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The Iris Apfel School of Holiday Decorating

By 12/14/2015February 21st, 201744 Comments

Maria Killam The Iris Apfel School of Holiday Decorating

This year when I started looking for a design assistant to handle all the details involved with both my Exterior Colour Solutions and my NEW Interior Colour Solutions–colour advice via email, I was very happy when Tricia Firmaniuk applied.

She is a True Colour Expert™ who was in Vancouver to attend my Specify Colour with Confidence training over 2 years ago. On the True Colour Expert private forum, when other designers would ask questions and she posted an answer, I often found myself nodding in agreement.

Her aesthetic is very similar to mine and I’m thrilled to have her working with me! Not only does she have a great eye for colour and design, she is also an artist, see her work here.

Tricia recently watched the documentary of Iris Apfel. Some of you will know who she is, but if you don’t, you will now! And Tricia was inspired to write this post!

I watched it on the weekend and I loved one of her many declarations: Colour is so important, colour can RAISE THE DEAD!

Her trademark huge glasses (above) make me think we should all wear them when we get to be her age (she’s 95).

I asked Tricia to get a photo of herself taken in an Iris inspired outfit. When you watch this documentary, if you are into jewelry at all, you will feel the urge to run out and buy boatloads of ginormous colourful wooden beads to go with every outfit, haha.


Tricia Firmaniuk

Here’s her guest post! You’ll be hearing from her from time-to-time, she’s also a wonderful writer:

I finally got to see Iris, by Albert Maysles, it’s on Netflix! Wow what a fearless and inspiring aesthete she is. Imagine a career that spans interior decorating, fabric design (for the White House!), and getting to curate your own show for the fashion and costume gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art out of your own closet!

Iris a film by Albert Maysles

Iris a film by Albert Maysles



Iris Apfel’s Manhattan Apartment from Architectural Digest

Iris Apfel is best known for her unabashed and bold fashion sense, layering up accessories and outfits the way an artist composes work. Her amassed collection of art, fashion and décor is housed in her apartment on Park Avenue NYC, her holiday home in Palm Springs and a large warehouse loft in Long Island.

Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel

The film really got me thinking about our sensibilities as decorators when it comes to how much is enough?

My inner minimalist and maximalist are never more at odds than when it comes to holiday decorating. I love creating vignettes and festively adorned spaces, but honestly, at times the idea of having to arrange all of that stuff, fun as it is, only to take it all down again after the holidays exhausts me. And then there is the storage issue.


From Pinterest

Apparently, I’m not the only one, the blog sphere is cluttered with posts on minimalist Holiday decorating and gifting. I get that we need to have awareness about the overly consumerist trappings of the Holiday.


From Pinterest

But it’s always refreshing to entertain a different perspective.

From Pinterest

From Pinterest

One thing that struck me in the film was the sheer joy her and her late husband derive from all of their various possessions that are somehow elegantly crammed into their space.


From Pinterest

They keep their Christmas decorations up for up to 8 months of the year! How’s that for festive spirit?


From Pinterest

This season, I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, (who didn’t?) Everyone I know is gleefully purging right now. In the battle of stuff, purging looks like the virtuous thing to do. Clutter is the enemy right?

But what if you love and adore every little thing you bring into your life and then keep it, display it and cherish it!


From Pinterest

The idea is to acquire decorations like a collector.  Choose things you will love to put up for years to come. Of course, few can resist tossing in a trendy accent colour or motif, but to get the collected vibe, overall, you need to care about the things you collect.

I would say that for the most part, restraint is a good thing. It’s what lends power and gravity to some of the world’s artistic masterpieces. It is the finest, most productive source of creative tension. Editing is an essential part of the creative process. At least most of the time. But if there is any time in the year where we should just embrace the exuberance of the season, isn’t it the Holidays?


Found on

So what’s your approach to Holiday decorating? Do you revel in the excuse to unleash your maximalist leanings?




Found on Pinterest

Or do you like to keep things elegantly restrained?


Found on


Found on Pinterest

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Happy Holiday decorating!

Thanks Tricia for such a fun guest post!

455 pins


  • franki says:

    Iris IS my hero!!! GO FOR IT!! franki

  • Excellent post, Tricia! Now I need to see the movie!

  • Jill says:

    Interesting post Tricia, It makes me feel like I should go minimalist. Quite frankly, Iris Apfel looks like a rich bag lady to me! sorry

    • Liz says:

      LOL She is a wee bit “overdone”, and it’s not my style, but I loved what she said in the movie trailer…”It’s better to be happy than well-dressed.” She’s clearly happy and reminds me of my Dad’s second wife, who wore bright colors, cheap gaudy jewelry and was a loads of fun. She lived into her 90’s too. Maybe they’re onto something!

