Delaware Today magazine 302 Home: Holiday decorating with Denise Hindes of Centreville

Delaware Today magazine 302 Home: Holiday decorating with Denise Hindes of Centreville

A poinsettia, berries and greens dress up a table in the dining area. Most of the year, Denise Hindes keeps her holiday ornaments neatly packed away.

Her creative spirit remains out of the box, at work day in and day out like Santa’s elves. After all, you never know where inspiration will find you. One of her earliest design influences, in fact, was her mother, who made spaces lovely—and did it for a living.

“She was a florist and I learned to make bows from her,” Hindes recalls.

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At her traditional, two-story home in Centreville, a big, red poinsettia is a festive centerpiece on a rustic table in an open dining area adjoining the kitchen. Natural bouquets of berries, pine needles and pine cones, all gathered up with metallic gold and white ribbons, are tied to the top rung of ladder-back chairs.

“The ribbons have wires in them, so you can crunch up the bows for storage and then pull them back into shape the next year,” she says.

Last year, the Hindes’ home was featured on the Delaware Art Museum’s annual holiday tour, a source of decorating ideas for more than 25 years. In addition to house tours, Hindes also scours magazines and visits public spaces that are decorated for the season.

“I try to get to Longwood Gardens every year,” she says. “I take lots of pictures.”

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Candles, pine cones and other decorations are clustered for effect. She begins decorating as November slips into December. As with any major project, having the right tools for the job is essential. On Hindes’ must-have list: a ladder, a step stool, scissors, florist’s wire (super for attaching ornaments and lights to garland), wire cutters and florist’s tape.

“Two ladders are best,” she advises. “That way you can station one on either side of the tree and hand the lights back and forth to your helper as you wrap them around the tree.”

On her quest for the perfect evergreen, Hindes starts shopping early when the selection is greatest. She tags the tree and leaves it on the lot, where it will keep better, until she is ready to take it home. (Hint: When you pick up your tree, ask the nursery to make a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk so the tree can absorb water more readily.)

Each year, she decorates two trees. One is a realistic-looking artificial model; the other is the real deal.

She places a smaller artificial tree on an open landing at the top of the stairs, so visitors can see it when they enter the front door. That tree is decorated formally, with coordinated ornaments that reflect a color scheme she changes every few years.

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“In the 1990s, it was white, silver and gold, then red and green,” she recalls. “Then I mixed it up again, to red, white and gold.”

The second tree—the live one—is larger, standing a few inches below the 10-foot ceilings in the family room.

“There’s just enough space to get the star on top,” she says.

Hindes’ son and daughter are now young adults and she cherishes the ornaments that reflect the years they were growing up, including collectible balls from Archmere Academy and the University of Delaware. Typically, the rule of thumb is to place delicate decorations near the bottom of the tree. They don’t drop far and are less likely to break.

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The staircase is draped with natural items and lights. Hindes, who has two cats, recommends the opposite approach for animal lovers.

“No fragile balls at the bottom of our tree,” she advises.  As for wild pets, recycle the tree after the holidays by chopping it into several sections and placing it outside. Sparrows and other small birds use brush as a refuge from the wind.

The house boasts a large, elegant foyer with a black-and-white marble checkerboard floor and a dramatic staircase. The staircase is decked out in high style, with garlands of pine interspersed with silk poinsettia blossoms, glittering ribbons and twinkling lights.

“If you have a party and want to do one smashing thing, make it live greens with lots of lights on the staircase,” she says. “It looks especially beautiful in the evening because the lights pop.”

Hindes clusters pots of poinsettias at the bottom of the stairs. They make a lush display, and cover extension cords.

Each year, she hosts Christmas dinner for her extended family. She sets the table with the china in the Lenox Holiday pattern, which features traditional holly leaves on an ivory field.

“It’s a classic and I never get tired of it,” she says. “Of all the china I’ve owned, it’s my favorite.”

Dinner is served, buffet-style, on the kitchen island. For dessert, the family heads to the formal dining room, where candles flicker on the mantel and there’s a fire burning merrily. A miniature evergreen set in a painted china bowl is dressed with red berries.

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A collection of Santa figurines adorn the grand piano.Hindes replaces the figurines and framed photographs in the lighted curio cabinet with Christmas decorations and other reminders of the season.

“It’s different every year,” she says. “Ornaments, little trees, pine cones.”

Hindes has been collecting Santa figurines for years. She groups the Santas with greens on top of the grand piano in the parlor for maximum visual impact.

She came up with her own system for hanging wreaths outdoors on the French doors on either side of the main entryway. Simply loop a large ribbon through the wreath, open the door, pull the ribbon over the top of the door and anchor on the other side.

“You can hang a nice bow on the inside of the door if you want to give it a really finished look,” she says.

One of the first tasks of the New Year is taking down ornaments and decorations. Hindes cuddles her Santas in bubble wrap and lays them flat in bins between layers of white tissue paper. (Hint: Store decorations in clear plastic bins so you can readily identify what’s inside. Place a label listing the contents on each bin.)

Packing up the ornaments is a time to reflect on the joys of the season and the memories that were created with family and friends.

“I know that a lot of people grumble about having to put away the Christmas decorations,” she says. “But I enjoy taking things down, too.”


Get the Look
  • Make a grand entrance. Usher guests into your home with a dazzling vignette. In the Hindes home, it’s a dramatic staircase decked out with greens, ribbons and lights.
  • Serve a portable feast for the eyes. Fill a large bowl with shiny balls and pine cones. Place the bowl on a kitchen counter or any other space that needs a bit of holiday cheer. Whisk to a new location when you need that space for something practical.
  • Let there be light. Cluster candles. Tuck tiny white lights in large houseplants and topiaries.
  • Mix it up. Bring in fresh greens and place them behind mirrors or on top of tall furniture, where needles will last longer. Decorate with high-quality artificial wreaths and garlands in high-traffic areas, such as a staircase, or warm spots, such as the fireplace mantel.

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