October 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Mary Beth Harrold, “decking the halls” means something a tad more extravagant than outfitting a fir tree with antique Santa-themed artifacts. A long-time Papillion resident, Harrold has spent the last four decades doing what she loves: decorating homes.

Harrold started her company, Papillion Flower Patch, 40 years ago with a dream and minimal experience. She currently manages the store with the help of her daughter, Stephanie Crandall.

christmascaravan1“I had a love for beautiful home décor,” Harrold says of her conception for the business. “I had to learn with experience, and buy books, and get support. After that, I competed in contests and learned more to become a designer that traveled the United States.”

The most wonderful time of the year also happens to be Harrold’s busiest decorating season.

For the past 15 years, Harrold’s holiday home decorating style has been featured on the Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes, a fundraiser on the first Thursday of November (Nov. 3 this year) to benefit the Assistance League of Omaha. Preparation for the grand tour, Harrold explains, involves spending a full week prepping houses with fellow decorators and florists.

“It’s a lot of work because we have to build a shop in the basement from scratch,” Harrold says of the week-long frenzy. “Then we sell (products) from there.”

The Christmas Caravan gives attendees the opportunity to browse high-end homes decorated by local florists and interior designers, as well as purchase products from the vendors. 

Each house includes a boutique where attendees can purchase featured decorations. Twenty percent of revenue is donated to the Assistance League, with proceeds directly benefiting programs such as Operation School Bell (which has provided clothing to more than 58,000 Omaha children in need).

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Harrold prefers to design homes with winter in mind, as opposed to the Christmas holiday, so decorations can be used all season long.

“We put up our decorations the first week of November and they last long after Christmas,” she says. “So, I decorate in more warm, earthy, wintery tones so it lasts through the season.”

Harrold’s home on the Christmas Caravan tour demonstrates her philosophy of seasonal décor. Natural elements like pinecones, birch branches, holly berries, and sprigs of pine provide an ambiance of warm wintery tones despite the chill. Glowing candles halo Harrold’s stone figurine nativity set; the color palette of browns, earthy greens, and pale blues set each scene. The main piece on the dining room table features white branches, small cardinals, and a dusting of faux snow.

A collection of birch branches wrapped with clear lights, small logs, and large pinecones preface the main staircase—a greeting to anyone wandering in through the front door. Every room of the house, including the master bathroom, contains a subtle touch of Harrold’s woodsy holiday flair. And yes, there is the occasional, familiar snowman.

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“Cozy” is the word that would best describe the atmosphere of Harrold’s Christmas Caravan home, but it seems oddly over-simplistic for the attention to detail and artistic eye that clearly drove the decorating process. The consistency of design carries through even the most minimal of elements— towel racks, windows, bedroom shelves.

Harrold has decorated what she estimates to be hundreds of homes over the years, tailored specifically to her customers’ aesthetic tastes and desires.

“For the Christmas season, the glitz and glamor is gone,” she says of time’s passing decoration trends. “Now, (people prefer) the more natural, simple home look.”

The most rewarding part of the job, she says, is her relationship with customers. Harrold spends weeks leading up to the holiday season consulting with clients who often return each year for her decorating services.

“It’s fun to try to please a lot of different types of people and try out a bunch of different tastes,” Harrold says.

What about decorating her own home?

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“My decorations are very simple and not overly done,” Harrold explains. “I’m not a bright-color decorator, so the style is more subdued. I just like the closeness and the warmth of looking out at wintertime, and feeling cozy, and getting the thought of, ‘I love my house.’”

After all the good tidings and decking of halls, perhaps Harrold can enjoy a well-deserved day off on Christmas Day with her family. Afterwards, the preparations for next season will begin.

“Family is always the best part,” Harrold says with a smile. “I love the warmth and joy, and the feeling of happiness and love, that come with the holiday time.”

Visit alomaha.org for more information about the Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes. OmahaHome

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