COD Interior Design grad decorates White House for the holidays

Chronicle Media
Sheri Bolton by the mantel she decorated in the Vermeil Room at the White House.

Sheri Bolton by the mantel she decorated in the Vermeil Room at the White House.

Sheri Bolton is still pinching herself about her experience as a White House decorator.

The owner and lead designer of Bolton Designs and Interiors LLC in Chicago was one of nearly 100 volunteers from 35 states selected this year to help decorate the White House for the holidays. Bolton, who earned her associate’s degree in Interior Design at College of DuPage, had her first meeting at the White House on Thanksgiving Day, and for the next five days helped to transform the iconic presidential residence.

“We met First Lady Michelle Obama at the Volunteer Reception, and she gave a speech to us that was heartfelt and warm. She appreciated the sacrifice we all were making to be away from our families,” said the Crete resident. “Working on this project was up there in terms of excitement level and pressure. It made me proud to be an American and to serve in this way, to have a hand in giving back to all of the people who will grace the halls of the White House this season.”

The lead designer on the project was Bryan Rafanelli, who previously coordinated and decorated several state dinners and events.

The First Lady chose him, and together they developed this year’s theme, Timeless Traditions. In addition, the First Lady selected fashion designers Carolina Herrera, Humberto Leon, Carol Lim and Duro Olowu to decorate three rooms of the White house.

“Once the vision was established, they gave us the vision and allowed us to execute it,” Bolton said. “Imagine coordinating an event with all of these moving pieces. We spent two days just prepping all of the elements.”

Bolton was delighted to work with Olowu – one of the First Lady’s favorite clothing designers – on the Vermeil Room decorating two eight-foot Christmas trees and the mantel. The latter featured miniature trees, gifts wrapped in signature fabrics, original dolls, pom-poms, and several international treasures and antiques.

One of Bolton’s favorite projects was turning the Lower-Cross Hallway into a silver wonderland. She hand-fashioned nearly 4,000 elements in helping to create garlands with silver bells and balls that arch over the hallway and doorways.

“It’s one place that everyone walks through every day, including President Obama, and I wanted it to have that ‘wow’ factor,” she said.

The Rafanelli Events staff also called Bolton the “Tree-Skirt Magician” for her work on the cloth beneath the official White House tree.

“I was given this piece of fabric with frays along the edge and asked, ‘Can you please do something with it?’ I really connected with this project because of what the official tree symbolizes.”

Bolton originally earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications and an MBA. But after leaving corporate America to start a family, she wanted a career that allowed her to follow her passion of design, making her the third generation of designers in her family.

Bolton utilized her business background in planning how to juggle being a wife, a mother and a student. She initially enrolled at another Chicago-area community college and then switched to the Illinois Institute of Art. However, mindful of tuition costs, she decided to research schools with a competitive tuition rate that offered strong computer-based Interior Design programs with professors who worked in the field and honed their craft.

After meeting with Jane Kielb, assistant professor and coordinator of College of DuPage’s Interior Design program, Bolton had a strong sense of how the program could benefit her.

“When I was in the classroom, it was competitive and rigorous and real,” she said. “In the end I was able to marry my business and marketing background with the skills set that I gained at College of DuPage. I am very happy and pleased with the education that I received.”

Kielb knew immediately that Bolton was a perfect fit for the Interior Design program and that College of DuPage would help her achieve her career goals.

“Her work was consistently creative and she challenged herself to go above and beyond for every project. Plus she was a great collaborator with her classmates and her enthusiasm was contagious,” she said. “I was not surprised when I heard about Sheri being chosen for this honor. It takes confidence and courage to apply for something like this, which she definitely has – in addition to her design ability. It’s a winning combination. She is a true role model for our current students, and our faculty team and her fellow students are so proud of her.”

Bolton, who opened her business this past year, thanks Kielb and professors like Shelly Mocchi, who prepared her well for a career and future opportunities, such as the one at the White House. To become a volunteer decorator, an application must be submitted, and Bolton – who applied this year for the first time – didn’t realize how stringent the process was until she met several women on the project who had applied for years before being selected.

The entire experience was like a dream and left Bolton pinching herself.

“The application process included the submission of some of my work, which reflected how well College of DuPage prepared me. I am so honored and grateful and excited that all of my training, all of the late nights of studying and planning, finally paid off! I’ll never forget this experience.”

For more information about COD’s Interior Design program, visit


— COD Interior Design grad decorates White House for the holidays —