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Deck the Halls

By Laura Hine

Photography by Anthony Tahlier


Festive and chic coexist with warm and magical when designer Leslie Martin transforms her Kenilworth home into a place where children dream of sugar plums while guests toast the season and their lovely hosts.

LESLIE MARTIN MAKES the holidays look easy. Not only is she co-owner of M and M Interior Design with her sister, Kim Meardon, but she and husband, Michael, are the parents of five young children. Busy, yes, but frazzled? Not at all. She decorates her house to be both festive for guests and a magical space for her children.

“In our family, Christmas Eve is all about the kids,” says Martin. “It’s a big pajama party and they love it, but Christmas dinner is for the adults. The kids conk out early, and we have a fancy grown-up dinner.” Her home in Kenilworth is the backdrop for the holidays. She and Michael bought the house in 2015 and totally transformed the space. “In a lot of my projects, I like to start with white walls and dark floors, and from there, it’s easy to build and add color and warmth,” she says. “So before we moved in, we had the basics done, and now I can change things at will—and it makes holiday decorating that much easier.”

The foyer Christmas tree goes up right after Thanksgiving and the kids help decorate it, but the living room tree—where the family opens presents—doesn’t get decorated until the kids are in bed on Christmas Eve. “They see it for the first time in the morning, and they’re so excited!” she says.

The cake by Whisked by Cate ( provides a delicious ending to Christmas dinner while looking just as decorative as the holiday table.

For her festive Christmas dinner, Martin’s inspiration starts with the vintage Sascha Brastoff Surf Ballet plates she has collected. Florist Christine Noelle then takes over, keeping in mind Martin’s preference for low centerpieces so guests can make eye contact. “I love the combination of seasonal foliage and bringing in a coffee or chocolate color,” Noelle says. “We went with hydrangeas, garden roses and cymbidium blooms in an interesting color palette, but just as important is the combination of texture and shape.”

For the actual dinner, the menu is an update on tradition, with acorn squash soup that’s lightened with fennel and creme fraiche; a heritage turkey breast served with cremini mushrooms, lemon and sage; dressing that starts with sourdough bread; and burnt maple custard made even more irresistible with dulce de leche and marcona almonds.

“My Christmases growing up were so magical, and I have no idea how my mom pulled it off,” she says. “But those are the memories I have of being a kid and seeing my parents entertain—it was wondrous to see the transformation—and I want my kids to have those same memories.”  

Martin and daughter Sailor decorate the foyer Christmas tree, which goes up right after Thanksgiving.

Designer Leslie Martin is a pro not only at making a home a holiday haven; she’s also got entertaining down to a spreadsheet-worthy science.


The Pleasure of Your Company
Invite guests with a mailed paper invitation, but because it’s the holidays, it’s always a good idea to send an informal heads-up email two months before. Wine and Dine Plan the menu, and if you’re thinking about a new recipe, give it a test run. If you’re booking a caterer, do it now.

Staff Up!
Book that babysitter; find that florist; and make sure the cleaning service can come that day. The best money you’ll spend on entertaining is hiring an extra set of hands for the kitchen so you aren’t facing a post-party pile of dirty dishes.


Home Chic Home
Polish the silver and press your linens (or arrange for it to be done).

The Right Note
Choose your music playlist.

Mix and Match
Research guests and make seating assignments. (It’s not creepy; it’s helpful to do an Instagram or Facebook search to find out recent travels or hobbies.)


Mise en Place
Prep as much food as possible in the morning and group ingredients by recipe. If a caterer is coming, clear out the refrigerator to make space for incoming food.

Photo Finish
Arrange one perfect place setting, then take a picture of it and delegate setting the table to someone else. A detail-oriented child, who can be trusted not to drop a plate, is a great choice.

Set the Stage
Pour yourself a glass of wine, light the candles and relax—your guests are happy to be sharing this time with you, and that’s enough! 

Main Image: Dusty Blue Ilya blouse with burgundy silk embroidery, $1,590, and Dusty Blue Deven culottes in single crepe, $1,155, both by Roksanda at Neapolitan Collection, Winnetka. Hair and makeup by Melanie Hart Narbutis, resident makeup artist, Neapolitan Collection, 847.441.7784,