It took Gloria Guerin a traditional letter, countless emails and more than a year of work to volunteer for Christmas decorating duty at the country’s most exclusive address — 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.
Getting chosen to decorate the White House required a great deal of patience and perseverance for Guerin, 48, of Port Allen.
After trading photographs of her own holiday decor with the White House staff for months, she finally received her invitation in the form of an email.
“I was in total shock,” she said. “I was at work when I got the email, so I had to get in my car and scream!”
Guerin first learned of the opportunity to decorate the White House while watching HGTV, which broadcasts an annual television special on decorating the president’s residence. In her letter to the White House staff, Guerin mentioned her own volunteer history of raising money for school supplies and uniforms to benefit 176 Kenyan children and collecting medical supplies, clothing and money for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
She said she hoped her previous work would make her “worthy” of the White House.
On Thanksgiving Day, Guerin flew to Washington for a week of work. For the first two days, she and the 85 other chosen volunteers organized materials for the task.
Assigned to the East Garden Room, also called the Bookseller Room, she spent her week decorating the room’s nine trees and adorning archways with bows. Its focal point, a 10-foot tree, held 2,200 ornaments.
“It was grueling,” Guerin said. “It was a lot, lot, lot of work. We started at 7 o’clock and we worked the whole day. We only stopped for our lunch break.”
Outside of her day job as a customer service representative for a mechanical seal company, Guerin loves to decorate. She spends time perfecting her own home and helping with friends’ décor.
“I love decorating. I will decorate anything,” she said. “It’s my passion. It’s one of those things you hear people say that if you love something, you’ll do it and not get paid for.”
Her own home in Port Allen is filled with ornate, though comfortable, fabrics with a great deal of thought given to the texture of each piece.
“She’s very knowledgeable,” said Merdis Ard, a longtime friend of Guerin’s who often accompanies her on furniture shopping trips. “Some things I’ll pick up, she’ll say, no, that’s not quality.”
While Guerin’s décor is carefully planned, the home is not just a showcase.
“I like the comfort of home, and I like for my things to be used,” she said. “It’s not like I don’t put my feet up on this sofa, you know?”
“Joy to All” was the official theme of the White House Christmas. The Obama family dog, Bo, a black and white Portuguese water dog, became a common motif in the decorations. Decorations called Bo-flakes adorned trees throughout the house, and a life-sized replica of the pooch in Guerin’s area was made of 18,000 black pompoms and 2,000 white pompoms, Guerin said.
While the six days of work were difficult, she considered it a highlight of her life.
“It was an honor,” she said. “All the work didn’t really get to me until I sat down at the end of the day.”
An admirer of President Barack Obama who attended the January 2008 inauguration, Guerin was thrilled to briefly meet first lady Michelle Obama during a reception after volunteers completed their work.
“I just told her how proud I was of her,” Guerin said. “She said, ‘Thank you, just keep the support up.’”
Guerin asked the first lady if she liked the bows she created, then Guerin inquired for a hug.
“We did the ‘sister girl’ hug and everything,” she said. “Then she moved down the line and everything, but she was very warm and very nice and very cordial.”
During a reception for the public, Guerin became a spokeswoman for the decorators. The White House gave her talking points for the media, and she was “standing on the first floor of the White House wearing an official smock, greeting guests and reeling off Bo facts,” according to The Daily Beast, which mentioned her in an article about the occasion.
“That was quite an honor,” Guerin said. “I don’t know how I got to do that, but it was quite an experience.”
Guerin and the 85 others who decorated the White House are featured in an HGTV television special, “White House Christmas 2012,” scheduled to re-air at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Monday.
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