O, Christmas Greens

Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Stephanie Agnes-crock­ett

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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...

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