Dressing Up Historic Homes for the Holidays


With the holiday season in full tilt with all its accompanying commercialism, a comfortably decorated home can do wonders for tired soles, frazzled families and holiday cynics.  Yet, all too often the fun of decorating our vintage homes for the holidays becomes a task of epic proportion.

“Is this someone’s home, or a department store display?”

If that question pops into someone’s mind when they see your historic home lovingly decorated for the holidays, just maybe you went a wee bit over the top. Since I have been guilty of this in the past I will pass judgment here. Pine roping, cascades of ribbon, wreathes, miniature Dickensian villages, scented pine-cones…more begets more and sometimes we need a guiding hand in dolling up our homes for the season.  We put so much thought and effort into restoring our grande dames, why not give equal time to holiday décor?

One reason so many individuals seek to restore historic homes is because of their wonderful character and charm. When decorating historic homes for the holidays, it’s important to keep the timeless look and feel of the residence by using appropriate and thoughtful holiday decor. Chicago area interior designers, Tom Segal and Madeline Roth provide a few thoughts that can help you achieve beautiful holiday decor for your historic home.

“Christmas is a good time to emphasize why you loved and bought an old home in the first place,” says Madeline Roth of Pariscope Design.  “Beautiful banisters to decorate with roping, mantels for candles, pretty front doors for wreaths; I say, no rules! Christmas is the time to put the jewels on the grande dame.”

Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design adopts a more project-management approach to putting your house in order for the holidays. “I really like themes based on either color, or a type of ornament mixed with ornaments that have a personal connection to the home owner. I like being a bit contemporary in a vintage home too for a nice contrast, but not so modern that it clashes with the vintage detailing in the home. I’m also careful to scale the tree to the room in both height and diameter, so you can still enjoy your space during the holiday season and not have the tree or decorations overwhelm the room. “

Despite their different approaches to decoration, Roth and Segal do agree on the tree. “A real Christmas tree is the only way to go!  The fragrance, the fun of picking out the right tree each year,” says Roth.  For Segal, it’s all about the senses.  “I love the way a real tree smells,” he says. “Décor is not just about the visual information. Let your senses pick up the sights, sounds, feel, and smells of the holiday. All of these things influence how you enjoy a space and add to your memory of that space in this wonderful time of year.”

Whether you go the traditional route or move in a more contemporary direction, the options can be overwhelming.  Just like any home decorating project, pick a style, put together a budget, add water and stir.    The holidays present a special set of pressures and priorities.  Decorating you home should be a fun and exciting family event.  Not a chore, to be dreaded.   Take Roth’s and Segal’s tips to help you prioritize and plan so you can kick back and enjoy the season.
Happy Holidays!

Remarkable Homes & Extraordinary Lives

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

-William Morris

The vintage door above the sofa was repurposed from my last home. A home that expedited much soul searching and emotional growth during a period of my life. See “My years in Rehab” post.

We choose our homes and we choose everything in them. Spartan or stuffed to capacity: why shouldn’t our homes be remarkable reflections of our extraordinary lives?  The furniture, art, books, collectables and even our taste specific tchotchkes, are the things that surround us, bring us comfort and tell the story of who we are and where we’ve been.

As a real estate broker, I frequently have the opportunity and privilege to see firsthand, people’s lives reflected in how they live.  There are a million stories in the naked city and each is full of travels, experiences, and relationships. Some dreams realized and some, not so much.   Many stories are exciting and full of explosive energy and accomplishments. Others, melancholy and laced with shadows of “should have” and “could have.”  All are reflections of people living day-to-day lives.  Without intention, we illustrate our stories by what we chose to  surround ourselves with in the privacy of our homes.

At its heart, home is that place to land at the end of the day that supports us and provides us shelter. It also, provides us with a great source of strength and well-being. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone that lives in it and to those who visit.

In my own home, my partner and I have combined two households full of past lives, experiences and travels and assimilated them into an extraordinary story of the here and now.  Who we both were has collectively become who we are.  The past and the present, enriching the future.

We found this mid-century modern, rosewood desk at a local furniture store. It’s a great pairing with the restored chair that was made at a furniture factory in my hometown.

Our homes are made remarkable by the memories we create in them and the parts of ourselves we choose to fill them with. Like a snowflake, no two are the same.   What makes our lives extraordinary is how we create, embrace and share our experiences and the STUFF we collect along the way.  Like a home, no two are the same.   Extraordinary lives happen simply by being ourselves.  Remarkable homes are just the by-product.

Try it; create a remarkable home from an extraordinary life!  You probably already have.