by Laura Lucas and John Phillips
On Dec. 5, five Chestnut Hill homeowners will open their doors to the public for the 2015 Christmas Holiday House Tour. Over the next five weeks leading up to the tour, we’ll share some information about these homes as well as some of the traditions used by these families to celebrate the season.
Our first featured home is a twin built in 1891 of Wissahickon schist with a large two-story frame bay and distinctive “Mansard” roof inspired by Napoleon III’s rebuilding of Paris. It includes a third-floor space, and was wildly popular in the later Victorian period. With completion of the commuter rail lines in the 1880s, Chestnut Hill began its transition into one of the first suburbs in America.
The owners of this house have roots in Dallas and Atlanta, both towns known for gracious entertaining. These homeowners’ holiday style successfully combines some traditions of their hometowns with the contemporary style that suits them both so well.
HHT: A big part of the holidays are decorations. What is your holiday decorating style or philosophy?
Homeowners: We like to keep things simple, but sophisticated, and mixed with a little fun.
HHT: Is there a special ornament or decoration that HHT visitors might expect to see? And why it is special?
Homeowners: We alternate our tree decorating schemes. This year guests can expect to see a white flocked tree decorated with ornaments that we impulsively purchased while out of state and hand carried back on the plane!
HHT: What’s your fondest Christmas or holiday memory from your childhood?
Homeowners: Listening to vinyl Christmas albums on the console stereo after decorating the tree.
HHT: What traditions do you try to celebrate around the holidays?
Homeowners: We pull out the china, silver and crystal and make crab cakes on Christmas Eve.
HHT: What’s one decorating tip that you would share?
Homeowners: Edit while adding something new every year.
HHT: What’s your favorite holiday song?
Homeowners: “O Holy Night” – because of its promise of hope and redemption.
HHT: Do you have pets and how do you try to celebrate with them?
Homeowners: We have two cats and two dogs; they get stockings with treats on Christmas morning. (HHT note: be sure to check out the special holiday decorated “pet room” when you visit this home!)
HHT: Complete this sentence: We love the holidays because:
Homeowners: They are a celebration of love, tradition, mystery and surprise.
HHT: Our favorite Christmas or holiday dessert is:
Homeowners: Coconut cake.
HHT: Our research on your home revealed a wonderful evolution story, do you mind if we share?
In post-World War II America, houses from this era were out of favor, and many cut up into apartments or simply neglected. Around 1965, this home was purchased, gutted, and “modernized” with most of the original interior, including partition walls, doors, woodwork, fireplaces, and front and rear stairs removed, as was the style of the period. In 1995, the home was once more remodeled to its current configuration with a luxury kitchen, a Colonial staircase replacing the 60’s-vintage wrought-iron, and new oak floors (no doubt replacing wall-to-wall shag carpet.)
Although little of the Victorian interior remains, with its airy, light-filled floor plan, and extensive cosmetic and mechanical restoration, the home continues to evolve to provide another century of gracious living.
To get your ticket for this year’s Chestnut Hill Christmas-Holiday Tour, visit chestnuthill.org or go directly to Ticketleap.com. Tickets are $45 online and for CHCA members; $50 for non-members. All tickets include access to Woodmere Museum and a welcome reception with drinks and goodies. Registration and convenient starting tour trolley stops takes place at Woodmere and Hill Company. Many area businesses and restaurants offer special discounts to tour attendees that make it a fun day on the Hill with friends, family and love ones. Share your past tour memories on our CHCA Facebook page or #chestnuthillpa.