Comfort & Joy

Ahhh, the holidays.
They can be fun and stressful
all at the same time. And when it comes to
decorating, a little inspiration can go a long way.
The New Canaan Newcomers Club has us covered
with last season’s Homes for the Holidays House Tour,
which showcased five stunning residences styled to the nines.
We caught up with the designers of each home to find out
their seasonal strategies, secrets and festive ideas.


Ainsley Hayes

DESCRIBE YOUR HOME’S HOLIDAY STYLE. My home was built in 1820, so I like to stay in keeping with the style of an antique and make the décor authentic and traditional. I set the mood by lighting a fire in our back-to-back central chimney in the living room and display a few vintage collections around the house including bottle-brush trees from the fifties, antique paper Santas and some paper and wool sheep. Even if you have a modern home (we have a modern addition on the back of our house) vintage things still work well in that setting. For my outdoor patio, we made that area feel like a room of its own by making the fire pit a focal point and having cozy blankets in all the surrounding chairs.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT COLORS TO USE? We played up the existing color schemes in each room. My den has a red sofa, so we brought that out in a simple grapevine wreath I made, adding Japanese holly and red pompoms. The living room is more neutral, so I focused more on whites, but accented the space with red poinsettias that really popped. For my dining room, floral designer Emily Candee made arrangements out of red, white and green flowers, the colors of my china. We also tied bouquets of boxwood with fresh pine cones and red ribbons onto the dining room chair backs for a festive effect.

IS THERE A PARTICULAR ITEM OF SIGNIFICANCE THAT YOU LOVE FEATURING AT CHRISTMAS? The home itself. We’ve lived here since 2008, and I love raising my three boys in an antique home. I’m a preservationist at heart, so I wanted to let the old house really shine and show people how livable it can be, particularly during the holidays.

DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW PIECES THAT YOU LOVE? The New Canaan Landmark Ornaments that are sold at the Nature Center and Historical Society. They’re a total throwback and are wooden with hand-painted renderings of historical buildings around town.


Krystie McCauley Inman and Tracey McCauley

DO YOU AND YOUR MOM ALWAYS DESIGN HOMES TOGETHER? Not always, but we do love decorating together and we go crazy for Christmas. My mother, Tracey, was a freelance print set designer for years, owned an antique store with my grandmother and always styled my father’s restaurants for the holidays.

WHAT HOLIDAY LOOK WERE YOU GOING FOR? My mom is old school and I’m more contemporary, so it was a blend of our two tastes. We had visited Scotland recently where everything is incredibly lush, green and natural with lots of texture. Because my husband is Scottish, we went for a Highlands hunting club look. We special-ordered the Murray Clan of Atholl’s tartan fabric from Scotland and used it as a backdrop throughout, pulling in the colors of black, green and navy blue. On the dining room table, the tartan fabric was a runner underneath a gorgeous garland created by floral designer Traci Shefcyk of Palmer’s Market in Darien. On our tree, we filled in the holes with ribbon made from the fabric.

WERE THERE ANY SPECIAL ROOMS OF INTEREST? The playroom, which we call “The Work Hard, Be Kind Workshop.” Every Christmas, we encourage our two boys to do nice things for other people, so in the playroom we set up stations that help us achieve this goal. In one area, we put together gift baskets for an elderly neighbor, and in another we made cards and wrapped gifts for the families we “adopt” from the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk.

ANY HOLIDAY TIPS? Start with the sense of smell. We love simmering mulling spices on the stove, and on our tree we hang fragrant stag cardamom cookies that our family bakes together. My mom likes to go huge on greenery because it looks and smells great. For garlands on stairs and over doors, start with a faux greenery base—Costco makes a great one. Then, load lots of fresh garland on top to give it some heft. We also layered in some holly branches from my backyard, fresh dried orange slices and even some spruce clippings.


Debbie Propst

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR STYLING YOUR HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS? My home was originally designed by Royal Barry Wills, a famed 20th century architect, and subsequent expansions added by Sarah Blank Design stayed true to its original character and farmhouse style. As we furnished my home with the help of One Kings Lane’s in-house design service, The Studio, our goal was for each room to reflect a distinct personality while incorporating the common thread of a “modern farmhouse” aesthetic. Our holiday décor emphasized this style, featuring a wide assortment of products, furnishings and décor from One Kings Lane, as well as a fun mix of modern and classic ornaments suited to the vibe and color scheme of each room.