    • Sheri says:

      That is so funny Jill! I share your exact thought.

  • Joanne Michael says:

    Iris Apfel is a rock star. I love her spirit. Her style and individuality reinforces the notion that all of our homes should reflect who we are and what we love.
    Thank you so much for this posting.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    I’ve been wanting to see this movie for quite some time. It looks fascinating.
    As far as Christmas decorating goes…I try to keep it elegant. Mostly fresh greens on the mantel & in arrangements on the sideboard & dining table. Of course by Christmas Day they are all dried out & looking pretty crispy. Not so elegant anymore.

  • Nancy says:

    Simple always just love Simple.
    Clutter or to much makes me uncomfortable.
    For my taste less is more.
    But loved the lady with the big glasses.
    Bigger then life!

  • Linda Fitzgerald says:

    Love ‘quirky’ people and Iris is certainly that. I am so in awe of anyone who is unafraid to ‘live out loud.’ Though she’s not at all my aesthetic, I am an admiring fan. Imagine all she’s done and is still being celebrated at age 95, instead of being flat on her back in a nursing home. Now that’s living,- Whoo Hoo!!

  • Norma says:

    I loved your post and seeing your picture! Since we’ve emailed a bit, it’s great to meet you and learn about your background. I am more a minimalist but also am in awe of those who live as big as Iris does!

  • Roz Kavander says:

    Interesting. I read the” Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and it inspired me to purge and clean things up. I have lost two parents recently and their stuff has crowded into my life as I have been downsizing myself. I have been overwhelmed by guilt and sentiment as I have tried to respectfully deal with their treasures. Some things I loved and others I didn’t. And so as she suggested, I picked up each item and I noted how I felt about each thing and my heart told me clearly what I should keep and what needed to go. Her point is that everything we own takes up our energy and so we should rid ourselves of the things we don’t feel warrant our energy. In other words we should love what we own and get rid of whatever doesn’t qualify for that love and place in our hearts. I love my house at Christmas. Opening the boxes and reuniting myself with the beautiful things I have been given, have bought, collected and created over the years brings back beautiful memories. It is a joy to rethink how I will distribute my treasures and breath new life into those memories every year. What may have been part of a garland last year is in the tree or at the centre of the table the next. Since reading Kondo’s book I now evaluate everything I keep and I find joy in what remains. I love the moments when I open the boxes and reacquaint myself with the memories and I love tenderly wrapping everything up and putting them away till the next year. I hope when my children and grand children inherit all these items they will have grown up with, they too, will choose what they love and purge the rest. I won’t need them anymore. 🙂

    • Maria Killam says:

      Thanks Roz for the insight into that book, I am going to Victoria this weekend with my best friend to help her pack up and obviously purge the apartment her Mom has been living in because she has just moved in with my friend and her husband as she has early stages of dementia. I should probably read it before I go! Thanks for your thoughtful comment! xo Maria

      • Gina says:

        This is a beautiful message, Roz. I certainly like the minimalist look more than Iris’, but I can appreciate the feeling she gets by surrounding herself with what she loves. I love her spunk! I, too, decorate my house with some old treasures that give me joy mixed with sadness. Dated ornaments from my mom, given every year since I married in 1982, one of which is 2009. She never got to give them to us kids because she died rather unexpectedly on Dec. 21. My first child died from a brain tumor in 1990, at age 5. Santa mittens with cotton ball trim made in Nursery School? My treasure. So, I think we need the balance. Beauty and sentiment together. I like to create a home with a warm sparkle for everyone to gather for the holidays.

        • Roz Kavander says:

          You put that beautifully Gina ….needing the balance. I have decorations made from nursery school. I remember their wide eyed wonder and pride in their simple creations. I cannot part with them! Thank you for commenting and sharing your storey. It is my father’s birthday on the 21st of Dec and we all get together to celebrate. I know he is there in spirit. He loved Christmas and his birthday. It made for a week long celebration. Even when he was so weak and ill, he insisted we gather for his final Christmas. I too only buy what truly speaks to me now and I usually give up something to make room. I hope you are surrounded by love and family this Christmas.

    • Judy Lynn says:

      You describe my experience with Christmas decorations exactly, Roz. I find myself excited with my collection when I open the lids in early December and enjoy the challenge to display an item in a new way, in a new spot. I buy new if something speaks to my heart, but then let something old go that no longer does. This way “Christmas” can fit into 4 large plastic tubs – no more no less; which feels right for me. <3

  • tara dillard says:

    Have adored watching Apfel for years. Would never dress nor decorate like her but always learn something from her, for using in simplicity.

