O, Christmas Greens
For this 18th century Saltbox renovation in Silvermine, Connecticut, Christmas is all about the garlands.
Venture down the “city sidewalks dressed in holiday style” in Norwalk, Connecticut, and enter designer Lisa Hilderbrand’s neighborhood, Silvermine.
Notice the handmade wreath as you knock softly upon her door, then step over the threshold and through the 19th century into Lisa’s charming historic home. Lisa decorates with antiques and foliage for a festive Victorian home with all the silver bells and whistles.
FROM DOLLHOUSES TO DESIGNS
Lisa, the founder and head designer of Hilderbrand Interiors, grew up playing with dollhouses, but not dolls. “I liked to set everything up, rearrange, redecorate the rooms,” she says, dubbing her early draw to the dollhouse “foreshadowing.” Lisa grew up in a creative household, with an ample foundation to develop her vision for design. “My mother had a knack for beautiful details, and my father was especially talented when it came to design,” she says. More than once, Lisa and her father redecorated the home while her mother was off running errands. “Once, she returned home to find us with the (baby grand) piano stuck between two rooms,” she says.
FOR THIS 18TH CENTURY SALTBOX RENOVATION IN SILVERMINE, CONNECTICUT, CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT BRINGING OUT THE GARLANDS.
Lisa graduated from dollhouses to art history. In New York, employment at Christie’s Auction House further prepared her for the Victorian home lifestyle. “I was spoiled at Christie’s among all of the antiques,” she says. “It ruined me (in the best way) when it came to furniture and especially carpets.” Her experience at Christie’s would become the groundwork for the rug and carpet collections in her own homes.
FROM DILAPIDATED TO DELIGHTFUL
Lisa’s cozy Connecticut home is in historic Silvermine, an unincorporated Connecticut area once purported to house a silver mine. “The house most likely started as a classic little Saltbox in the 1770s-‘80s, and was added on to in 1820,” she says. Then further renovations took place “probably later in the 19th century and again in 1927.” By the time Lisa and her husband found the house, it was much bigger than its original construction. It had also grown dilapidated through centuries of wear and tear. “When we found the house, it was a wreck,” she says. From a “leaky roof ” to “generations of decay and poor renovations,” the house was in a desperate condition. “Looking back, it’s crazy that we bought it,” Lisa says.
But the period home was also full of opportunity and promise. “There were so many exciting elements, too,” Lisa says. “Antique floors … the promise of original beams, brick and stonework hidden behind drop ceilings and sheetrock, seven fireplaces, gorgeous paneled dining room, huge ballroom with high ceilings and beautiful moldings, an outdoor pavilion, sleeping porches upstairs and a third floor.” Renovations would be costly, in both time and money, but Lisa and her husband “took the plunge.”
“My husband and I discovered that we were ‘antique house people.’”
Since making the purchase, Lisa and her husband have updated the house and its systems, while dusting off the beloved antique. As with her childhood dollhouses, Lisa got to work decorating and designing her treasure. She used her expertise as a professional interior designer to bring the home back to life.
COMPOSITION AND BALANCE
“I am a visualizer,” Lisa says. “When I walk into a space, pieces sort of fall together in my mind—sometimes very specific, sometimes more generally.” In the Connecticut home, her main focus is on “composition and balance.” She envisions the area as a whole, and then begins to consider the placement of objects within the room. “Finding one great thing can anchor a space and be a starting point,” she says. “Or the opposite can be true: Put together a great composition and know that I will find the right thing to fill a key spot.”
When it comes to choosing the items that compose and balance a space, Lisa has a few go-to favorites. “I have a fetish for boxes,” she says. “Tea caddies, little treen, leather, lacquer or tôle containers, traveling desks—i have them everywhere.” She also collects rugs, as well as campaign furniture. “I have picked up a chest and trunks along the way,” she says.
DECK THE HALLS
At Christmastime, Lisa infuses tons of fresh foliage into her Victorian home. In addition to introducing cheerful holiday greens into the house, fresh pine boughs and holly are perfect for the Victorian home, because they bring a breath of fresh air to their charming historic surroundings. Plus, greenery is quintessential to traditional Christmas décor. “Antique houses are made for that classic Currier & Ives holiday look,” Lisa says. “I use almost all ‘live’ decorations—the biggest tree possible, garlands, wreaths, branches, pinecones, holly, winterberries and moss.” Lisa also recommends playing up the space above the fireplace with extra greenery. “Many antique homes have non-working fireplaces,” she says. “This is a great place for an arrangement of greens, branches and berries.”
Wreaths are another classic way to bring green into your Victorian home at Christmas. “Nothing is more picturesque than an antique house with a wreath hanging in every window,” Lisa says. To add dimension and variety to your wreath, combine multiple plants for one arrangement. “I like to layer extra branches on top of a mixed green wreath,” Lisa says. Then she adds assorted outdoor offerings such as pinecones, berries and feathers. Lisa recommends wired ribbon for do-it-yourself wreath projects. “It gives me much more control,” she says.
PINE TREE PERFECT
Lisa also capitalizes on her Christmas tree décor. “I try to find the biggest tree possible,” she says. “I like to use white lights—many, many more than a normal person thinks one would need.” Lisa has a unique method for layering her lights, making the tree glow inside and out. “Tuck the lights deep into the tree, then weave them out to the ends of the branches and back in,” she says. “Illuminating the inside of the tree makes the tree glow and twinkle.”
But that’s only the start. After decking out the tree in traditional lights, the next step is to “take reflective plain silver, gold or colored balls, and hang them deep inside the tree,” Lisa says. “These will reflect and multiply all those lights.” And with your tree so graciously illuminated, you’ll be able to let your imagination run wild as you add ornaments. Lisa mixes traditional, vintage decorations with eccentric, multicultural ones. “I cover the tree with as many ornaments as possible,” she says. “Everything from fancy glass ornaments from Neiman Marcus to paper plate ornaments.” Lisa’s trees have sported totem poles and pickles, cowboy Santas and American flags. “You name it, we probably have the ornament,” she says.
Gorgeous wreaths welcome in the winter wonderland in this historic Connecticut Victorian home.
Above. In Lisa’s Victorian home, a 17th century Italian table serves as a charming antique bar, complete with “little julep cups of berries and feathers for a little extra holiday.” opposite. When it comes to decorating the tree, Lisa follows two key principles: bigger is better, and more lights equal a better tree. She starts with the biggest tree possible, then thins the tree at the top and base, resulting in a gumdrop shape. Then, she adds an impressive assortment of lights and ornaments.