'Tis The Season
How a design pro decks his halls and throws a high-class holiday bash
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Garlands frame the entry to the living room, welcoming guests and setting the tone for the evening.
Every year for as long as he can remember, interior designer Martin Horner has thrown a holiday party. Sometimes it's for eight people; sometimes it's for 30. But be it big or small, the co-principal of the firm Soucie Horner pretty much sticks to the same checklist from year to year. He pulls out from storage his multiple boxes of ornaments and pine cones. He discusses the menu with his friend and caterer, Joe Schroeder, owner of Gerards Personal Chef ("I always have parties catered so I can relax," Horner says). He buys a ton of greenery, including a tall Douglas fir Christmas tree, often at Gethsemane Garden Center in Edgewater. And then he gets to work. The man has a lot of garlands to hang.
Martin Horner awaits guests in his dining room; behind him isan antique Japanese screen from Asian House of Chicago. The black-lacquered wood chairs were prototypes made for Holly Hunt, one of this consummate host's many guests.
"I like walking into a room and smelling fresh greenery," says Horner, who drapes the arched doorway in his hallway, the fireplace mantel in his living room, the chandelier in his dining room, and more with decadent amounts of it. On the mantel, he adds moss, pine cones, and little white lights to the garlands, along with standing branches of winterberries for a splash of color. He throws cinnamon-scented pine cones into the fire and has mulling spices simmering away in the kitchen for yet more seasonal aromas, scents that remind him of the holidays at his childhood home in Indiana.
As for the tree, Horner's is always understated. "I don't do themes," he says. "I like the tree to look classic and simple—and to sparkle." He tends to stick to crystal, white, gold, and silver ornaments, buying a new one to add every year. "It's a big ritual," he says of the purchase, whether it's a silver Eiffel Tower picked up in Paris or a hand-painted springer spaniel in honor of his own pooches. Sometimes he punches things up a bit: Last year, he added red ribbons, the year before it was pheasant feathers retrieved by his dogs in Wisconsin. He likes the idea of adding berries or fresh flowers, or wrapping under-tree gifts with a single bold color to add pop.
Horner's dinner parties always begin with cocktails (and end with coffee and after-dinner drinks) in the living room of his Buena Park co-op, which is filled with original Beaux Arts crown moldings and a mix of antique and contemporary furniture arranged for mingling. Back-to-back upholstered benches from Lincoln Antique Mall divide the space into two cozy seating areas.
The party then moves to the dining room, where, last year, a long formal table was set with a mix of contemporary china and pieces Horner inherited from a great-grandmother. Yet more pine cones and greenery made their appearance scattered among the serving pieces, while the centerpiece was a more formal arrangement of whites roses, eucalyptus, and artichokes. Mirroring his tree, the table's palette is white, silver, and gold, with some accent colors, including black and red, thrown in. The white branches fanning out from the antique alabaster chandelier were inspired by a similar design that Horner saw in the men's department one holiday season at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
Horner isn't one to sit around caroling with his guests. He mixes holiday music in with classical selections to remind everyone of the occasion. And he comes up with small ways to keep the mood light and fun.
"Last year I passed tree branches around the dinner table and had everyone pose with them for a picture," he recalls. A few weeks later, he e-mailed the photos to his guests. It's always good to remind people how much fun they had at your party to get them excited for next year's.
Photography: Matthew Gilson