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Deck the Halls for Odessa's Holiday Tour


On a summer afternoon, Carla Pyle contemplates some lush hydrangea blooms. It’s a hot day, yet she is thinking of chilly December and decorating for the holidays. Hydrangeas, dried and sprayed with gold paint, would look stunning on a tree. “I think about Christmas all year-round,” she says. “I am always looking for new ways to decorate, that special something that puts a display over the top.” She and her husband, Jeff, live in historic Odessa, where visitors flock each Yule to tour homes that are all dressed for the holidays. This year, Christmas in Odessa marks its 50th year and will feature the Houses of Historic Odessa, four prime examples of 18th-century architecture, as well as a dazzling roster of private homes, including the Pyle house and two homes that will be open to the public for the first time. “We are pulling out all the stops for our golden anniversary,” Pyle says. So, how much does she love Christmas? More than 40 years ago, when she and Jeff married, she packed a small tree to decorate their hotel room as they honeymooned in Florida. “We hung our stockings on the air conditioner and put the tree on the luggage rack,” she recalls. Each year, she decorates nine trees at her home, each with a theme. Her trees have included such flights of fancy as a pine bedecked with butterflies and dried money-tree plants. Another is adorned with antique dolls. “I set up the trees, and Carla and her friends come up with the ideas,” Jeff says. “In all these years, she has never repeated a tree.” Fresh ideas ensure that decorating never becomes a chore. “If you go with the same old routine every year, you will soon lose interest,” she says. “If you change it up, it’s much more fun and you will have more energy.”

photos by ron dubick

Christmas in Odessa will take place Dec. 6, rain, snow or shine. The event raises money for college scholarships for high-school seniors. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 theday of the tour. For details, go to christmasinodessa.com.

Who’s Minding the Store?

The Pyles live in an unusual historic home, the former site of the Davis Store, a general store operated by two unrelated families named Davis from 1828 to 1962.The structure was built in the Federal style, with a two-story residential addition on the back. On the facade facing Main Street, the brickwork is laid in Flemish bond, a decorative technique in which stretchers—the side of bricks—and headers—the ends of bricks—are set in an alternating pattern. The remaining walls are laid in common bond. Like most homes of the era, there are paneled shutters on the first floor to provide privacy and security and louvered shutters on the second story, allowing a breeze to enter during hot weather. When the couple bought their home in 2003, their top priority was to get the property in order for centuries to come. They install central air conditioning, the only known antidote to sultry Odessa summers, and refinished the existing floors. The historic palette was the ideal setting for American Heirlooms by Kenton in Dover to photograph furniture for the company catalog. “We hadn’t moved our furniture into the house yet, so it was easy for them to set up,” Jeff recalls. “And as a thank-you gift, they asked us to choose a piece of furniture that they would build for us.” The Pyles settled on a dining table, a scant 36 inches long, that expands to 10 1/2 feet with the addition of five leaves. The piece is now a table for two in the breakfast room. “We put in a few of the leaves whenever we entertain,” Jeff says. In the store, the original counter, where shoppers ordered deli meats, plumbing supplies and coal, remains in place. During the holidays, the Pyles set out plates of gingerbread men and large glass jars of red and green peppermints on the counter. The shelves are lined with quilts handed down through the family. “People really enjoy seeing what an old-fashioned general store looks like,” Carla says.

Enter the Parlor

The formal living room in the home, attached to the store, is glamorous year-round. Large Audubon prints depict a blue jay, wild turkey, heron and egret, birds you might spot in a quiet stretch of the nearby Appoquinimink River. The portrait of Carla over the mantel was painted when she was a young girl. There’s a ribbon in her strawberry-blond curls and her cat Blackie is at her side. The artist is her mother, Viola Bailey Smith, a poet and member of the National League of American Pen Women, an organization of professional women artists, composers and writers. The inkwell and bronze figurine of a boy reading were handed down by Jeff’s mother. Last year, Carla decorated a tree shimmering with icy silver ornaments. In keeping with the formality of the room, the tree skirt is lace. The crystals sparkling on the tree came from her mother’s chandelier. Because the Pyles keep their trees up for at least a month, they have invested in artificial trees to avoid shedding needles. Pre-lit trees, outfitted with twinkling white lights, are a time saver. For extra bling, Carla hangs additional strings of lights. “If I want to add extra embellishment to the lights, I might tie little bows on the strings,” she says.

This Old House

As their home has evolved over the centuries, there are slight steps up and down between additions. “We are used to it, but we always alert visitors to watch their step,” Jeff says. Their personal addition to the home is a large gourmet kitchen with a center island and Shaker-style cabinets in keeping with the rest of the house. A Palladian window over the farmhouse sink frames a view of the fountain in the garden. The original kitchen was snug and cozy, with beamed ceilings and a fireplace with a crane used for cooking. When the couple built the new kitchen, the former space was transformed into a man cave for Jeff. Kitchen cabinets were converted to bookshelves. There’s a clubby leather sofa in front of the fireplace. The materials the Pyles have integrated into their projects reflect their affinity for history. The heart-pine flooring in Jeff’s room was salvaged from a paper mill in Massachusetts built in 1728. The floors in the kitchen came from a plant in Michigan constructed in the late 1880s. And Jeff repurposed bricks from a tumbledown warehouse to make walkways in the garden.

Home for the Holidays

Last year, Carla set up her dining room for a whimsical holiday tea, hanging china demitasse cups, sparkling spoons, silver tea strainers and mercury glass balls from her dad from the chandelier. This year, she will decorate the room for a golden anniversary party, in honor of Christmas in Odessa’s half-century milestone. The event is the brainchild of the Women’s Club of Odessa, which is noting its 60th anniversary. The group’s clubhouse is marking its 40th year. “So we have a lot to celebrate,” says Carla, who is president of the club. Each year, more than 30 club members and volunteers get together to help decorate homes that will be on the tour, gathering magnolia leaves, boxwood sprigs and pine boughs. Taking down the decorations isn’t nearly as much fun. But many helping hands make the job go faster. Carla is an assiduous sorter, neatly organizing decorations for storage. “Paper ornaments with paper, glass ornaments with glass,” she says. Because the Pyles have so many decorations, the level of organization is even more defined. Ornaments are “If you take everything down and just jam it into tubs, it takes that much longer when you decorate next year,” she says.