Willow Spotlight: Ashley Whittaker on Pandemic Decorating and Entertaining

Named one of the top 50 decorators in New York, Ashley Whittaker brings distinctively classic taste and chic sophistication to residential decoration and interior design. Ashley’s work has been published in House Beautiful, The New York Times, Southern Living, Coastal Living, Domino, New York Spaces, House & Home, and Flower Magazine.

In our time with Ashley, she shares the most important type of home project you can do for your well-being, her favorite financial tip, the power of saying ‘no,’ and more.  

As we begin to prepare our homes for the holidays, what are your favorite holiday decorating tips?

We’ve been entertaining outdoors all summer due to the pandemic. While it’s getting colder in the north, that doesn’t preclude us from gathering outdoors with friends for beautiful lunches, dinners, or even a Thanksgiving feast. I love to bring my good linens, tableware, and furniture outside to give an al fresco table a comfortable festive feeling just in time for the holidays!


Outdoor entertaining goals. Design: Ashley Whittaker. Photo: Monica Buck.


I start decorating for Christmas the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend so I have as much organized ahead of time as I can. Make sure to get your Christmas greenery, winter bulb, and tree order in early—this week would be the perfect time to start!


What decorating trends do you see emerging during the pandemic?

Everyone wants doors on their libraries. I think our lives have changed for the better in that working from home is accepted as a normal, happy, and healthy alternative to office life. I’ve had several clients call specifically about designing new libraries that function as home offices when pressed into service.


The most popular pandemic design request? Libraries that double as a WFH office. Design: Ashley Whittaker.


What advice would you give someone who is looking to achieve balance in their home?

I think living in a finished home is one of the most important things we can do for our personal well-being. It’s not about spending exorbitant amounts of money. It’s about finishing the projects we ALL start.

Decorating is thousands of small decisions that are greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t get hung up on every single one and become paralyzed. Know yourself and what you like. Make decisions and finish projects. Albert Hadley always said, “Make your home as comfortable and attractive as possible and then get on with living. There’s more to life than decorating.”


What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?

Understand the power of compound interest and investing early and often (no matter how big or small).

Best day to invest: 30 years ago. Second best day to invest: today.


What does it mean to be a strong self advocate?

The power to say no. An important mantra of mine is “say no early and often.”

For instance, if someone invites you to a book reading after work a month from now and it’s not your thing, say no as soon as you are invited. Don’t wait until the day of and cancel because you’re tired. You already knew you didn’t want to go when you were invited. “Know thyself” and make plans accordingly. Don’t kick the can down the road by saying “maybe the next one.”

Just say, “I need downtime afterwork and concentrating on a reading at 7 p.m. is just not where I am right now. Can we meet for coffee one morning instead?” Don’t put it off—just say no! There is a great New Yorker cartoon I love that says, “Thursday’s out. How about never? Is never good for you?”