Milwaukee designer selected to decorate the White House for the holidays

By Joel Waldinger | December 20, 2022


Collin O’Brien admits he “loves” Christmas. “If I could, my tree would be up starting October 1st. If you are a Christmas fanatic, what better house to decorate besides yours than the White House?” O’Brien thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. “I’ve lived six lives, I guess. It is very crazy because the first year you go, you meet these hundred some volunteers from across the country and we all have the same coalescing feeling that, oh my gosh, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I remember when I got invited the second year, I thought, oh my gosh, I should get a lottery ticket. This is amazing.” For six straight years Collin has given up time with his family at Thanksgiving to decorate the executive mansion.

For the volunteers not every project is met with a twinkle and a smile. “Every year there’s a team called ‘twinkle’ and you do not want to be on that team because the first three days you are in a tree.” O’Brien remembers the year he did the Blue Room tree and he was inside that tree wrapping lights. He went home each night covered in sap, clothes ruined.

Other years the fun came in twos. One year, during President Obama’s time in the White House, they made eight-foot tall statues of their dogs, Bo and Sunny. Besides getting to meet those dogs, volunteering at the White House has its perks. He met First Lady’s Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.

On O’Brien’s home tree, there are also reminders of his days at the White House. He has ornaments that were actually hung in the White House that were gifted to him. For O’Brien the unique opportunity is not easy to explain. “In my way, this is my service to the country. It’s it is my way of giving back. It’s doing what I can do. It’s just a sense of pride every time I go in there.”

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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