Interior Design Student Chosen to Decorate White House for 2015 Holiday Season

By: Rachel Handel Filed under: Interior Design

December 23, 2015

If you think your home is difficult to decorate for the holidays, imagine decorating one of the most recognized homes in the United States—the White House. Along with 90 other volunteers, Amber Dougherty took on that challenge. Amber, who is pursing a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division, was selected from thousands of applicants to work in a volunteer corps to decorate the President’s home for the holidays.  Their work was featured on HGTV’s “2015 White House Christmas Special,” which aired on December 13, 2015.

Amber began the application process in August, contacting the First Lady’s Office to submit her essay on why she wanted to participate in this event. Amber also presented an example of her interior design work—a presentation board she’d designed for one of her interior design courses. In October, she learned that she’d been chosen to decorate the White House for the Christmas holiday.

In Washington, D.C., Amber worked alongside Bryan Rafanelli of Rafanelli Events, 20 of his design and production team members, and her fellow volunteers—bringing to life the theme of “A Timeless Tradition.”

The group prepared the décor at a storage warehouse—wiring ornaments, making garland, creating bows and wreaths, and organizing boxes for each room to be decorated. This resulted in seven truckloads of decorations, ready to go to the White House.

Amber’s task was to work alongside three other volunteers in the “Blue Room,” where the official White House Christmas tree—an 18.5 foot-tall tree from Pennsylvania—is located. Her design team chose red, white, and blue ornaments and garland to showcase national colors. The rest of the room complemented the tree, with star garland, star ribbon, star wreaths, and a star mantle. The completed decorations were revealed to military families, who arrived on the final day.

Amber and the rest of the volunteers celebrated their successful work at a reception kicking off the 2015 White House Christmas. She’s excited to be part of this exciting national event—and proud to include it on her résumé and growing portfolio of work.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh - Online Division is one of The Art Institutes, a system of over 50 schools throughout North America. Programs, credential levels, technology, and scheduling options vary by school and are subject to change. Not all online programs are available to residents of all U.S. states. Several institutions included in The Art Institutes system are campuses of South University or Argosy University.The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division 420 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1328. All rights reserved. Our email address is

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