What's Your Motif?
Local museums offer a treasure trove of decorating ideas. Especially if you’re choosing a theme.
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In the story, Tom Thumb and his wife, Hunca Munca, sneak into a rodent’s dream home. There’s a problem, however: The food is fake, and the fireplace won’t work. Disgruntled, they rob the house of its furnishings. To give the story a Christmas feel, Miller added two stockings on the bedroom’s fireplace grate and a small tree.
Last summer Miller visited the Jane Austen Center in Bath, England. “Walking around town and going in her house really inspired me,” he says. He’s so dedicated to the theme that this is the first year the house won’t have a Christmas tree, which was lacking in the early 19th century.
For the Potter theme, creative license was in order. A clever trellis with scarlet roses on the front door paid homage to Potter’s English roots, yet still provided a splash of holiday color.
Red tulips, another alternative to the expected poinsettias, adorned a whimsical dining room table fit for Peter Rabbit. Moss was used as a tablecloth and carrots stood in for cutlery. Roses also paraded across the mantel of a parlor, decorated for a Christmas morning tea.
No matter the theme or the home’s era, mantels often become swag-draped stages. Hagley has filled glass hurricane lamp globes with artificial fruit and nuts and placed them on the mantels draped with garland.
Hagley staff and volunteers, who spend nearly three weeks decorating the house, have festooned garland and wreaths with everything from seashells to ostrich feathers to quince. Pine cones are easy to find and affix. Miller has decorated stair rails and posts with pine cone-studded garland accented with blowsy bows. Add tiny lights for a festive effect.
Expect greenery in the Austen-inspired house. “It’s still ‘deck the halls,’” Miller says. “Holly, mistletoe and maybe some boxwood were all popular in her time.”
Winterthur protects its woodwork by tucking greenery around picture frames or decorative objects. A few Christmas ornaments can suddenly add seasonal flavor, says Debbie Harper, curator of education for tour interpretation at Winterthur.
Like Henry Francis du Pont did, use color to make an impact. Winterthur’s popular dried flower tree this year will stand in the Port Royal Entrance Hall, which boasts 18th-century wallpaper with peonies. The dried flowers, including peonies, will bring out the wallpaper’s hues. Harper has followed the same approach in her dining room, where tree ornaments match the china.
Do what strikes your fancy. “The fun thing is when people put themselves into their holiday decor,” Harper says. “Ultimately, you can make your own traditions.”