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A Fresh Take on Faux for the Holidays

Elevating favorite collections with greens

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


Pre-holiday, Sharon James invited Todd Nabors to give her Whitsett home his signature faux-mixed-with-fresh ideas a go. Nabors, a long-time friend, consults on occasion with avid collectors — like James — seeking to elevate their favorite things. For Nabors, Mother Nature lends all the inspiration needed.

He favors natural touches like running cedar and garden greenery, even on gift wrapping.   

Though she admired how Nabors relied upon natural elements, James had a quandary. During work absences, evergreen embellishments simply wouldn’t last.

Nabors had a solution. It’s perfectly fine to cheat a little, tucking faux greenery in with fresh.

“Consider where greenery and color are needed, and invest in the best faux foliage and blooms for your seasonal decorating budget,” Nabors advises. “Remember that, while realistic garlands, wreaths, trees, fruit and blooms are expensive, they last for many seasons.”

Plus, “these ‘almost real’ elements facilitate decoration schedules early or late in the season. They require no refreshing, replacement or clean up.”

Nabors favors a realistic, classic mix, using “faux spruce, pine, magnolia with forced amaryllis, narcissus and Christmas roses [hellebores].” For more oomph, place faux cyclamen and orchids in a fool-the-eye container, such as “a crusty terra-cotta pot, tole or porcelain cache pot, or woven basket.” Faux Osage oranges, lemons, kumquats, pears and figs “beautify holiday garlands, wreaths and bowls.”  

Fresh or faux, James and Nabors go all out. Yet, simplicity is lovely, too. An orchid nestled inside a beautiful wreath may be all that a holiday table requires, Nabors insists.

The Moravian star, a touching reminder of the Moravians’ long presence here in the Triad, was purchased at the Moravian Book & Gift Shop in Old Salem store (Although it closed earlier this year, it can still be shopped online). The wreath features various faux citrus styled by Nabors.

Covered boxes in marbleized paper (turquoise and jade) are tied with brown and orange satin ribbon. The faux cinnamon studded oranges were found at Randy McManus Designs in Greensboro.Covered boxes in marbleized paper (turquoise and jade) are tied with brown and orange satin ribbon. The faux cinnamon studded oranges were found at Randy McManus Designs in Greensboro.

Don’t forget the importance of a good entrance. Even a pair of antique stone balls from the English Cotswold are decorated for the holidays.

The stone fire pit overlooks the Stoney Creek golf course, where even a tall ornamental urn (one of a pair) is decorated with traditional greenery and ribbon.

A simple Christmas nutcracker and crèche figures provide another festive touch in a house overflowing with holiday spirit.

A treasured crèche is displayed with a white reindeer and an antique knife urn. “The little figures are from Lima, Peru,” says James. “The deer is from Gump’s catalog. And the feathers are actually little white owls made of feathers. Todd and I placed my collection of feathered owls all throughout the house.” 

James has collected crèches since the late 1990s. “All the fabrics on the figures are traditional French fabrics,” and the figures were ordered from a defunct French catalog.

Among the tree ornaments are French papier mâché rabbits that James has owned for 30 years. Others are from travels in the Philippines. The blue-and-white chinoiserie porcelain ornaments were found on Etsy.

A 19th century French jardinière containing the tree is from White Hall in Chapel Hill.

The 15th century icon (made of metal) is the saint for metal workers.

A holiday-ready tableau —  tray of fruit, paper whites with a faux bird, and pierced compote dishes — is decorated with evergreen balls. A spray of greenery and citrus dress up antique knife boxes. Feathers embellish an 1860 Louis Phillipe mirror flanked by buffet lights from Plants & Answers.

Dig in! Spiced sweet potato cake is served on a Mottahedeh reproduction plate, with an antique mother-of-pearl dessert fork.


Spiced Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing


4 8-ounce red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pierce sweet potatoes with fork. Microwave on high until very tender, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, peel and mash sweet potatoes.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325° F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray, then generously butter pan. Sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. Measure enough mashed sweet potatoes to equal 2 cups. Transfer to large bowl. Add sugar and oil to sweet potatoes; using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Beat in vanilla. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pan and center tube to loosen cake. Turn out onto rack; cool completely.

Sift powdered sugar into medium bowl. Stir brown sugar, whipping cream and butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Boil 3 minutes, occasionally stirring and swirling pan. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour brown sugar mixture over powdered sugar. Whisk icing until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Cool icing until lukewarm and icing falls in heavy ribbon from spoon, whisking often, about 15 minutes. Spoon icing thickly over top of cake, allowing icing to drip down sides of cake. Let stand until icing is firm, at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and let stand at room temperature.)