DO YOU HAVE A DESIGN MANTRA, AND HOW DOES THAT FIT IN TO HOW YOU DECK YOUR HALLS? I am all about the mix of old and new. I love to reflect classic holiday design elements, but always try to incorporate something fresh, exciting and a bit whimsical. As a family, this allows us to keep old traditions and create new ones.

ANY DÉCOR SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO MAKE OUR HOMES FEEL FESTIVE? Fresh greenery always makes every space feel a bit more like the holidays. Whether it’s pine boughs or eucalyptus, having an evergreen scent always brings a holiday vibe to the forefront.

DO YOU HAVE ONE SHOW-STOPPING ITEM THAT YOU BRING OUT DURING THE HOLIDAYS? One of my year-round favorites is the pair of cement alligator statues I found at High Point Market in North Carolina that stand guard in front of my fireplace at Christmas, and on my dining room table off-season. Specifically for the holidays, I have an amazing large Darryl Carter bowl in my living room that I fill to the top with golden pine cones. It speaks to the natural elements we use in the home, but is also superfun, over-the-top and a great conversation piece.


Havilande Whitcomb

WHAT OVERALL FEEL WERE YOU GOING FOR WHEN STYLING THIS SPACE? The goal was to create an environment that was authentic, warm and inviting. The original 1850s working barn had been remade from the outside in, and every weathered timber was left as it was, yet placed within an insulated environment that is a new dwelling. The adjacent greenhouse, now used as an orangerie to grow vegetables and ornamental plants in winter, is an integral part of the sustainable concept of the whole property.

WHAT SPECIAL FEATURES DID YOU EMPLOY? In the barn, the soaring ceiling was the perfect space for Copia Home and Garden to bring in a statuesque 14-foot grand frir tree. They also constructed a magnolia garland that draped over the beautiful timbers and accented the strong horizontal and vertical lines that support the barn. We added twinkly battery-powered fairy lights and votive candles to the timbers for a festive atmosphere. Colorful antique Oushak handmade rugs warmed up the old wide-plank floors and grounded the entire space. The tree was decorated simply with grapevine garland, handmade paper ornaments and cranberries strung by New Canaan Newcomers volunteers. In the orangerie, Earth Garden helped plant large boxes with kale, lettuce, herbs and winter vegetables. They also used colorful holiday flowers like cyclamen and amaryllis that could be brought into the home when blooming. Dwarf cypress and myrtle in pots completed the live evergreen plants. Greenery and branches were gathered and cut from the garden and made into arrangements.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST HOLIDAY DESIGN ADVICE? Have fun. Try the simple act of setting aside time with children to make some ornaments together. Glitter pine cones are easy, or you can cut out snowflakes or ornaments from craft paper. Honor these projects by displaying them, no matter how they turn out.


Samantha King and Debbie Jackson

HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT DECORATING SUCH A LARGE HOME? We went with a “more is more” attitude. This 15,000-plus square-foot house is the largest post and beam structure in America and was modeled after an 1800s gothic revival country home in Wiltshire, England. Some of its ornate features include beautiful quatrefoil carvings and Versailles-style wood floors, suggesting an air of formality and a special sense of occasion.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE SOME DETAILS OF THE VARIOUS ROOMS? The foyer had an amazing centerpiece on a round table next to a huge tree covered in lemon slices that we dried ourselves, offset by the handmade garland accented with lemons, pheasant feathers and acorns. The living room had a two-story cathedral ceiling, so we chose a 16-foot tree that was a real showstopper. Two tall candelabras wrapped with white pines flanked either side of the large stone fireplace, and very tall glass vases with long amaryllis were added for height. For the dining room, we brought in the existing room’s warm green and blue hues with china from Juliska that included gold swirl desert plates, blue wine glasses and gold woven placemats.

WHAT SPECIAL ITEMS DID YOU BRING IN FOR SUCH A FESTIVE LOOK? Lillian August was instrumental in helping us borrow accessories and décor. For the entryway, we used gorgeous footed silver bowls, and an oversized gray Ming vase was the statement piece on our living room coffee table.

WERE ANY OF THE AREAS NON-TRADITIONAL? We had fun with the two-story library. The second story of this room had dark wood built-in bookshelves chock-full of books, anchored by four large red velvet chairs below. Instead of going with red, we did a 180 and used a pink and gold color scheme. We used bubblegum pink roses and wrapped packages in pink paper with gold ribbons, filling the tree with pink and gold balls. Faux white hibiscus flowers were sprayed pink and a cranberry pink candle set the mood.

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