Sipping Greenwich water (Chardonnay) in Kate Clark’s kitchen with her bestie, event planner Meg Critchell, you begin to feel like you’re being watched. Neighbors? Drones? No, the interlopers are two charming ceramic deer busts, presiding over us in a birch-papered alcove atop Kate’s snow-white refrigerator. “Say hi to Lucy and Ethel,” deadpans Kate. “We found them at Target and keep them up year-round.”
It takes about a hot minute to realize that the real Lucy and Ethel—the Greenwich version—are sitting beside me at the island. “I come up with all of these wacky ideas and Meg finds a way to make them work,” laughs Kate. “The only thing she ever vetoed was putting glow-in-the-dark paint on the walls for a Christmas party.”
Meg shakes her head, though it’s obvious she’s entertained by her compadre’s penchant for crazy. “Kate has an amazing eye and can think big picture,” she says. “Meg’s so great with details,” Kate counters. “She’s the yin to my yang. I’m not outdoorsy or crafty and Meg’s like, ‘Look! Here are twigs I found in the yard that we can use!’ and I’m thinking, What the hell? Oh, and you should see Meg in a ribbon store. She literally gets excited by burlap and polka dots.” Meg doesn’t bat an eye. “Everything looks prettier with ribbon,” she says matter-of-factly.
Understanding the madcap magic that flows between this duo requires a five-year time warp to a far-off place called … Mediterraneo. “Our children were at the same nursery school and we had mutual friends, so we met up for dinner one night,” says Meg. “A few bottles of wine later, I was planning Kate’s wedding.” Meg’s wedding and event planning company, Meg Critchell Events, had been on cruise control while Meg was busy raising her three young boys, but with her new friend’s nuptials, she was ready to hit the gas again—hard.
“I made a list of ten places I thought Kate should consider, and a week later we were in Turks and Caicos, scouting locations,” says Meg. Did Kate’s husband, Jim, have any say in the matter? “Oh, he came, but once he realized we had the whole thing locked, he ditched us,” Kate says, smirking. “Meg and I went back six more times for planning.” Planning or poolside margaritas? “Both,” they answer in unison.
After Kate’s fabulous wedding at the five-star Amanyara resort in October 2013, she enlisted Meg for her next big event: the newlyweds’ first holiday party in Greenwich. Given that Meg was born with an evergreen thumb, it wouldn’t be a stretch. The daughter of a Christmas tree farmer (“just like Taylor Swift,” she teases), Meg’s family runs the wholesale nursery Fernbrook Farm in New Jersey, along with a CSA vegetable farm and nonprofit education center on a 400-acre property that has been in her family for 200 years. Meg’s gift for mixing down-home charm with a modern twist has won her a long list of holiday clients throughout the Tristate area, and for Kate’s fete, she struck the perfect blend of nice and naughty.
First up was bringing back NYC-based DJ Coleman, who’d spun a crowd-thumping set-list at Kate’s wedding, along with melt-in-your-mouth bites from Greenwich native Peter Callahan, who added sparkle with his eye-candy male servers. The wow moment rolled in mid-party. “I told Meg I wanted to have a lady coming out dressed as a nurse in a candy striper uniform with a Fireball cart, handing out Fireball shots,” says Kate. “Meg didn’t flinch. I wanted it to be hot and fun and a change, and she pulled it off.”
As for transforming her digs into a chic winter wonderland, Kate’s MO was go big or go home—at home. By stocking up on quality items this first time around, she’d be able to replicate or simply riff on those themes in subsequent years. “I learned from Meg that once you get the right system in place, holiday decorating is so much easier,” says Kate. Has she ever pulled it off solo? “Sure, but where’s the fun in that? This way, Meg and I get to hang out four days straight.”
The pair see no point in parting post-holiday, either, and the proof is in JetBlue miles. Not only did Jim and Kate’s first-anniversary trip back to Turks and Caicos include the Critchell family, Jim’s first Christmas gift to his bride was a tiny bag under the tree with a note instructing her to take Meg back to Amanyara as a wedding thank- you. Santa’s helpers provided the poolside margaritas.
Meg shares her favorite shortcuts to a swell season
Wholesale vendors like the ones Meg frequents on 28th Street in NYC are also open to the public, but they can smell a novice from a mile away and may give you a different price. “Bring cash, remember names of the guys in stores, don’t ask questions and know what you want,” she says. “Buying flowers isn’t worth it because you can get great ones at Cos Cob Farm and Whole Foods. Go wholesale for boxwood, like the evergreen wreaths in Kate’s mudroom.”
Think of faux branches like hair extensions—they fill in bald spots on a fresh tree and can pump up the drama, like the naughty-and-nice tree Meg did for a client with tickle feathers and ornaments resembling Valentino Rockstud balls. Or go full-on fake. “I do believe that every house should have one real tree because of the smell, but Balsam Hill makes fabulous fake ones that you can order online,” says Meg. “They even make pizza slice and half-moon-shaped trees for corners as well, and they are pre-lit and well done. The wreaths are great, too. I’ll order twenty at a time for clients’ windows.”
HAVE A LIGHTBULB MOMENT
“A tree should be full,” says Meg. “I do at least 150 to 200 lights per foot of tree, and always start at the base.” Be sure to plug in lights before you put them on the tree instead of finding out an hour later that your nine footer is filled with duds, she warns. “I can’t tell you how many times it happens, even to me. It makes you want to cry,” says Meg. “If two strands don’t light and it’s mid-December, don’t take your ornaments off, just poke in new strands.” When it’s time to take down your tree, just cut off the lights. “They’re cheap and replaceable,” says Meg. Your sanity? Maybe not.
FIRE IT UP
Get firewood from The Blaze in Cos Cob, suggests Meg, who likes to add more spark by having her kids collect pinecones for kindling or buying unscented ones at McArdle’s. “Arrange your wood in a crisscross pattern with a Duraflame underneath and add newspaper for robust flames,” says Meg. “I’m a nerdy recycler and never throw away the paper. Perfect to get a fire going.”
“Go to Target the first week of November for the best selection before the madness and Bergdorf’s the day after Christmas when holiday prices are slashed,” says Meg. “I like to buy ornaments that have a sense of humor, like bacon and eggs, or some specific tie to the recipient, and Bergdorf’s is ideal for that.”