If the retail displays haven’t put you in the holiday mood, the St. Thomas Rotary Christmas tour of homes offers to do so. The 23rd annual tour opens the doors to four homes decorated by local florists and designers Nov. 9-11. It’s a feel-good weekend of trees, tinsel and music to support many of the Rotary Club’s projects.
Start with the candlelight Friday night preview, or gather a group of friends and wend your way around Elgin County during the day. Here are 10 highlights to get the most from your tour.
Variety of house styles as seasonal settings: The homes this year include a century cottage expanded into a luxurious all-year home; a ranch filled with antiques; a spacious custom-built house; and a new model home featuring many upgrades. The selection committee looks for diversity to showcase possibilities and inspire. They also included the CASO (Canada Southern) railway station where participants can relax over a cup of hot cider and see four trees done up in different styles by local designers.
Variety of decorating styles: There’s a place for every taste, from coastal teal and aquamarine, to shore and waves in blues, sandy brown and cream. The model home is a blank canvas for Berry Hill Ltd. Visitors also will want to check out the energy efficiencies of the net-zero complete home: solar panels, monitoring system and on-demand water heater. The fourth house shows how to incorporate antiques into a 21st-century house.
A first-time old-time approach: This year, one of the homeowners also is the decorator for her home. “It is totally furnished with antiques the owners bought anywhere you can buy and refinish yourself,” said tour organizer Patricia Martyn. The family room fireplace dates to the 1800s and was rescued and refurbished by the owners. Wall treatments give the illusion of vintage wallcoverings, and lights throughout the house are antique fixtures.
Use of non-traditional colours: Two houses feature cool hues, not the usual red and green. Heritage Garden Gallery will show how to be creative with a teal, coastal vibe and how to work with unique aspects of a custom house.
Themes for different rooms: One house has seven bedrooms that reflect the Mediterranean taste of previous owners and the Victorian pieces the current owner brought from their farmhouse. The colours vary too, from orange and yellow to pink. Some houses will include children’s rooms. Often, designers decorate a tree in each room to show matching themes.
Simplify the decor: Casa del Lago in Port Stanley began as a one-storey cottage in 1910, morphed into a Mediterranean villa, took on some Victorian touches, and now serves as home, studio and entertaining centre for June and Ross Ayrhart. They removed walls, opening the interior up to the panoramic view of Lake Erie. They also unified the main level by removing brick, painting the walls a soothing blue (Just Charming by Beauty Tone) and adding art and accents of sailing and ports from their travels around the world.
Bring the outside indoors: Rose Caris, creative designer for McLennan Flowers and Gifts, wanted to make the most of the lakeside setting. “The blue is unique,” said Caris. “Blue and grey are so in as colours now.” She moved the tree to the side of the window, and chose ornaments that echo sand and water and the furnishings: soft blue balls, white berries and crystal sprays, and burlap poinsettias with clusters of silver bells in the centre. She chose the burlap for its similarity to sand in texture and colour. On the mantel, a bare twig sculpture provides hanging space for clear glass balls. The mini-lights make the balls sparkle like sun on the water outside. Pine cones, crystals sprays and clusters of blue balls repeat the theme.
Open concept means co-ordinated decor: “When you have an open concept, the colours all have to blend in,” said Caris. From the dining table, to the kitchen island to the tree in the sitting room, she shows how to use the colours to unify without merely doing the same thing in each area. For example, the chandelier above the table will be adorned with crystal sprays picking up one of the elements from the mantel display.
Do-it-yourself ideas: How to trim a tree, how to co-ordinate an open area or give new life to an old sideboard – the tour is chock full of fun ideas to take home and try. “People are going to see things they can do themselves,” said Caris. One example is using their existing colour scheme. “If you have a blue room, a red tree will not do,” said Caris.
Do some gift shopping with a bid on silent auction items: Support from the tour funds projects in the community and around the world, such as the clean water project in Cameroon, the Rotary Music Festival in St. Thomas, and the YMCA’s Strong Kids program.