The Christmas season is a time for family traditions. For Kaye Bowles-Durnell and Gerry Durnell, their family tradition started the first year they were married, 10 years ago. Because Kaye's father always made Christmas a magical time, Kaye wanted to continue the tradition in her own way. "It started out with a dinner party," says Kaye, which they continued as an annual event. For this special evening she wanted to create a mood . . . warm, welcoming, and festive. "I wanted our guests to have the sense that as soon as they saw the house they knew something special was happening there."
So Kaye starts the decorating outside to give the house that special Christmas glow, tantalizing people to want to see what is inside. She ties red velvet bows around the three eight-foot ivy-covered bear topiaries in the front yard and the smaller elephant and rabbit topiaries lining the driveway. More topiary bears and an elephant in the back yard also get red velvet ribbons. Christmas lights in the trees and over the doors and windows add the final touch to the look.
Inside Kaye decorates elaborately, appealing to all senses. She uses lots of fresh greenery that fills the air with the wonderful smell of Christmas. Lit Amaretto nogg-scented candles (by Aromatique found at Miller's Fancy Bath) cast a soft glow. Christmas lights are tucked away in the swags draping the mirrors and garlands which decorate the staircase. Fresh flowers are everywhere.
To fill the house with music the night of the party, Kaye hires harpist Luneita Cotton. Sug Schusterman, a regular guest at the Durnell's Christmas party says, "It is just a picture-perfect house at Christmas. Any time you are invited to Kaye's house it's a visual treat." Jokingly, Sug says, "Kaye is a much nicer version of Martha Stewart." Kaye often merits the Martha Stewart comparison. Her nieces have nicknamed Kaye's basement "Martha's world" because all the Christmas goodies are stored there: ornaments, vases, candles, ribbons, and lights.
Kaye's secret to hosting a magical Christmas dinner party is "just organization and planning," she says nonchalantly. So the big job of decorating the house for Christmas begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and lasts two weeks. Remarkably up until last year Kaye did all the decorating herself. She has help now.
Kaye gathers cuttings to decorate with from her own trees: magnolias, hollies, pines and spruces. (When they moved into the house nearly nine years ago they planted eight magnolia trees.) The cuttings are stored in buckets of water in the garage. She buys additional greenery at Trinity High School's fundraiser. The artificial swags and garlands are brought upstairs from the basement and secured above mirrors, doorways, paintings, banisters, around sconces, on tables and anywhere else Kaye can find to place them. Once the artificial greenery is in place, Kaye fills in with her fresh cuttings. Now a color theme is chosen. Ribbons and ornaments are selected accordingly. One year in the dining room Kaye used peach, pale green, and gold. Another year traditional green and red was used. "Just keep adding on," explains Kaye.