Fa-La-La Fabulous

Easy ways to transform your home for the holidays

“Home for the holidays” has added meaning this year for Michael Schram and Barbara Greising, as they deck the halls for the first time in their new home — built in 1891.

The family, including son Matthew and dogs Hercules and Auggie, moved into the historic John Spencer Bassett House in June, following 18 months of renovations. One of four surviving faculty houses originally constructed on the grounds of Trinity College, now the Duke University East Campus, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hand-cut shingles on a gambrel roof, a sunburst window in the attic gable, and “wavy” leaded glass windows are all in keeping with historic preservation criteria for the Bassett House, built in 1891 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “The house looks the same from the street,” says owner Michael Schram. “State and federal preservationists are very protective of the historic value of a house, as they should be.” Inside, the kitchen and baths were rebuilt, and the home was expanded from 2,200 to 3,900 square feet.

“We wanted to live closer to the city, and this house just appealed to us,” said Schram. “We had no idea what we were getting into, but it was a lot of fun.”

During the top-to-bottom renovations, the couple called on designer Anita Bhattacharya Oates of Otrada LLC Interior Design for expertise in making their period house a home, in plenty of time for the holidays.

CM: How did you approach this project?
Oates: On any new project, I photograph existing pieces that clients want to reuse or repurpose; seeing those items gives me a hint of their emerging design aesthetic. Then I’ll look at new fabrics, paints or finishes. We often develop a concept for the room first, followed by the floor plan, furniture, lighting and finishes. This home’s color palette is updated but still traditional, to keep that historical integrity. Our goal was casual elegance and with the homeowners’ choices, it’s tastefully done.

Schram: Some of the pieces, like the antique dining table and church pew, were ours, and others are new. The dining chairs were re-upholstered to coordinate with the new design concept. Anita helped us with everything from light fixtures and wall coverings to curtain rods and mirrors. She even went shopping with us in High Point.

The home’s original bannister, hardwood floors, trim and beadboard ceilings star in the entryway, and small seasonal touches say, “Welcome.” A wall over the bannister was removed, flooding light into the staircase space.

What are some of your favorite elements of the house?
Schram: We were able to save and restore the original trim, moldings, doors, beadboard paneling and ceilings, and oak and heart pine floors. We also removed and restored all of the original windows. All new construction was custom fabricated to match the original finishes. We also took out the wall over the staircase, and that really opened things up.

In terms of décor, we chose to use the “wrong” side of the fabric on our den chairs, because we liked it better.

We had great consultants and contractors on all our design decisions, for example, Anita, architect Riverbank Construction, and Alco Custom Cabinets of Garner. The house took time and patience, but in the end Barb and I are very happy with the way it turned out.

Oates: The dining room — the light fixtures are ornate and decorative, yet they work for 2014. And Barb and I both love the bit of shimmer in the iridescent wall covering. It gives the room a glow.

What’s missing from this holiday table? Red and green! Oates recommends working with your home’s existing color schemes at the holidays, and including various heights in the décor. Add sparkle via silver, gold or brass accents, and mirrors.

Let’s talk about decorating for the holidays.
Oates: Use what you have. Grab items from around the house, and fill in gaps with store-bought items. Use repetitive elements to make it easy. And think up — variation of heights is important. For parties, add balloons or drape fabric or decorations from the ceiling to create drama. You can also get festive mileage from lighting, without spending a lot. Try uplights to create a mood, or accent a focal point.

I have a less-is-more style, and believe editing leaves room for people and conversation. Start decorating right after Thanksgiving, a little at a time so it’s not an ordeal; three or four rooms is plenty.

What about color?
The holidays aren’t just for red, blue and green hues; it’s more about creating a festive environment. If you have a bold color palette, add sparkle with silver, gold, brass — anything that adds reflection and shimmer. For about $5 you can find a wall mirror to lay on a counter or tabletop as a base for décor, (right). Mix different shapes and sizes.

Oates transformed the look of the den without moving the furniture. Using repetitive elements, she says, makes decorating easy. On the mantel: greenery woven with white lights and silver mesh, pine cones and flower stems. The branch candlesticks were already part of the room’s decor. Fun fact: The homeowners chose to use the “wrong” side of this dotted fabric on the chairs.

Deck Your Halls

  1. De-clutter! Take away before you add anything. Make sure your space has enough neutrality — in color, lighting, texture, shapes and repetition — to begin the decorating.  
  2. Work with existing colors, adding complementary colors to make them pop. Holidays are not just for red, blue and green hues. It’s more about creating a festive environment.
  3. If you have a bold color palette, add sparkle. Silver, gold, brass, mirrors, anything that adds reflection and shimmer.
  4. Create a mood with lighting, by adding lighting to a ceiling, accent piece or decoration.
  5. Add sparkle for just $5: Use inexpensive wall mirrors on horizontal counters and table tops. Mix different shapes and sizes.
  6. Grab items from around the house to set your holiday table. Pick one or two colors and gather small items that match your desired colors. Add store bought items afterward to fill any gaps.
  7. Think up! Most people forget the volume of a space when decorating. Add balloons, draped fabric or decorations from the ceiling to create dramatic impact.

— Anita Bhattacharya Oates, NCIDQ

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