Q&A: Jura Koncius on *last-minute* advice for holiday decorating, hosting and gifts...

Jura Koncius
Dec 20, 2018

Jura Koncius has worked at the Washington Post for 42 years. For the last 36 of those, she has covered home and design, decorating and decluttering. Her design coverage has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny apartments in Adams Morgan to country castles in Warrenton, Va. She's been through many holiday dilemmas and written about a lot of holiday houses and parties. So what do you need to know? And what tips can you share with five days left until Christmas?

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers, Marie Kondo or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Good morning. It's just me on the chat today bringing you Christmas 101. How could there be only five days left until Christmas? We've all been making lists upon lists and trying to be organized, but it is tough. I've written about and experienced many holiday joys and dilemmas and documented many holiday decorations and parties. So what do you need to know? And what tips can you share with all of us with the big day upon us?

Can you give us a To DO list for the main floor guest bath and can you offer guests to use upstairs baths as well for more privacy? Or is that a No No.

What an interesting question. I'd love to hear what the rest of you think. First of all, I have done my own powder room refresh just this week. We tossed out the small black Ralph Lauren rug and decided to keep it simple with only the white tile on the floor. I ditched a ratty looking towel and am now going to use Royal Tea Towels in there since the theme of my powder room is the Royal Loo: It's decorated with royal memorabilia: china, photographs and a big gold mirror with the Prince of Wales plume on the top. Yeah over the top but fun. It's nice to clear off everything you have in there and for the holidays put in a nice spring of holly in a vase and a holiday candle plus some new soap. as for the rest of the bathrooms in the house, don't assume that nobody will go up there because they probably will. So get them sparkling and clutter free.

Have you read my story today about white tablecloths vs. other holiday table ideas? What do you think about not ironing linen tablecloths for a rumpled more casual look? Here's the story. Meanwhile this was one of the interesting comments at the end of the story:



"I copied an elderly friend of the family’s tradition. I use the same tablecloth every Christmas-a red one. Every guest at my table signs their name in marker and then I embroider it. It’s a lovely way to recall all who sat with you and my repeat guests love looking for their names.  This year my first grandchild will be with us- I traced her hand and will embroider that near her parents.

My mother was so good at collecting interesting little things throughout the year for the stockings; and every year I fail to do this. What can I get my husband and 10-year old son besides a metric ton of chocolate?

You know some people think about this all year - I try to but usually do most of my stocking shopping the last week before Christmas. You could set up a shopping bag in your wrapping station that you fill with goodies all year long - but it's too late for that now. So ideas? The Container Store has a lot of good stuff - little tech gadgets and travel accessories. Go to a good gadget department and pick up a few items there. Tuck in some gift cards or some tickets to a play or a booklet of movie tickets or car wash tickets. Any other ideas out there?

Hi Jura! First, thank you for all the wonderful work you do! And, what would be some budget, festive ways to decorate for a small, thrown-together NYE party? Chatters, have any favorite tips? I'm not into cute, but I love a ton of sparkle.

Sparkle is what we need right now. Toss glittery confetti all over your table. Light candles all over the house and turn the lights down low. Serve a buffet that won't keep you in the kitchen all night. Make little goodie bags for all with things they will need in the new year. Any other ideas? Happy New Year.

Loved the story about tablecloths and table settings. Besides being costly to professionally launder a linen 110 inch white tablecloth for my dining room table , I agree with one of your experts that white dishes on a white tablecloth looks institutional. So I am changing it up this year. Thanks for presenting the great ideas today and throughout the year.

Thanks. I looked at photos of our holiday table settings for the last five years on my phone. And yuck. The 2014 setting had a thickly starched (yes at the cleaners) vintage linen tablecloth. The dishes were not white, but the whole thing looked blah. There years ago we bought a red Russian linen tablecloth and napkins and it has enhanced our table so much and each year we do a different concept for the centerpiece and colored glasses, plates, place card holders etc. Set your table a day or two in advance so then you can spend time on it without worrying about cooking and doing your table at the same time. This year lots of people are doing garlands down the middle of the table with candles and pinecones or berries tossed around it. Here's my tablecloth story.

What makes you feel special?

This is such a great question. I would a host that has everything ready in advance makes it feel like they have made a huge effort to entertain you in a special way. Candles burning, fire in the fireplace. Bar set up with ice and lemons and limes; cocktail napkins and snacks put out. Nice festive music playing softly in the background. And of course a holiday candle burning. Haha read my story about them here. Sorry for the shameless self promotion but I gotta get my numbers up for the end of the year! What other ideas do you have?

We have an open floor plan house with lots of windows and in the winter in can be cool even with the heat blasting, How can you be sure that guests are comfortable. Even with a wood fire going, some guests still complain they are cold. And at nighttime , I hate heating the whole house to 72 just to satisfy a family guest when I like to sleep with temp set at 65. Please advise Jura.

This is a huge issue at the holidays. My mother's visit at Christmas was always tense and she helped herself to the thermostat and turned it up and down all day. My husband called her a "thermodynamic neurotic" But he put up with it and she cooked us amazing meals and brought us a ton of love so you can't complain. As a host, I would ask my overnight guests what they like in terms of sleeping temperature. I would also provide working windows so they can open and close them in their bedroom plus lots of throws, blankets and maybe even a small portable heater. You might have to suffer a bit in terms of your favorite temps when you have older people staying in your house.

