot of people see her decor because she hosts a lot of parties, typically five or six each holiday season, including a supersize soiree for the entire neighborhood.
“I love to entertain,” said McGrath, who owns a consulting business and often hosts fundraising events for nonprofits as well as gatherings for friends and relatives. Her house is big enough to accommodate a crowd. But even when she lived in a tiny apartment in New York City, she still entertained.
Her holiday decorations were designed specifically for her home. When she and her husband, Lee, were building the house several years ago, she asked her interior designer, Jaque Bethke of Pure Design Environments, to create holiday decor, as well — as a Christmas surprise for McGrath’s husband and four children.
“Her designs are whimsical and warm,” McGrath said of Bethke, whom she tracked down after admiring her work on a home tour. “Lots of people can do things that are beautiful, but I wanted it unique and playful, warm and welcoming, too.”
McGrath gave Bethke free rein with the holiday decor. “I knew she’d do something amazing,” McGrath said.
Bethke, who honed her style designing hotel rooms in Las Vegas before launching her own firm, believes in creating bold, dramatic “experiences.”
“When you walk in the front door, you want that instant feeling of holiday spirit — whimsy, fun, relaxation and gratitude,” she said.
Creating that feeling for a client she already knew felt natural, although it was truly a tall order.
“I knew the family’s personality,” Bethke said. “And I knew the scale of her spaces. When she told me where she wanted the tree [in the ballroom with the soaring ceiling], I knew I couldn’t put standard-size ornaments on that tree. I ended up going to a commercial vendor who makes things for malls, casinos and hotels.”
The towering tree is trimmed with textured silver ornaments as big as basketballs and dozens of elf figures, including one that dives headfirst into the tree with only his ankles and shoes poking out between the branches. The tree is crowned with a rustic spray of sticks and branches that were gathered from the McGraths’ backyard after a storm.
There’s room on all of the McGraths’ Christmas trees for the family’s ornaments, such as the ones handmade by their children or picked up as mementos from a trip.
Family heirlooms, be they humble or homely, have an important place on any Christmas tree, even one that’s styled to make a design statement, said Bethke. The heirlooms evoke feelings and celebrate memories without detracting from the design or color scheme. From a distance, you see the overall effect, she noted. When family members are up close, they see the heirlooms.
Relics of parties past also make a holiday appearance at the McGraths’ house, including the row of teddy bears in stocking caps that decorates the grand piano — souvenirs from a pajama breakfast party McGrath once hosted for 40 children. “My very favorite!” she said.
The big reveal
The year their house was built, the family didn’t see the new holiday decorations until Christmas morning.
“I wanted to have their first experience be at Christmas,” McGrath said.
Their previous home was across the street, so they could watch the progress of their new house, but McGrath made sure no one saw the inside in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
That morning, the family awoke in their old house.
“They found no presents and were really nervous,” McGrath recalled. “But Santa left a note saying, ‘Walk over to the new house.’ ”
There, they discovered their gifts in the elaborately decorated house.
“It was such a magical Christmas,” she said.
This holiday season, all four of the McGrath kids will be on hand to celebrate Christmas in their festive family home. McGrath can’t wait.
“It’s such a fun time of year,” she said. “And it’s so fun to entertain here.”