Walking into the Red Room at The White House is a lot like sinking into a Burmese ruby. Completely enveloped by the rosiest of reds, the walls, covered in red twill satin fabric are a deep, saturated red, punctuated by white marble fireplace facades and statues; the furniture is upholstered in the same red silk. When decorated for the annual White House Christmas tours, the Red Room comes to life, making it an even more resplendent jewel.
Maggie Blue enjoyed the Christmas tour in early December and is thrilled to present Part II of our White House Christmas Tour 2020 blog – with a distinguished floral designer who has spanned two Administrations with her special brand of creativity.
When Texas floral designer Amanda “Mandy” Barkley first started participating in The White House Christmas decor as a volunteer decorator six years ago, it was ‘bucket list’ goal for this third generation florist. She told Maggie Blue that the annual unveiling of the White House Christmas décor was like the Super Bowl to her family who anxiously awaited the glorious designs every year.
She and her sister applied, six years ago, and both were accepted into the volunteer program. By the time Mandy was through her second year, she earned the moniker “Mandy the Mantel Girl” due to her serious décor game of the West Wing mantels of the Oval Office and various rooms in the residence.
With the transition to the Trump White House, Mandy thought she might not be invited back to lend her expertise, but she received a call that summer by the team lead. Although Mandy is a florist by trade, she has a penchant for craft-making which was not lost on The White House executive team. She has often been asked to create items that tie to the themes that the First Lady may request.
Mandy has started as early as June, five months in advance of the unveiling of the decorations, to create prototypes of items such as Christmas books or, flower representations. This year, First Lady Melania Trump, designated the Red Room theme in honor of essential workers.
The White House turned to Mandy for inspiration on how to create those themes via ornaments and various houses on the mantels. She had just been working on an old type of ornament-making that involved felt and sequins and decided to present some prototypes of ornaments and houses using these same materials and the First Lady and design team loved the concept!
Mandy was the lead artist and decorator of The Red Room, designing the pieces that would don the tree and working her mantel-magic in honor of America's essential workers from fire fighters and farmers to nurses and doctors. For each felt house, the artist invested a minimum of eight hours of building and crafting.
While the Red Room was this artist's focus this particular year, she is frequently called on to generate ideas and concepts for other rooms within The White House that will be on tour. In addition to building felt houses and ornaments, Mandy developed the double-faced satin rosettes commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment honoring America's female pioneers. She also worked with a great team on the Blue Room particulars from mantel decorations to the paper doll chains within the spectacular tree branches of the 18.5 foot Frasier Fir. She also points out, in her own holiday tour on Instagram (see her private behind-the-scenes tour on her story highlights!), that she and her husband collected the pinecones in Colorado that volunteers sewed into a garland for the Green Room mantel!
Mandy always does her historical research first for inspiration - which makes sense since she personally honors American history every Christmas with her own historically-themed mantel.
Decorating a Presidential residence, however, is not new to Mandy's family. The family's 76 year old floral business decorated the apartment of the Bush family near Texas A & M University. Mandy's family is accustomed to delivering Yuletide joy to discerning clients.
Congratulations, Mandy, on another fine showing at The White House and for your volunteerism in helping bring joy to this year's White House Christmas theme of "America the Beautiful."
Maggie Blue loves a fun activity on the front porch, so we have included the instructions from The White House tour booklet on how to make your own felt ornaments! Now is as good a time as any to plan your special Christmas decor for next year!
[Except where indicated, all photos are credited to Magnolia Blue.]