Swags of Christmas greenery surround an 18th-century Venetian mirror in the living room. On the mantel, two Chinese Foo dogs sit in front of a pair of 18th-century Venetian mirrored sconces.
A bronze chandelier from the French Antique Shop illuminates
the room’s furniture, including a Venetian mirrored coffee table
and 18th-century gaming/eating table by the window.
A dorning the elegant homes of the Garden District appears to be a combined effort of the homeowners, but it is really the result of individuals who respect tradition. Never garish or ostentatious, and always colorful and refined, the decorations seem to whisper, rather than shout, and all are reminiscent of a time when the festive combined tastefully with the sacred.
That is certainly the case at the home of one Garden District homeowner, who has lived just four years in a house built just before World War II. Originally from North Carolina, and having lived most of her adult life in northern Virginia, this homeowner combines American colonial traditions with New Orleans artistic sensibilities to create a warm, inviting space. In Virginia she was known for her grand parties that centered around a 40-foot holiday tree, but here she has scaled down her décor and holiday entertaining. Now the home reflects a certain quiet intimacy and family heritage.
“I’ve simplified what I do for the holidays,” she says, “and that means decorating for myself and my friends. This is a much smaller house than I once had, more French than English, but you will see decorations of some sort in every room.”
Those fortunate enough to arrive when the dining table is set for holiday dinners will see 19th-century English Lowestoft china, a soft porcelain paste china now highly valued among collectors. Elegant, under-stated floral arrangements and a pyramid of candied fruit from Dunn & Sonnier add to the exquisite dining table’s design. Richly-designed red goblets are hand-blown from Chaffe McIlhenny and add a touch of color. Even the linens have historical significance, all collected over the years from family.
“I tend to use English decorations because that’s my background and I had a very large plantation in Virginia,” the owner says. “I decorate this house very much as I did that one, with natural greens and other natural touches that are reminiscent of Colonial America.”
The theme is brought to life partly through the efforts of local party-maven Bev Church, who hangs the decorations and wires the trees with colorful lights. “Bev and her sister, Marianne Mumford, do a lot of the houses in the Garden District, and I love their work.” Much of the credit for the home’s lovely exteriors can be credited to Mumford’s Landscape Images, the company that gracefully arranges garland around boxwoods and bushes and skillfully places topiaries.
The eclectic blend of distinctive antiques and furnishings collected and inherited from family adds to the home’s ambiance. An imposing Italian mirror in the living room is minimally draped with garland, while flowers and candles are artfully placed in the kitchen chandelier. In the entrance hall, a miniature holiday tree with white lights alerts guests that the holidays are near. “I decorate just 10 days before Christmas and I leave everything up until Twelfth Night,” the owner says. “My father thought it was proper to put them up on Christmas, but I’ve stretched just a bit.”
“I’ve lived in many houses in my life,” the owner says, “and now I’ve simplified things down to just those items that have real meaning to me, my personal belongings and family pieces. I believe in tradition—custard served in custard cups, holiday greenery that is native to the area in which I live, and such things. It all means Christmas to me.” •