“I’ve always thought of Christmas as a magical holiday,” interior designer Ruthie Ryan explains from the Lincoln Park row home she shares with her husband, Rich. “It’s a moment to relax, decorate and be with family.”
The couple, who returned to the city in 2009 after raising their three daughters in Glenview, is famous among friends for their annual holiday bash. Preparations start in November when they begin decorating, a process that often takes a week and a half. “We do everything except the outside and the greens,” Ruthie explains. John West, of JW Landscapes, who also landscaped the entire property, handles the greens. They wrap the stair rail on the front of the home as well as the main interior staircase. “John is very creative and colorful, which works for me,” Ruthie says.
In the corner of the formal living room, a large Christmas tree is stuffed to the gills with ornaments — some made by her children, others gifts from family and friends. The collection includes signed pieces by Christopher Radko and Patricia Breen, who are Ruthie’s favorite ornament designers. “We’ve been collecting since we moved to Chicago in 1979,” Ruthie explains. “Every year, I would see what I could find at the after-Christmas sales, and I kept adding and refining.”
There are so many that Ruthie has to be creative about how to showcase them. In what she describes as a “Martha Stewart moment,” she used small ornaments to create two of the nine wreaths she has displayed throughout the home and on the front door. In another such moment, she filled a Lucite pedestal with colorful ornaments, not to mention her large collection of finials, which she arranged as a grouping on the living room fireplace mantel. “It’s a layering,” Ruthie explains. “To have all of the different items and colors gives it more of a texture and life history instead of just having a look.”
The same philosophy guides Ruthie’s approach to the interior design of her home, which is characterized by its colorful upholstered furnishings, draperies and luxurious finishes. “Chicago weather is just sad and gray in the winter, so I have to have color around me to avoid the winter blues,” Ruthie explains, pointing to the stylized floral Missoni fabric that she selected for the throw pillows in the living room. “Color brings the outside in.”
The concept of bringing the outside in also inspires the illuminated greens that hang from the coffered ceiling in the dining room. In the evening, the glowing light of the LED strings reflects off of the silver leafed ceiling. She has affectionately dubbed the room “the swamp.” “It reminds me of the south,” Ruthie explains. “It’s a big hit.”
Also a big hit is the couple’s annual holiday celebration, which is usually attended by 100–120 people, including a mix of old and new friends. According to Ruthie, the most important thing is for everybody to feel comfortable and relaxed. “Have good food and plenty to drink, and people will take care of themselves,” she explains. “If you invite nice people, they are all going to get along whether they know each other or not.”
After years of hosting annual holiday parties, the Ryans have it down to a science. Following Rich Ryan’s holiday party tips will increase the odds that your soiree will be a success.
Have plenty of staff on hand. “You don’t want to be running around doing stuff during the party,” explains Rich.
- Buy more than you need at the liquor store. “They’ll take it back if you don’t use it,” says Rich. “You don’t want to have to go out during the party.”
- Rent glassware. “They will deliver and pick up, so you don’t have to clean them,” explains Rich. “You want to cut down on as many of those last-minute errands as you can think of.”
- Serve no food that you need a utensil for. “People don’t know where to dispose of things, so we pass around finger food,” says Rich.
- To avoid a rush of people to the bar, greet guests at the front door with a glass of champagne.
- Offer valet parking. “People come in from the suburbs and are afraid to parallel park,” explains Rich. “We probably have between 30 to 40 cars every year.”
- Take notes for future parties. “I write notes on the catering menu, too much of this, not enough of that, and review it the following year,” says Rich.
More from Make It Better: