Raleigh Decorator Volunteers at the White House

This Raleigh decorator had the honor of volunteering at the White House to help install the holiday decor.  What an incredible experience it was! I’ve gotten lots of questions and excitement from readers, so I wanted to share more details here.

You can also see more details via HGTV here.

How did you get this opportunity?

Each year the White House opens the application process to the public in late summer. My sister Anne and I both applied (a friend of hers did it last year, and recommended it) and were thrilled to get acceptance emails in October. Apparently over 1000 applications were submitted, and 300 were accepted this year. We shifted our holiday plans and booked a hotel for our stay. After a thorough background check, we received detailed instructions to report for duty at 7:30am on Black Friday.

What were your days like?

Upon arrival, we turned in our cell phones (the theme and details are kept secret to all until the Monday after Thanksgiving) and were assigned to a decorating team: Comet. The Comet team was the largest team, consisting of 30 volunteers. We were to decorate the East Room, The Vermeil Room, and the Library. The theme this year: Magic, Wonder, and Joy.

Each of the three days we worked, the house kitchen provided breakfast and lunch. Drinking water was prohibited anywhere in the house, except for the dining room. This was a tough adjustment, as we’re so used to having a water bottle at hand all day, and we were doing physically demanding work. We were happy to comply, as we were reminded the house is a “living museum”.

I worked on a variety of tasks, mostly in the East room (below), like attaching ball ornaments to the big garlands framing the 4 mantel mirrors, creating snowy tree skirts and collars for many of the trees, decorating the smaller trees with ornaments, and arranging the displays behind the advent calendar doors (these will be opened daily from today until Christmas, and shared on the @flotus accounts).

Each day we worked until around 5:00pm, and were utterly spent. Some of the team leaders stayed much longer, and I honestly don’t know how they did it.

There was a reception/party for the volunteers at the end, when we got to bring in our phones/cameras and see everything completed. I snapped all of these photos there. Sparkling wine and water were served, and holiday cookies.

Were you given any creative license?

From what I understand, the actual theme and the concepts are developed by the first lady and her designer for each room in the Spring. All of the details are meticulously planned, and the concepts are rendered digitally. They hire outside vendors to create the large installations (like the big advent calendars, the stage with the trumpeters in the Vermeil Room, and the flying sleigh/reindeer in the foyer).

As for the smaller decor items and ornaments, those are crafted and assembled by the volunteers to the specifications given.

Did you meet anyone famous?

Throughout the decorating, HGTV was present, documenting the decorating process. Teams of cameramen, producers, boom operators, etc, moved around all of the rooms filming and interviewing as we worked. The Property Brothers are the hosts of the special that will air, so they were there too, filming and interviewing. I didn’t get to meet them or be interviewed, but loved watching the whole process.

Dr. Biden gave a lovely speech, then made herself available for small group photos and to shake each of our hands. Can’t wait to see the photos once they’re provided.

Everyone that I encountered, from the volunteers to the house staff to the leadership team were kind and helpful, and the atmosphere was festive and fun.

We found that volunteers came in from almost all 50 states, of all ages, and abilities, and walks of life. There were a LOT of creative people volunteering, but some were simply White House or Christmas enthusiasts, wanting to lend a hand.

You can view official photos of each room here.

It was an incredible experience and something we won’t soon forget! What a way to kickoff the holidays!

December 14, 2023



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