Houston Interior Designer Pamela O’Brien Shares How She Prepares for the Thanksgiving Holiday

By: Pamela O’Brien 

Fall is my favorite time of year. The turning of the leaves and cool breezes build excitement and anticipation as we move from the harvest season to Halloween and then Thanksgiving and Christmas. The celebrations are so fun, and I love getting away from the summer heat to relish in crisp autumn mornings and the need to pull out a sweater or a jacket.

Once we get into November, like we are now, the festivities really kick in. Thanksgiving is a charming American holiday for me, and I love planning for it. I used to always host Thanksgiving, but for some reason I would never take off from my Houston interior design firm to start preparing ahead of time. I remember installing a whole house full of draperies at 2 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and then going straight home to bake pies. What was I thinking? Somehow, I always managed to get the dinner prep done, but it was a marathon of cooking and cleaning. While it’s hard work, I still love to host. Now, I do things a little differently. 

Thoughts on Hosting

I adored hosting Thanksgiving but always found it to be a lot of responsibility. I’ve always said it’s not the cook’s holiday. With a menu that requires quite a few steps up to the very minute before serving (let the turkey rest, make the gravy, try to keep the potatoes warm, etc.), there isn’t much socializing time for the cook.

I am not one to ask others to bring food when I host. In the past, having four people show up needing to use the cooktop or ovens when they were already full was a bit of a trial. Therefore, I generally plan everything and fill in with catered or prepared foods as needed. If someone insists on bringing something, wine is lovely.

A Message for the Season

Memories of Thanksgiving Past

I add to the workload by preferring a formal dinner. I grew up with big family Thanksgiving feasts, often at my paternal grandmother’s large house in Arlington, VA. Nana could cook for a crowd and effortlessly seemed to put loads of hot dishes on the table for 20 to 30 loved ones. That simply astounds me today! Needless to say, we ate in the formal dining room, with everyone seated at the same table that was set with linen tablecloths and napkins, silver flatware, and china from the breakfront.

Later, when my family moved west, we held a smaller family dinner with a few houseguests, usually an aunt or my other grandmother. My mother pulled out all the stops, cooking the traditional meal and setting the table with one of her three full sets of china, Waterford crystal, and her wedding silver.

I loved the elegance and formality of Thanksgiving and the whole holiday season. Entertaining was a huge part, from the family meal at home to visiting and enjoying open houses or just stopping by a friend’s home and enjoying holiday treats.

Preparing for the Holidays: A Few Hosting Tricks

I’m not ashamed to admit that while I’ve enjoyed more casual holiday events, using paper plates and wearing flip-flops just doesn’t scream holiday to me. However, sometimes, we all need to simplify the festivities, and I discovered ordering at least some of the food goes a long way.

1. Incorporate Catering

With our every-other-year tradition of heading to the Texas Hill Country, I’ve found that local barbeque joints do fabulous holiday meals. The first year we tried this, I was racking my brains, thinking if I really wanted to haul all that food up to a short-term rental. I answered in the negative and started looking for the northwesternmost Bill Miller BBQ on the route to Bandera and ordered the meal package, packed cold with heating instructions. It was absolutely delicious, a screaming bargain, and enough for twice the crowd we were serving. In fact, we were so impressed that we thought about finding the easternmost Bill Miller BBQ the following year when we were hosting dinner at home in Houston. We figured the six-hour drive round-trip was actually shorter than the time it would take to make everything. In the end, we settled on ordering the Houstonian Thanksgiving meal, which was also delicious.

2. Balance Cooking and Socializing

We don’t have as nice of linens and tableware at the rental home, but I always bring Thanksgiving napkins and a basket or tray to put out pretty appetizers. I spend the evenings before Thanksgiving making things like cinnamon syrup for a fall sangria recipe or desserts.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that more businesses are entertaining prior to Thanksgiving rather than throwing Christmas parties. Early in my first career, I would go to 10 to 15 Christmas parties a year. Now, I might go to a handful, but I’m jack-packed with events the third week in November. Also, many of my colleagues and vendors like to give pies, so rather than bake at home like I used to, I now drink wine with my friends and pick up a pie to take home. Don’t worry, though. I make delicious pies, so I make up for it at Christmas.

Festive Fall Client Gift

3. Remember, Decor Goes a Long Way

If I’m hosting, I usually have houseguests too. So the weekend before they arrive, I freshen the rooms with toiletries, a note with the Wi-Fi code, a glass for water, a basket of treats, and plenty of towels, pillows, and blankets. I then move on to the table decor and place settings. As my mother’s daughter, I will sort through my many china, glass, crystal, and silver sets and create fun combinations. This year, I put out all of my fall-themed antique and vintage porcelain as a display on my dining table just to inspire me when I walk by. This was, of course, after I removed the ravens, white pumpkins, and Halloween masks that had been there last month.

Make the Holiday Yours

If this all sounds excessive, remember, I love design. Part of that is creating a beautiful home for myself, my family, and others. No matter how large or small your home or whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, I think it’s nice to have at least a small seasonal display year-round.

Minimalist Decor Works, Too!

Holiday preparations always inspire me. Until next time, enjoy your own holiday traditions. I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 — Pamela

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