    Iris. Mega skill/talent.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

  • For those who like Apfel, I happened to see cloth christmas ornaments with her image, available on Etsy this morning! They are very cute.

  • Apfel’s aesthetic and her personal style are too kitsch for my likes, but she gets high marks in the joie de vivre department. Still, if you leave Christmas decorations up 8 months of the year, doesn’t the magic wear off and they become commonplace?

  • Sheri says:

    I love the simplistic side of life. The older I get, the less I want HOWEVER, the things I do want need to be great quality. I’ve tried to teach my kids (who are now 19 and 18) that it is never about quantity – it’s quality.

    As for Christmas, I do love it and Boxing Day is spent with the boys going to watch hockey, my daughter shopping and me? Cleaning the house and putting away all the Christmas decorations. I do keep the winter themed ones out – but the tree is packed up and gone. 🙂

  • Beth B. says:

    So interesting! When it comes to holiday decor these days, I find myself skimming by images that are overdone and grandiose and lingering on images that are simple and restrained. Hmmm…I guess this means I am getting more and more attracted to simplicity. It makes what IS there, important.

  • Victoria says:

    I’ve loved Iris Apfel since I’ve heard of her several years ago. She is special. Not everyone can pull off her style. She is one of a kind. She has a knack for being able to amass collections and wear and live with them in her special style.

    I love decorating for the holidays and especially Christmas. We do have several trees in different parts of the house and a lot of seasonal decor. I love using red and white pillows and throws and candles in the family room where it feels a little more traditional/rustic. We are expecting our 14th and 15th grandchildren. So more is more to us in some ways. We love the joy on their faces when they arrive at our home for Christmas. We try to make it a festive wonderland without it looking like Rudolph threw up or Santa’s elves decorated everything. We have small collections that we group together. And this year hubby created and built a Christmas light show for the yard. I was concerned about it looking tacky in our neighborhood, but the neighbors love it and we’ve been nominated for Holiday Yard of the Month Award. So maybe I will let him add more pixels for next year.

  • Gina says:

    Very nice post, Tricia. I always enjoy your comments in our group! Congratulations!

  • Great post! It will be fun to watch her movie. I think everyone has their own balance point of the right amount of accessories in their space. I personally fall somewhere in the moderate zone! I do enjoy seeing the extremes. A client/friend of mine is just like Iris, with her walls covered in collected paintings, stacks of beautiful coffee table books, and vast collections of all kinds of things. Last year I helped her arrange all her Christmas decor. Placing all those treasured items and hearing the joy in her voice as she told the stories of each of them gave me an appreciation for her extreme style- it really brings her joy!

  • KNJ says:

    Simply put: the physical world ‘talks’ to you constantly. As our minds are inundated with a myriad of attention grabbing tech-driven devices, we seek refuge in simple, plain, straight lined, monotone colored, less ‘fussy’ clothing, hair styles, foods, interiors, exteriors, way we communicate, etc. As such, Less is More has become the adage of our time. The More is More and Less is a Bore still rings true for those who have the luxury of devouring life in a leisurely pace rather than that which most experience, even if it is mostly self-imposed. (sorry, that’s another topic). I admire her zeal for life! I’m all in when it comes to adding color and over the top decor, especially from Halloween through New Years Day! Enjoyed the guest post! Well done!

  • Iris Apfel is a hoot (and a shopaholic) so amazing I did see the show on Netflix and she brings me back to the days of rummage sales salvation army dressing in the 70’s. Not many people can pull this kind of look off be she sure can. Funny after I watched the documentary the next day when I was getting dressed my wardrobe felt really boring. She’s right we need more colour!

  • Betsy OShea says:

    Perfect timing on this post. I have been color consulting and decorating my sisters newly renovated house..with a water view to die for? color scheme of blues, greens and tan…I went there last week and she had pulled out of storage EVERY RED &GREEN Christmas thing she owns!! Ughhhhh. I said to her that just becuz she has so many ornamentsl/elements doesn’t mean she has to use them all ( particularly the dark green ones)I relied some valuable advice an interior designer friend Taught me many years ago: for every Christmas decorative item one puts up, remove one of what’s there and store it til after holidays. this way the holiday items can shine while the space doesn’t become too cluttered.This year I too have embraced a simpler decorating scheme, a lot of white, white flocked and gold. Red is the accent color in my LR/DR and kitchen which ties the three spaces together so I add hits of red: satin ribbon, red pillows, flowers and a favorite 1′ red Santa….

