"We put up two small tabletop trees, but we had trouble getting them to stay upright. So the White House carpenter helped us. The White House electrician had to put the lights on, even though they were just those little Christmas lights," she said. "Many of the people who work there have been there for 20 years or more. One of them talked about meeting Princess Diana. They were all so nice."
Gastinger said that while helping a volunteer from Wisconsin, they tangled their tall aluminum ladder in one of the chandeliers.
"We heard a tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, plunk," she said. "We froze. The head usher ran over yelling, 'stop, stop, stop -- let the workmen get it out!' It was fine, but I was petrified -- it's a priceless 17th-century crystal antique.
"If we had to move furniture, there were curators there in white gloves to move things. At one point, one of them told us she couldn't believe we were using a chevalier round table as a workspace -- we had it covered with glitter, oasis floral foam, wire, clippers. We realized we really needed to clean it up," Gastinger said, laughing.
Most volunteers stayed in a hotel near the White House at a reduced rate, but Gastinger and Krajcir used credit card points to make the whole stay free for them at another hotel.
HGTV filmed the decorating process, with host Genevieve Gorder and a full technical crew.
"Our room didn't get filmed very much because it was the last to be done, but the HGTV staffers came in with hand-held cameras and chatted us up. Some of that will probably end up on the show that runs [today] at 8 p.m.," Gastinger said.
The decorating volunteers, along with year-round White House volunteers and many members of the military, were treated to a special unveiling of the finished project at a reception hosted by first lady Michelle Obama. Gastinger's husband, Bob, joined her.
"The food was fabulous, set up in the State Dining Room and the East Room, with an open bar. We all got to walk around, and even got to sit on the furniture," she said. "The volunteers weren't allowed to sit on the furniture while we were decorating."
Gastinger conceded she's always enjoyed decorating for Christmas.
"Yeah, my kids like to kid me," she said. "I suppose if I were to open up a store, it would be a Christmas store."
"Mrs. Obama calls it 'the people's house.' They expect 85,000 visitors to take the free tour of the holiday décor," Gastinger said.
Very few will have the experience that Gastinger had, eating lunch in the State Dining Room for three days in a row.
"That's my favorite room -- the paneling, the plaster ceilings, Abraham Lincoln's portrait over the mantel. It's a living museum."
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.