Ruthie Frierson’s holiday home is filled with nostalgia and good cheer during the month of December.
“I love the experience of decorating a tree,” Ruthie Frierson says brightly. “You get to relive
all of those wonderful moments and memories.”
Frierson and her husband, Lou, have 37 years of memories in their Uptown home. It is the home where they raised their sons, where their grandson Brice plays and where they’ve entertained countless friends and family. Each year for the holidays, the Friersons decorate their home with everything from garlands to wreaths to multiple crèches and a standout tree in the formal living room. Detail is everywhere, right down to the antique dollhouse in another sitting room.
The dollhouse, made originally in New York in 1937, was purchased back in the 1980s by Frierson on a trip to Maine, and took several years to restore. The Friersons eventually turned it into a miniature model of their own home, complete with the addition of a landscaped front yard, family photos, two King Charles Cavaliers and tiny hand-painted books.
“It needed so much help! It really needed a renovation,” says Frierson. “Lou put electricity throughout the house, and bought lamps, lights, sconces, etcetera … Everything is handmade from around the world: There are rugs, hand-knot clothing, a chessboard, flowers, paintings, a backgammon table purchased in Chicago. We even had to choose fabrics!”
Each year the dollhouse is decorated to be an exact replica of the Frierson home’s decorations, with a few whimsical touches, of course. “We put a Santa in the chimney. The dolls he carries on his back as gifts are actually from around our house.”
Frierson says the dollhouse is one of her favorite parts of their home, both during the holidays and throughout the year. “It tells a different story to everyone who sees it,” she says. “It is full of memories of childhood and wonder; no one wants to lose that.”
As for the rest of the house, the holiday spirit is everywhere. Large garlands with wreaths drape themselves over the wrought iron front fence, a multi-nut wreath they’ve owned for 40 years hangs outside and a stunning red floral wreath hangs inside the door. A handmade angel tree stands in the front entrance hall, collected over 40 years. As for the Christmas tree, it’s full of memories of family and fun.
“We do everything ourselves,” says Frierson. “Lou does the exterior decorations, and I’m in charge of the tree. There are 30 strands of lights on the tree, because you have to have sparkle!”
There are needlepoint ornaments, as well as 25 years of collected ornaments from New York-based store The Gazebo. Currently there are 60 Gazebo ornaments on the tree, with many of them having fairytale and storybook themes. “It changes every year,” says Frierson. “(Our sons) have all of the earlier ornaments.” Dancing bears, who play 23 different holiday carols, add mirth to the scene beneath the tree, as does a beautiful toy train.
The Friersons love to entertain friends and family at small informal dinners, but on Christmas Day when family comes, the formal dining room table is ready and waiting. Set for 12, a banquet cloth of Madeira lace runs down
the table, an heirloom that once belonged to her husband’s mother. “When the Pope came to New Orleans,” Frierson says, “the cloth was used at a dinner for him.”
Porcelain dinner servers and runners sit in front of each place setting, as does Marlborough-pattered silverware. On top of each setting is a gift for each guest, and sparkling stemware completes the magnificent table.
There are also two crèches, or nativity scenes, within the home. Frierson says the Italian crèche is “more formal,” while the German Magi crèche is full of “tiny little masterpieces.”
Back when Frierson was on the board of the Metro Council for Aging in the 1970s, a friend made the nativity completely from found wood. “I felt so fortunate she did this for me,” she says.
From there the nativity scene has grown exponentially. “They are all handmade wooden pieces,” Frierson says. “The first pieces were the family, then we started collecting pieces individually:
the three kings, three shepherds, a donkey, a cow. We started with one angel, now have three.”
Most of the items found within the crèche came from The Magi Shop, formerly on Royal Street but now located on Chartres Street. “The boys chose the pieces they thought were the most important,” she says. Of course, with the addition of a grandson, Frierson jokes that those important pieces now include animals not normally found within a nativity scene, such as a hand carved giraffe. Dressed in holiday finery, a family of teddy bears plays the piano and violins.
“Now that we have another generation, we want to keep this feeling going,” Frierson says. “After all, the spirit of Christmas – of sharing and caring for family, friends and community – is something you want to keep year round.”