I was given a HUGE potted poinsettia as a present. It's so big it won't fit on a windowsill, and it would take up the middle third of my dining room table. Plus, I have cats. I said "Thank you" but I put it in my back yard to die. Please don't give houseplants as gifts.

Oh my! Well the giver didn't think about your cats for sure. I'm sorry you hated it - and maybe you could have given it to someone else who would gladly have adopted it or dropped it off at a rehab center or something. But hey, it's your plant! My one comment would be don't keep poinsettias through February - they get dusty and spindly and ugly.

My mother-in-law always gives each person some lotion/chapstick -- the kind of things you need but don't always want to buy. Plus she includes a gift certificate to the person's favorite coffee shop and then candy and fruit (like oranges).



We have too many decorations but my family won't let me get rid of any. What should I do? It's just too much to pack up and store each year.

I have many friends who have this problem and i do too. I did an article about Baby Boomers who are tired of hauling out all the holiday stuff but are secretly getting rid of it when nobody is looking. Here it is.

Just in case you need a refresher in the proper way to set a table - I know some of you don't want anything to do with this - but for those that do. Here's an article I did a couple of years ago with the basic rules of setting any formal dinner table.  It's not a dumb thing to teach your kids.

A bit embarrassed to ask if there is a 'rule of thumb' regarding how many of one type of ornament one should purchase for, say, a 6 to 8 feet tree? For example, if I see a particular ornament in a store or online that catches my eye, I typically buy just one... but then I get home, place it on the tree and think, maybe I should have bought more of the exact same one to add some... balance? But I don't know how many would essentially round out the tree, so to speak. I realize its a personal choice, and my tree is an assortment of many types collected over the years. Just curious for your thoughts.

I'm with you on this one. My tree has hundreds of ornaments collected over a lifetime. I would not buy multiples. But what some people do to mix it up is some years they only put up the red and green ornaments and some years only the gold ones. Or they might choose travel memento ornaments as a theme. Do you have any ideas on this?

I have a lantern on my mantle and have stuffed it with a string of white lights. Pretty! Extra touch for the guest room: I don't have any guests for this year, but I always have a basket of hotel toiletries on the dresser in case someone forgot something. Merry Christmas, Jura, and thanks for helping us with domestic bliss throughout the year.

Thanks! Love the idea of a lantern stuffed with lights. Merry Christmas to you.

My husband is 6 feet 8 inches tall; I am not, but flexible. We have a 15 by 15 foot living room. Most couches have short legs. Is there a brand that can fit his torso length? Thanks! I have been searching and contemporary sofas are short. We have enough old antiques that we need a contemporary couch to balance out all the wood pieces we have hung on, been passed on to keep to last our 70 years!

Wow I think you definitely need a modern sectional. Big sofas are everywhere these days have you looked at Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Mitchell Gold or Room & Board?

Does anyone have a brand of fake trees to recommend?

We bought our Martha Stewart tree at Home Depot a few years ago. It's a bit sparse compared to a real tree of course and we do have to fluff up the branches every year - but I still like it and the savings of effort, time and money it has represented. Plus stress free. What brands do you like? 

Have you considered a gift for an unsung hero in your life? More holiday ideas here.

Red wine being served during the holidays makes me nervous about my rugs and upholstery, and of course my tablecloth. Any ideas for making me feel less stressed out?

Some people just don't serve red wine, but of course a nice Cab is sort of required with a holiday roast. One thing I've done is gone to the stemless wine glass instead of the typical tall one. Less chance of being spilled over. Here something I did not too long ago on battling the five stains of Christmas.

Between uses, how do you recommend storing china? I've seen advice that says "always on its side, rims are stronger", or stacked with felt pieces in between each piece, or in special soft-sided china containers, or wrapped in clean newsprint. I also read somewhere you should never stack china teacups because it stresses the handles, so they should always be hung from hooks (who has ten to twenty hooks for china teacups), etc. Any wisdom for the festive dinner aftermath?

I'm a fan of the quilted storage containers you can buy for each size of your plate, cup and serving piece. Otherwise if you store your good china on shelves, felt dividers for the plates can prevent scratching. Cups and saucers are tricky and Martha Stewart (of course) has a solution. Read about it here. Teacups are precarious to store on a shelf and fine china handles can break off. She suggests placing cup over saucer, in neat little stacks on your shelf.

a new pair of running socks! Winter weight with mohair for the hardy outdoor runners.

Great idea.

My mom always gets me socks or hand lotion, which is nice. She always gets me comfy, cozy socks. You can get nice woolen ones or work ones for guys too. Winter accessories are always nice as well--mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, etc.

Yes you can never have enough winter gloves or mittens. I buy my son a pair each year.

Perhaps this is obvious, but whenever you post "HF5555" I assume those are old chats relevant to the topic at hand, but how do I find them? They're not linked, and the archive doesn't appear to be searchable by number...

Oh those are the Post Point Codes for today for our subscribers who want to add more points to their total for various prizes.

Just thought of a great stocking stuffer for all: extra phone chargers ... they do go bad and we leave them in hotels and guest rooms ... nice to have an extra one.

Thanks everyone. I wish you all a beautiful holiday season. We will take a break next week on December 27 - no chat. But we are back for the new year with an exciting roster of guests. January 3 we will be talking paint with expert Andrea Magno of Benjamin Moore. Keep your eye on that thermostat..

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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