Big families are often synonymous with chaos and pandemonium, and around the holidays—double the frenzy. But at a certain home in New Canaan, one vibrant family of eight embraces the holiday season with fun, festivities and impeccable organization.
“Simply put, I’m Christmas-obsessed,” laughs the homeowner and matriarch of this crew, who credits her love of the holidays to her parents. “They never did the holidays halfway. It was all about family and being with friends, parties, presents and lots of celebrating. I loved it all and wanted to replicate the same experience for my family,” she explains.
The couple moved from the east side of New Canaan into town in 2012 to be near the homeowner’s mom and sister. With help from Louise Brooks of Brooks & Falotico Associates and Cardinal Construction, they built a stunning modern colonial that lends itself to a minimalist vibe with clean architectural lines, an open floor plan, glass walls and oversized windows, and an all-neutral palette. Designer Tori Legge of Stirling Mills was integral in the planning and masterminded the interiors which reflect a chic, serene vibe, void of clutter. “My husband had a vision of the house looking like it had been here for 100 years from the front, like a Soho loft inside, and like Northern California in the back, which was achieved with our great architectural and design team as well as landscape architect Greg Lombardi,” says the wife.
During the holiday season, their whole gang gathers under one roof and, “it’s our favorite time of year because all the kids are home,” she says. With three kids in college, two in boarding school and one in middle school, how does she plan, coordinate and still manage to enjoy the most wonderful time of year?
This supermom of six has always been a meticulous list- maker, which helps greatly when there’s a lot to do. She describes her holiday style as neither more-is-more nor sparse, but she sticks to a few rules of thumb that make everything run smoothly. “We usually go to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving, but two things happen the day after: We turn on our outdoor Christmas lights, and everyone comes home to decorate,” she says. “The whole family pitches in, and we keep everything up until the second week of January so we can enjoy it all.”
For the interiors, she follows the same plan every year and builds on it, using trees and greenery wherever possible. She starts with four Christmas trees: one in the dining room, one in the family room and two in the common sitting areas outside the boys’ and girls’ rooms. Collections of different sized nutcrackers and soft, flecked cowhide rugs or furry tree skirts surround the tree bases. “I tend to go all silver and white in the kitchen, gold in the living room, blue and green in the girls’ sitting room and red in the boys’ area. “Having a color scheme in each space makes setting the scene easy,” she says. One of the trees is filled with all needlepoint ornaments sewn by her mother, highlighting something that each kid saw or experienced that year. “Christmas cards are also one of my favorite traditions, and I start writing them early,” notes the mom. “We always end up with one group photo during the year, and I like that it varies every time—this year it’s from one of our daughter’s graduations.”
In the family room, part of a shared “great room” with the kitchen, strands of greenery and berries set the scene on the mantel. Wooden antlers, pheasant feathers and mercury glass pine cones and snowmen are tucked within to add a little glam. Several Byers’ caroling figurines that the family has collected over the years and a few stuffed Santas make appearances in various rooms, and mini trees from Terrain in Westport mark every other cantilevered step leading to the second floor. On her elegant round dining table, guests see a vignette of miniature pale pink feather and faux fur trees nestled among a bundle of organic selenite sticks and velvet reindeer.
With the décor down to a science, the homeowner can focus on other aspects of the holidays. Given her large family, traditions are important, and “we have a million,” she says. When the kids were little, Santa (aka their father), wrote letters to each of them summarizing their year and stuffed them in their stockings. Even though the kids are grown, he still reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to them every year after the family attends the Christmas Eve caroling service on God’s Acre.
As far as gifts go, “I always try to shop early so I can enjoy December,” she says, starting in the fall to source presents for her kids’ teachers and tutors, as well as her friends. “Sometimes I make spiced nuts or truffles, or choose a book or a candle, just something to say thank you.” She also has a clever solution for present-wrapping. “When the kids were born, I had a bunch of cloth bags made in Christmas fabric in all different sizes. Each kid gets several bags and I sort their gifts in them. I don’t have to feel guilty for using tons of wrapping paper, and the bags look festive and pretty under the tree.”
Perhaps the biggest tradition, however, is the Making of the Orange Rolls. “The original recipe is from my grandmother, and my mom, sister and I have used it for ages.” Now, the whole family pitches in to mix, knead and roll the dough and leave it to rise. “It’s so fun to have freshly baked bread, and the kids love it. One year I tried to skip it, but they wouldn’t let it go.”
While quality family time is a must, this group also loves spending the festive season with friends. “I love to entertain and we usually host a party in December.” she remembers, “my parents always did this, and it’s a great way to get everyone together.”
Meals are another aspect that make this family’s holiday special. Breakfast on Christmas morning is the big draw, with mimosas, breakfast soufflé and the beloved orange rolls, served on the Christmas Spode china gifted from her sister. The family opens their stockings, shares presents then heads to church. “Sometimes we play paddle in the afternoon to get out of the house,” she explains. She and her sister alternate houses for the dinners each year which includes filet mignon, her sister’s incredible caviar potatoes, a decadent chocolate buche de Noel cake from Rosie on Elm Street and handmade Christmas cookies. “Having Christmas Eve and Christmas day meals are even more special because my mom and sister live in town. The three of us love spending the holidays together,” she emphasizes.
After the festivities are over, presents opened and the dishes put away, the family takes a vacation out west to ski, rest and recharge. They never waiver from spending Christmas at home, however. “There’s nowhere I’d rather live than New Canaan, especially at Christmastime. It’s just perfect.”