  • Nicola says:

    Do you think we have such minimalistic leanings now due to our frantic, overcommitted, overworked lifestyles?
    Is it a current fad to have less clutter, less visual noise in order to find some peace and quiet in our lives? If we were living in a more simplistic era would we seek out more adornment for our homes?
    I think Iris is fabulous and I think many of us could step out of our comfort level and kick things up a notch. The holidays in particular give us the perfect excuse to surround ourselves with beautiful adornments and lush finishes even if only briefly. I personally hope to curate items that make me
    ridiculously happy, that I find beauty in and lastly that aren’t limited to a particular season/festivity so I can rework them into different settings in my home.
    Tricia as usual you amaze me. Great piece and I hope read more from you.

  • Jane Trane says:

    We are ALL unique. So just LOVE IT! Do what you love and be who you are in all of it’s glory!!!

  • Monique says:

    Great post Tricia! Congratulations on your new position as Maria’s design assistant!! I’m sure you will have a wonderful time working with Maria and her awesome team!

  • GaBi says:

    Congratulations Tricia absolutely sober and reality check post.
    We are all unique this is definitely true and we should reflect who we are and what make us happy.
    Iris remind me of parrot. She is talented in the way how she was presenting these heavy colors loaded on of each other even many times you don’t see the point, because it is extra ordinary rich.
    This is her expression and her feeling, usually it is the expression of fear / I will never have enough /.Unfortunately we are here in the West bombarded every single day by the expression “You must have” and people who don’t understand that this is just a simple marketing trick, they can even become sick because they always feel they have no enough. Results are very heavy doses of antidepressants and it is very sad. More and more books describing how the simplicity and clean lines in our households can create balance in our lives are starting to have a huge success. Clutter is blocking the good energy which supposed to empower us and. Here in the West we should start to think about to share with the less fortunate around the world.
    Iris message for the world is: ” Everybody is watching or just only some , because I’m here” Definitely very smart marketing trick to make an attention, but not good for our mental health and happiness.
    Look at the simple and elegant design what Maria has created for her Mum’s entry door. It was simple, not overdone, elegant and memorable at the same time I’m positive every single neighbor took attention to this simple beauty.
    Definitely less is more, not just for the eye, but for our soul.

  • Nadine says:

    For me, holiday decorating is about elegant restraint with blasts of color. I love the way Iris layers her collection and I believe that takes considerable talent. Knowing how to tastefully layer your favourite items and when to use restraint is key. Thank you for highlighting a delightful icon of fashion and design in our day

  • MH says:

    I LOVE Christmas decorations because they’re beautiful. I also like how they change the way everything looks. So I like a lot of decorations for Christmas in coordinating colors with a lot of sparkle and a real tree and boughs. I leave it up until the last garbage pickup of trees. Then everything looks kind of bare & boring, so I end up doing some kind of redecorating to compensate.

  • Kathi says:

    Love the way Iris is living her life to the fullest (and longest) being full of joy. My philosophy is you have to be flexible and maybe willing to change things up-when we repainted and updated our house with the blue-green paint hues, I totally bought different silver and blue ornaments and decorations-then we moved to a condo and it was so much smaller,just brought back out of the attic my old gold and white decorations from 15 years go and it was like finding old friends.

  • Loren says:

    Form and function should make you happy.
    Sometimes it’s minimalism. Sometimes it’s maximalism (is that a word?) a la Iris.
    Exuberant use of colour and texture makes me happy

  • Linda says:

    I just watched this last night on Netflix, very enjoyable to watch. Her home(s)/storage warehouse was full of interesting things, but I do think she is a borderline hoarder. A lot of nice stuff, but a lot of odd stuff too.

  • DDU says:

    Marie Kondo would say to keep anything and everything that you LOVE, everything that “sparks joy.” So her strategy is only minimalist if your own aesthetic is minimalist; if you adore all your trappings and they make you comfortable and happy, then max out! Best wishes.

    • Fra Na says:

      This was my favorite post. If it joyous for you who cares what anyone else thinks. I grew up in a home that was very modern and spare. I have traditional tastes with oriental rugs, dark woods with inlay etc., my mom can’t understand why I like “that old stuff”.
      I loved my parents home, it was very much them, its just not me.

  • Brenda says:

    I finally was able to watch this documentary today and was struck by a few things. At first, I could barely watch her haggle over prices with vendors. I almost turned it off. But I pressed on and as I continued to watch I became enamoured by how devoted Iris and Carl are to one another. And he is 100! Whoa. Although she is completely surrounded by “stuff”, she knows what is important — health, happiness and love. I love that. I also love that she isn’t judgemental of other people and how they dress — “it is more important to be happy than well dressed”. I really wish the show had delved more into her parents and her upbringing. I am always fascinated by what makes people tick and I don’t think there was enough of that in this documentary. It was very light on content. I have the overwhelming desire to clean out a few drawers after watching Iris, but that’s just me…

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