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Interior designer with Fayetteville ties to help decorate the White House for Christmas


While many families gather to count their blessings this Thanksgiving, interior designer Jana Donohoe will be jetting off to our nation’s Capital to help decorate the White House for Christmas.

If you asked Jana a year ago if she thought she’d ever spend Thanksgiving decorating the White House, she would have just shaken her head at the thought of it.

“While that idea has been brought up in the past, really never in a million years did I think I would be doing this,” Jana said in a recent Zoom call.  

Fayetteville's Riddle launched her career

Jana, who resides in Littleton, Colorado, lived and worked in Fayetteville for two decades while her husband Chris Donohoe served in the Army Special Forces. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior Design at The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham and studied with the late Faye Riddle, Fayetteville realtor and interior designer. She credits Riddle with helping her launch her career.

“Working with Faye was a great starting point for me when I was just a little baby designer,” Jana said. “She had a really great eye and taught me so much.”

In 2013, she started Jana Donohoe Designs in Fayetteville and in 2021, when her husband retired from the Army, her family moved to Colorado.

Last August, the White House put out its annual call for volunteer decorators. Jana received an invitation to apply. As a military spouse with a former client who now works at the White House, she thought her Army ties gave her an edge in the competitive process of joining the design team. 

“For my application, I had to write an essay on why I want to decorate the White House,” she said. “I added my military history and that my husband had 21 years in the Army, and I think that helped.”

Jana was also required to supply her credentials and links to her social media accounts and her website. In September she received a conditional invitation based on passing a background check and got her clearance to participate in October.  

While specific White House duties have yet to be revealed, she does know she will leave Colorado on Thanksgiving Day and start decorating the next day. She’ll be in Washington, D.C., for almost a week. 

By early November, Jana still had not received any instructions or hints about what to expect. The holiday theme had not been announced. Nevertheless, she was looking forward to learning more and leaning into the spontaneity of it all.

“In the last email I received, the staff said they would give the designers all the information a week prior to going, so I won’t have a lot of time to prepare or even figure out what I’m going to be doing,” Jana said, laughing. 

“That's what designers do sometimes,” she said. “We kind of figure things out as we go, and we don't always get a lot of time to prepare, so it will be fun.”

One perk that comes with the role will be to have a luncheon with First Lady Jill Biden after the decorating is complete.

This Christmas season is one in a long history of holiday celebrations at the White House. The White House Historical Association offers background on Christmas traditions over the years. 

Prior to the 20th century, White House Christmases were not huge occasions, according to the White House Historical Association. Presidents celebrated with family and close friends, just as they did in their own homes. 

President William Howard Taft’s children began the tradition in 1912 of placing the official White House Christmas tree in the State Floor's Blue Room. And almost 50 years later, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy selected the first holiday theme, authorizing the tree to be decorated with toys, birds, angels and characters from the Nutcracker Suite in 1961.

N.C.'s prominent roles

North Carolina has long played a prominent role in White House Christmas traditions since 1961, providing the official Blue Room Christmas tree 14 times, more than any other state, according to the White House Historical Association.  This year will mark the 15th time one of North Carolina's trees has been chosen for the Blue Room, according to the organization —National Christmas Tree Association — that picks the White House's  Christmas tree.

Last year, the White House reported that 150 volunteer decorators spent a week decking the halls with 83,615 lights, 77 trees and 25 wreaths. Some 50,000 tourists and guests typically visit during the holidays, according to The Hill.

This year Jana is looking forward to adding her talents to the process. As an interior designer, she is known for her traditional, yet modern stylings including her signature colorful accents. 

For the holidays, she enjoys adding multi-colored trees to the conventional holiday color palette and always includes fragrant live garlands. 

“We try to mix it up a little bit and go off the beaten path each year,” she said. “So, I'll go with hot pinks and lime greens and add the traditional colors — the reds and the greens and royal blues.”

As a White House volunteer, Jana will receive no compensation and is expected to cover all her travel and lodging costs. But that’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to be a part of a long, storied holiday tradition.

“Just being in the presence of the White House at such a magical time is very exciting," she said. "And I’m honored to be a part of it.” 

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in Raleigh.

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