New Orleans designer Julie Neill spreads joy with her daughter—and a few splashes of paint.
For Julie Neill and her daughter, Isabelle, things kick into high gear the day after Thanksgiving. As in many homes, the tree goes up and ornaments are hung, but for this duo, Christmas also means breaking out the paintbrushes.
Five years ago, the bespoke-lighting designer decided to make her own gift wrap rather than relying on store-bought stuff. She found that people loved her handiwork as much as the presents inside. “No one was tearing into their packages,” recalls Neill. “They opened each with care so they could take the paper home. Many even framed it like artwork.” Enamored with her mom’s creations, Isabelle requested to make them together the next year. “It’s become our little tradition,” says Neill. “Each time, the design has its own personality. We just have fun and see where the colors take us.”
Create Your Own
Start by rolling out white butcher paper (found at any crafts store) as long as your work surface allows. (Neill suggests positioning a drop cloth or another covering underneath to protect your table or floor.) Cut the section you plan on using, and set aside the remaining paper. “Mix paint with a little bit of water on a palette; then let your brush go on an adventure,” she says. “We don’t take it too seriously and just drip and fling the paint, allowing the water to make movement happen.” Repeat with as many lengths of paper as desired, allowing each to dry before rolling it up. “Don’t worry if the painted sheets look wrinkly. As they dry, they’ll smooth out,” she adds.
Make it a Party
While the home is twirled up for the holidays, Neill and her daughter host an event where they invite friends to share a meal and use the special paper to wrap their own presents. “We always have a tasty menu that Isabelle and I work on together,” says Neill. “We arrange the table with beautiful flowers [in vessels made by Lisa Alpaugh of LiBird Studio], which bring life to the room.”
Show Some Character
“When you give someone a gift with a handmade covering, you’re offering them a piece of your heart,” says Neill, who suggests embellishing the wrap to reflect your style. For a more whimsical look, mist the paint while it’s still wet with a spray bottle or lift and tilt the paper to allow the colors to travel around. “This helps it disperse across the. page and marbleize,” she says. Once it’s dry, you can use colored pencils to layer in details like swirls and stars or get fancy with gold foil, metallic paint, or glitter.
Focus on the Small Things
“We always like to have a little something unexpected—a decorative twist,” says the designer. Vintage-fabric stockings made by Rebecca Vizard serve as favors at each of the seats. Retro Italian alabaster fruits add a made-you-look wink to the table, while pink accents deliver extra cheer to the celebratory setting. “We want the house to feel festive but don’t stick to the usual red and green,” explains Neill, who also claims a zingy lime shade as her signature Christmas color.
Display Family Traditions
They also look forward to trimming the tree together. “Isabelle and I love reminiscing about the memories of our ornaments as we pull them out of their boxes,” says Neill, who inherited an assortment from her grandparents. One year, a fallen tree resulted in broken baubles, including a favorite mandolin-shaped one. Isabelle gifted her mom a replacement, which sparked another shared tradition of selecting vintage instrument-themed pieces to add to their collection.
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