Text by Cindy Cooper
Since her childhood, Christmas has had a special meaning for lighting designer Julie Neill as a cherished time spent with family and friends as they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and enjoy traditions passed down for many generations. Julie’s late-19th-century cottage has wonderful architectural details, and her outdoor holiday decorations showcase the home’s historic style and display her love for the season. Passersby and guests alike are greeted with fresh evergreen garlands draping the iron fence, natural wreaths adorning the windows and doors, bright chartreuse ribbons, and lights twinkling from the hedges and the ivy topiaries on the porch.
Inside the home, Julie, with help from her daughter, Isabelle, loves to spread Christmas cheer throughout with special details and personal touches in every room. Collecting glass ornaments has been a joyous tradition for Julie over the years, and she uses her vintage family ornaments, plus pieces purchased new each year, to fashion creative displays.
For instance, in the sitting room, the chandelier becomes a focal point with vintage gold ornaments tied to its arms, accenting the cozy daybed below. And a simple dried boxwood wreath topping a side table brings a pop of seasonal color.
Nearby, an antique chair, too delicate to sit on, has its original muslin seat and serves as a backdrop for a bright-colored stack of Shakespeare’s works topped with a diorama ornament and a simple pine cone wreath.
The living room also features Julie’s collection of vintage and hand-blown glass ornaments arranged in a wooden bowl of greenery, while a stately antique urn holds a small fresh spruce tree surrounded by pink-and-green hydrangeas for a slight touch of color.
On an adjacent table, a whitewashed statue of the Virgin Mary is adorned with a vintage rosary, pine cones, and a small silver vase of white tulips. A decorative crown and a framed Jennifer Shaw photograph of a New Orleans cast-iron balcony add to the traditional vignette.
A fresh spruce garland drapes the mantel along with ornate miniature stockings that complement the ornament-laden Christmas tree. More greenery sprigs and ribbons are scattered here and there on tabletops, and even a stone cherub figure topping the demilune table is given a golden halo and green garland.
Julie notes that the people who visit her home look forward to enjoying her personal collections and special décor just as much as she does each holiday season. Every year, Julie hosts two special dinners and several impromptu get-togethers as they arise. “Our home is known for its Christmas magic, and guests look forward to celebrating with us,” says Julie. She and Isabelle prepare the food, adding a few new surprises each year. “We like to do ‘Secret Santa,’ and after dinner, we exchange handmade gifts that each person creates especially for the person’s name they drew,” Julie explains.
On Christmas Eve, the family hosts a large dinner party with family and friends, and they all exchange gifts afterwards. “We begin cooking a couple of days ahead, and my son, Henry, who is also a great cook, comes over to add the finishing touches on the meal,” Julie says. A beautiful table setting is planned each year and complements the decorations Julie has chosen. Minton china, a gift from her grandmother to celebrate Julie’s birth, is used at every holiday celebration, and it makes Julie feel like her grandmother’s spirit is with the family as they gather around the table. And since pink is Julie’s favorite color, it finds its way into the holiday tablescape and much of her home’s décor year-round.
Shades of pink continue into the serene master bedroom with miniature ornaments adorning an antique tinsel tree on a tabletop with small angel portraits in pastel colors. A simple wreath of dried glittering foliage and ivory ribbons hangs over the bed.
Julie explains that, for her, time seems to stand still during the holidays, and she savors every moment. “I always leave a small gift in each person’s bedroom to be opened on Christmas morning,” she says. “For me, this is cherished time together.”