From the December/January 2013 Issue:

A Tale of Two Christmases

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: Tom Grimes | Designer: A.J. Margulis, Allied Member ASID |

Two homes, two holiday décor schemes, one very special wreath

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enlarge | A vintage wreath above the fireplace in the living room is the focal point for Kathleen and Dan O’Connor’s Christmas décor. Designer A.J. Margulis calls it a piece of art. Its blue, pink and gold vintage ornaments have a glittery but aged patina.
A one-of-a-kind vintage wreath was one of the driving forces behind A.J. Margulis’ Christmas décor for the O’Connor family of Pennington. Margulis, principal of Pennington-based A.J. Margulis Interiors, so loved the wreath she crafted another one based on the original and hung it in her own home for the holidays.

But the O’Connor and Margulis holiday schemes share something beyond a vintage wreath that, as Margulis says, is really a piece of art. Like the blues, pinks and golds of the wreath’s ornaments, the holiday design for both homes forgoes the traditional Christmas red and green in favor of a focus on natural elements, an understated look and a festive but livable style.

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enlarge | Pink is one of the main colors in the O’Connor home. That triggered A.J. Margulis’ idea for a Christmas Candyland theme. In the dining room with its pink-accented draperies (not shown) and china, she crafted three Christmas trees of gumdrops and pe­p­per­mints to grace the table.
For a household with one woman and four men, it might be a tad surprising to find pink as one of the dominant colors. But that’s the case for the O’Connor family—Kathleen and Dan and their three sons, John, 13; Jim, 11; and Billy, 8.

With that pink in mind—subtle though it may be—Margulis “jumped” on a Christmas Candyland theme for the O’Connors’ participation in Homes for the Holidays, a holiday kitchen tour to benefit the Toll Gate School in Pennington. Margulis, who was with Pennington-based Deborah Leamann Interiors at the time the project was done, decorated the first floor for the tour. In the dining room there are pink accents in the draperies and the china as well as a pinkish cast to the O’Connors’ stemware. This is all set against a neutral beige wallpaper Margulis had installed the previous year. With help from her daughter, Margulis painstakingly crafted candy Christmas trees of gumdrops and peppermints. She placed them on silver tray with sprigs of seeded eucalyptus.

The delicate vintage wreath is the focus in the living room, which has chairs in a subtle pink pattern, pink accents on the sofa and a pink ottoman. Margulis borrowed the wreath from Deborah Leamann, who bought it in Lambertville. She says the wreath was a natural for Kathleen O’Connor, who, like herself, appreciates and collects vintage ornaments. “I was moving from the red and green concept with this wreath,” says Margulis, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers. “It has blues, pinks and golds. The ornaments are glittery but with an aged quality.”

The designer also likes to use numerous natural elements in a holiday design. In the O’Connor living room these include sprigs of winterberry—sprinkled with ornaments—just below the wreath on the fireplace, a container of amaryllis plus tiny mercury glass ornaments along with big pink glass balls on the coffee table, and a silver bowl filled with magnolia leaves and multicolored vintage ornaments on a side table. To the right of the fireplace, more ornaments with small pieces of greenery are strewn around the base of a tray holding hurricane candleholders.

In the kitchen the Candyland theme is carried through on a silver tray sprinkled with colorful candies. The focus is on the natural as well with a clear glass bottle holding twigs adorned with ornaments and filled with candy at the bottom.

“The decorations don’t hit you in the face,” Margulis says. “They’re set to live with; it’s a festive feel but they can be there for several weeks.”

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enlarge | The vintage ornaments A.J. Margulis loves combine with greenery at the center of a table in the sitting room. Two small eucalyptus wreaths adorn the windows.
Margulis, whose husband Brett is Jewish, says she has always loved Christmas and never wanted to give up the holiday. And she hasn’t. “But our focus is not on religion,” she says of herself, her husband and two children, Sam, 13 and Chloe, 9.

“I’ve tried to make it [the holiday décor] Christmassy without my husband feeling that he’s walked into Little House on the Prairie,” Margulis says with a laugh. “It’s more of an aura for us—a feeling of warmth and family and candlelight.”

Margulis does decorate for the holidays—Thanksgiving and Christmas—every year. Her decor has evolved, with past schemes that included a red-and-green crafty look and an all-white design. The vintage wreath she copied from the original used in the O’Connor home fits in with her move away from the traditional Christmas red and green. It also speaks to her love of vintage ornaments, which she’s been collecting for years.
When Margulis was unable to find another wreath like the one used in the O’Connor home, she set out to make her own. She used hot glue to attach vintage ornaments to a plastic foam base. The project was not for the faint of heart, the designer says. “It takes a lot of ornaments and an eye to put what where,” Margulis says. “It also takes some nerve because you have to keep going. You can’t plan it all out in advance; it’s an organic process.”

She hung her finished wreath above the range in her kitchen and plans to use it for the holidays each year. “You can pull it out every year and see different things in it every time,” she says.

Margulis’ current holiday design, however, “Is not just about what you see, but what you smell—real greenery and touches such as cinnamon sticks and oranges with cloves.”

The living room, for example, features a fireplace mantel draped with greenery along with a garland of antiqued balls, mercury glass ornaments and candles. A large bowl filled with greenery and glass and vintage ornaments sits on the coffee table.

Small wreaths of eucalyptus and another bowl of ornaments and greenery adorn the sitting room. The dining room table’s centerpiece is an antique bronze pot with greenery, orange berries and white hyacinth flanked by pots of white tulips, a miniature silver tree, vintage ornaments and a garland of tiny silver bells.
“It’s all about what you can live with,” Margulis says of the total look. “When done well, everyone can enjoy it for a good month.”


Overall: holiday decor of O’Connor and Margulis homes, A.J. Margulis in Pennington; greenery and plants in both homes, Karen Graves of Plant Profiles in Skillman. Margulis Home: interior design, A.J. Margulis; some vintage ornaments, The Tomato Factory in Hope­well. O’Connor Home: interior design, A.J. Margulis then of Deborah Leamann Interiors in Pennington and now of A.J. Margulis Interiors in Pennington; custom living room chairs with fabric by Jane Churchill for Cowtan & Tout in New York City; custom living room sofa, fabric by Thibaut in Newark; dining room wall covering, Cowtan and Tout in New York City.

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