Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Mary Randolph Carter's Holiday Style

Mary Randolph Carter, junk connoisseur, creative director for Ralph Lauren, photographer and bestselling author, recently led a workshop on holiday home décor at Anthropologie's Chelsea Market store. Talented photographer Sara Beth Turner was on hand to capture the event and she has generously shared some of her shots with me. Below, Carter tells Style Court  more about her own holiday style.
[Unless otherwise noted, all photos copyright © Sara Beth Turner.]

Throughout the year, Carter embraces aesthetic imperfections, so naturally when it comes to wrapping holiday gifts she favors originality, creativity, thrift and ease over the cookie-cutter look. She says, "My gifts are pretty easy to spot under ye olde Christmas tree!"

Her materials of choice include: tissue, clear sandwich bags, imperfectly perfect vintage post cards, old grain bags and wooden boxes.

[Grain bag image via Vintage Weave; red tissue via Kate's Paperie; green via Paper Source; string via Bell'occhio.]

Carter explains: "For small gifts I wrap a bit of tissue paper (preferably green or red) around said object and stuff it in one of those handy generic Ziploc sandwich bags. I buy sandwich, quart and gallon sizes to accommodate a range of gifts. Since they’re see-through, a vintage post card with a heartfelt message scribbled on the back adds a little personality!"

Sometimes she finishes it all off with a piece of rough cord, her preferred kind of holiday ribbon.

[Carter made and photographed the collage on her bed using favorite images copied for her Anthro workshop. Maybe a picture will end up in one of those baggie presents.]

For larger gifts, Carter has been known to use garbage bags and old newspapers. She purchases big quantities of shipping tags with the reinforced hole and little string tie (see the previous post for image) and stamps them with her personal junk truck logo along with a message written with a fat black Sharpie. To add flair to a special gift, Carter says, "I love wrapping in vintage fabrics or depositing [the present] in an old grain bag or wooden box."

While Carter describes her own wrapping style as no-fuss, she acknowledges that she is always in awe of her friends and colleagues in fashion, design and the arts who take such pains with their gift wrapping creativity.

She says, "For years one of my work buddies, knowing that I loved decoys and wooden fish, would tie one on to my gift as a tag so I could hang it on our little “fishy” tree in the city." An artist friend's magical packages are detailed here.

[Mary Randolph Carter photographed by her husband, Howard Berg, in their snowy apple orchard in upstate New York. Photo courtesy Carter.]

Favorite holiday tunes? With out a doubt the classics. Not a big fan of contemporary vocal interpretations. "Give me Nat King Cole singing White Christmas every time," she says, adding that she mostly loves instrumental versions of traditional songs like Deck the Halls, Silent Night, and Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem.

 [Cheese biscuits as seen in Carter's book, American Family Style.]

Carter comes from a big Virginia family -- 37 family members, at last count! After enjoying Christmas Eve dinner (a gift from Emily and Dave, Carter's sister number five and brother-in-law), everyone gathers in front of the big dining room fireplace at her parents' circa 1680, "made-for-Christmas" place, Muskettoe Pointe Farm.

[Photo courtesy Mary Randolph Carter, from her book, American Family Style.]

[Image via Amazon.]

The tree stands decorated here, and the grandchildren take turns reading Carter's old edition of The Night Before Christmas, with illustrations by Grandma Moses, in which she faithfully archives the names of each of the readers.

 [Photo courtesy Mary Randolph Carter, from her book, American Family Style.]
"Since we started this almost thirty years ago there are now Great Grandchildren to add to the list," she notes,  "Afterward, everyone (youngest first!) hangs his or her stocking on big old nails over the fireplace. [My sons,] Carter and Sam, have holes in theirs so I have lined them with cotton socks keeping Santa’s candy and little presents secure 'till Christmas morning."

Because their local church gave up on Midnight Mass, the group usually piles into several cars and then into a few pews at 5 o’clock.

[©A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

Breakfast is the family's major eating event: creamed chipped beef, grits, Sally Lunn, fried apples, Carter's chef sister Liza’s cinnamon coffee cake, and oftentimes Bloody Marys for the adults. Later, lots and lots of coffee is consumed.

[Bloody Mary photograph by Marian Cooper Cairns for Southern Living. Click here for the recipe.]

"On Boxing Day, we clean up our mess and have a huge Boxing Day party for all our friends in the area. A favorite holiday nibble is my grandmother, 'Ga Ga’s,' cheese biscuits, now made by my sister Liza."

 [Virginia landscape photographed by Janet Blyberg.]

Maximalist and over-the-top, yet still rustic and simple, sums up Carter's holiday decorating style. I'll paraphrase the scene she set at Muskettoe Pointe Farm:

Real dripping candles are everywhere, including the overhead tin chandeliers, while mantelpieces are decked with holly and magnolia. White candle lights sit in the windows. the tree is decorated with cranberries and old cookie ornaments and toys, and to this classic mix the family adds a cobbled together nativity scene composed of characters and animals from many different sets -- a funny hodpodge of varied scale and levels of craftsmanship.

[Photo copyright © Sara Beth Turner.]
Carter adds, "Presiding each year from the mantelpiece over the [mismatched] stockings is a quartet of old ceramic Santas and a diminutive Santa Band that I added up a few years ago having found it in a New York City flea market."

Her holiday pet peeve? "Taking it all down!"

To learn more about Carter's imperfect approach, click here.

[Photograph by Maura McEvoy  ©Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard by Debra Shriver, Glitterati, Inc. 2010.]

Also of interest: Inspiration is Free and Trimmings and Tunes for Later...

and Eyes Wide Open (Thanksgiving Week).


Anonymous said...


An "imperfectly" Perfect Holiday season to all the Style Court family!

imperfectly yours,

Pigtown*Design said...

Just ordered Carter's book and can't wait to receive it. I love Christmas like she described. That't the way our family Christmas is, but with about 10 fewer people!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see more gift wrap examples. There are so few blogs that tackle that subject and there should be more; wrapping presents really is an art!

Style Court said...

Hi Anon,

Great! More are on the way and there are a host of ideas in the archives, too. Stay tuned!

Style Court said...

Meg -- I thought of you as I put this post together :)

Style Court said...

Carter --

Warm wishes to you and yours as well!


quintessence said...

Looks like such fun! Love Mary and totally relate to her aesthetic.


oh How I wish I had been there! what a fantastic day it must have been-her style and attitude for interior design is inspiring!

Janet said...

What fun! And I must agree, taking it all down is a terrible chore. Happy, happy to all!

Work verification: patinist (one who appreciates patina).

home before dark said...

Gotta love a girl who sees the world through the beauty of zip lock baggies!

Style Court said...

Indeed! I almost began this post with an image of a Ziplock bag.

Anonymous said...

looks like it was a fabulous day, would loved to have been there!

NicoLina said...

My brother is leaving to study abroad this summer and traveling through Europe so I was thinking of wrapping his present in a map patterned paper . What do you think? Is it clever or kind of silly??