How This Family Keeps Holiday Decorating Calm and Merry
Stay joyful with some expert-level festive decor advice (and learn when to outsource)
When visions of sugar plums are replaced by visions of dashing through a snow pile of holiday tasks that even Santa and his elves can’t handle, it may be time to do what the Sit family did: Bring calm and joy back into the season by hiring a professional designer to take care of the home decor.
“Michelle and Ryan have been our clients for three years,” says Maegan Swabb of M. Swabb Interior Design. “We helped them update the interiors of their home, starting with the master bedroom. Now we come in when needed to keep the house feeling fresh, and we do their decor for birthday parties [12-year-old Lucas and 10-year-old Ari are the envy of the neighborhood], Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They just love to celebrate life and we basically have become part of the family.”
Before Ryan found Maegan online, the family would adorn their large Rancho Santa Fe residence themselves. “We would buy things, get them home and then discover they didn’t work for whatever reason,” Michelle says. “We were wasting time, energy and money by trying to do something that wasn’t our strength. Now we have someone who is gifted—an expert who can decorate efficiently and beautifully. I learned that decor always costs money but it doesn’t necessarily save you money if you do it yourself.”
At the beginning of the week right after Thanksgiving, Maegan and her team come over, take down the Thanksgiving trim they put up a few weeks earlier, and begin installing Christmas magic. They don’t theme the decorations. Instead, Maegan, Michelle and Ryan gather together to discuss the latest trends in holiday decor that they might want to include, the year’s plans (will they be decorating for just the family, hosting a holiday meal or having overnight guests?), the general impression they want the house to convey (would they like a simple, more natural vibe or do they want to lean toward the more theatrical?) and the budget.
“There is a lot of communication involved,” Michelle explains. “We talk about what’s happening seasonally, what colors are popular, how much needs to be decorated, like, for example, do we need to decorate a guest bedroom? After the initial concepts, Maegan makes a project board that we look at and then we bounce ideas back and forth. Let’s make this simpler, say, or let’s add more color here and less color there. It’s great to work with Maegan because she is very communicative and she’s flexible with our desires and needs.”
The first year, the decision was to go big. Multiple trees twinkled holiday spirit throughout the house and numerous nutcrackers added festive cheer and delighted a then 7-year-old Ari who, that year, had developed a fascination for the popular Christmas ornaments. The following year, the more the merrier meant guests, not trees. To wow the visitors, one massive, glorious tree greeted them in the foyer and the table was set with ornate flair. Last year, when the holiday was geared toward a smaller family gathering, Maegan kept decorations simpler to lend a more intimate, cozier feel.
But whether decorations go all out or are minimal, each year Maegan makes certain to display precious family treasures the Sit family has collected over time.
“We have friends who live in Bethlehem, who gave us a special nativity scene that we love to put out,” Michelle says. “Plus there are a number of school ornaments for the tree that the kids made by hand.”
Then, there’s the sentimental tree topper. “I have a star that Ryan gave me when we were dating,” Michelle explains. “We dated through college and we were apart for a number of holidays. That star became a way we could celebrate the holiday together even though we were apart.”
Maegan annually repurposes what Michelle and Ryan already have. But to surprise them with new elements, the interior designer and her team source items from their favorite local shops as well as their number one spots in Orange County, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. “When we are out shopping, we decide with our gut,” Maegan says.
An abundance of greenery and florals also bedeck the home. The table’s centerpiece has been Michelle’s best-loved decoration for three years running.
“I have a passion for floral arrangements, so whenever I’m given the opportunity to create something, I am all about it,” Maegan says. “I look for materials that will dry naturally and I love mixing in wild flowers. I focus on beautiful, fragrant arrangements that will remain stunning for weeks.”
Michelle has a passion too. “Although Maegan and her team do 75 to 90% of the holiday decor, I take care of the kitchen,” she says. “That is my special spot. I have a culinary degree and that is where I work so I like to do my own special settings of things that are significant to me around the island, counters and windowsill. I also like to do the children’s rooms myself. The areas where I want to reach out to my family are the areas I take care of myself.
“But if you’re handling everything yourself, it’s easy to take your eye off the priorities,” she warns. “With Maegan and her team doing most of the decorating, it sets the scene for valuable time that we can enjoy together with friends and family. And that’s what the holidays are about.”