When Chris and Wendy Boyer bought a 1940s ranch house in a Minneapolis suburb, they decided the prior owners' all-white modern decor did not complement the living room's knotty pine walls and beamed, vaulted ceiling. "I thought this house leaned more toward an English cottage or a small European hunting lodge," Wendy says, "and I've always liked that look."
So the house got a redo with paint, flooring and furnishings. Wendy likes to layer Ralph Lauren textiles, family heirlooms and an array of carefully chosen collectibles, all of which create a warm and inviting setting for one of Wendy's favorite Christmas traditions-decorating the house with fresh greens and her favorite vintage finds (including the deer head above the hearth, bagged in a second-hand shop). The result is an elegant version of North Woods lodge decor.
Pinecones and magnolia sprigs tucked between the branches of a Christmas tree create a lush, full look.
Birds' nests, fresh bay leaves, loose pinecones, acorns and glass fruits grace the nature-themed tree. Wendy prefers fresh greenery, flowers and nature-themed decor to holiday knickknacks, but she doesn't spend a fortune. Some tips:
Dress up topiaries, miniature trees and seasonal greenery from low-cost home improvement stores. Place them in baskets, silver bowls or pottery.
Ask for cut branches and discarded boughs wherever you buy your tree. They're often free.
Buy roses from a grocery store. Cut the stems short and bunch together for old-fashioned charm. Wendy displays them in a vintage silver flower frog (left), echoing the library's paisley wallpaper.
Accent arrangements with pinecones, redtwig dogwood, cattails, pussy willows, twigs and pheasant feathers. Gather items from your yard, or buy them at a crafts supply store.
Start paperwhites early so they bloom in time for the holidays. Display in pots or outdoor urns.
Wendy likes to go antiquing, scouring resale and antiques shops throughout the upper Midwest, gathering old paintings and prints, vintage silver pieces and picture frames, and brown and red transferware (dishes with intricate scenes printed from engravings).
Pieces from Wendy's collection of silver and china create a layered tableau above the family room hearth (left). Rosemary trees and a bouquet of pheasant feathers fill vintage ice buckets and a silver trophy cup for easy, but elegant, decor.
Many of Wendy's secondhand pieces spend the warmer months in a storage closet, but when the holiday season arrives, a trove of mismatched napkin rings and saltshakers comes out. At the dining table, vintage bird china sits on slightly tarnished silver chargers at each place setting. "I like unexpected contrasts," Wendy says.
Vintage china, mismatched silver pieces and golden candles add old-fashioned warmth to the holiday tabletop. An antique corner cabinet (once belonging to Chris' grandfather) holds collectible silver in the dining room.
"I have very few decorations that are strictly Christmas," Wendy says. "I use the things I collect instead."
Holly branches decorate a wrought-iron chandelier like a crown, bringing a casual Christmas accent to the kitchen, where Wendy enjoys making holiday treats with her two young children.
Wendy and Chris revamped the kitchen, laying down maple-plank flooring reclaimed from old benches. Distressed alder cabinets and concrete countertops that mimic soapstone complete the kitchen's makeover. Antique leather nailhead chairs add a touch of history to the eat-in kitchen.
Vintage horse prints, a bronze dog lamp and an antique sideboard from Wendy Boyer's grandfather are on display in the foyer.
Family photos from holidays past create a welcoming vignette when arranged along an entryway mirror. A silver bowl, another of Wendy's vintage finds, cradles a collection of natural materials, including vintage antlers.
In the timber-frame screen porch, urns are laden with narrow cattails, twigs, fresh greens and tiny white lights. Throughout the house, Wendy fills her silver urns, buckets, trophies and bowls with fresh greenery, and before long, the entire home is a sweet-smelling forest.
Concrete corbels support a custom faux-painted range hood in the Boyers' kitchen, while Wendy's greenery adds a festive accent.
A lamb nestles on a living room side table beside vintage frames holding recent family photos printed in sepia tones.
Boyer family traditions include spreading out sleeping bags next to the newly decorated Christmas tree and reading Christmas stories before drifting off to sleep.
Another tradition comes on Christmas Eve, when the family returns home from church to find that Santa (or a secret elf) has stopped by early, lighting the sleigh on their lawn and filling it with presents. Every Boyer unwraps a pair of Christmas pajamas, which they don that night.
Christmas Eve dinner features potato-tot casserole served on the family's best china. "Chris and I grew up on hotdishes," Wendy says. "The casserole grounds us -- it takes us back to simpler times."
On Christmas morning, egg strata bakes in the oven, and the scent of hot, spiced cider fills the air. The family adds the figure of the baby Jesus to the small creche in the living room and shares thoughts on the true meaning of the holiday. Then they open presents while listening to favorite Christmas music. "We give ourselves permission to just hang out together in our pajamas and do nothing," Wendy says. "There's a lot of laughter."
A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® November/December 2007.