ELEMENTS Home: Yule Just Love It

There’s no place like this colonial-style home for the holidays.

Keeping up with Joneses requires a keen eye, an innate sense of design and lots of energy—especially at Christmastime.

That’s when the brick colonial-style home Carol Jones and her husband, Merl, share in Wilmington gets all dressed up for the holidays. For Jones, that means tradition with a twist, in keeping with the vibe of the house the rest of the year.

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“I start getting ready the day after Thanksgiving and put things up in stages,” she says. “And I never do things exactly the same twice. I like to mix it up a bit.”

These days the house is festive, with colorful ornaments, lush greenery and glowing candles. But a scant decade ago, when the couple first bought it, there wasn’t much to celebrate. Once a parsonage for a Methodist church, the home had been empty for years. The Joneses bought it from a couple who thought they might renovate it, but apparently changed their minds.

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Southerners who appreciate grand architecture, the Joneses were smitten by details such as fine millwork, moldings and arched passages with curved doors. A lovely turned staircase in the foyer was intact, as was a built-in cupboard in the dining room with authentic colonial hardware.

“This house has a lot of nooks and crannies, which I find fascinating,” she says.

The year 1930 is detailed in the exterior red brick, but Jones found newspapers dated 1929 in the house when she was searching for records, leading her to believe construction began that year. The house was designed by George Fletcher Bennett, author of “Early Architecture of Delaware” and other books and a noted architect and restorationist who also did work in Odessa.

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Though they had previously lived in newly constructed homes, the Joneses plunged into their restoration with both feet—with projects ranging from updating the kitchen to upgrading the gardens to preserving the plaster—and emerged full-fledged old house aficionados.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Jones says. “In fact, I’d love to do another one.”

When it came time to decorate the house, Jones drew on her roots, remembering the genteel homes she grew up with in Atlanta.

“Hospitality and tradition are very important to Southerners,” she says.

The house offers both in abundance. The living room walls are painted a serene sky blue. Brass sconces, crystal decanters and polished wood tables provide sparkle. Wing chairs and a sofa are clustered around the fireplace, inviting conversation. Smaller tables provide a convenient resting place for a cup of tea, as well as display space for an extensive collection of miniature boxes.

For years Jones traveled regularly to Europe as a flight attendant, bringing home miniatures that include Halcyon Days enamels, French pieces by Limoges and English boxes made by Moorcroft.

“There’s a little French poodle, a wheel of French cheese and a miniature book with a pair of glasses on top,” she says. “I love anything itty bitty.”

At Christmas Jones layers ropes of white pine on the mantel. She piles small lengths of white birch in the fireplace, creating a light and textured base for rows of fat, creamy candles.

She sewed the dramatic curtains herself, attracted to the fabric by its exuberant floral print. Jones says her affinity for strong hues and patterns comes from a design mentor, a decorator she worked with in Atlanta.

“I love color,” she says. “I’m not one for monotones and beiges.”

The fringe on the curtain picks up the blue and rose throughout the space, the sort of embellishment that elevates a room from the ordinary to the sophisticated.

“Details, those little things, are what really pulls a space together,” says Jones, who is now offering professional design services after years of informally advising family and friends.

In the dining room, her large and cherished collection of antique blue-and-white transfer ware, much of it handed down through the family, dictated the color scheme. The compatible pattern she chose for her dinner dishes is Canton Blue by Mottahedah, typified by scenes of rural life in 19th-century China.

“I think the corner cupboard and that china were made for one another,” she says.

Jones chose a fabric with big blue checks to cover the seats of the chairs, a casual yet classic counterpoint to the elaborate carving of the chairs. She sewed curtains in a buttery yellow and blue floral print. During the holidays, she brings in potted poinsettias and a collection of Santa figurines.

Plants and fresh greenery are an integral part of Yule decorating for Jones, a devoted gardener. She forces amaryllis blooms, striped red and white like a candy cane and planted in blue-and-white cachepots.

Two weeks before the holiday, she brings in armfuls of fragrant white pine, as she did when she was a little girl.

“My brothers and sisters and I would gather the greens, and my mother would put them together for us,” she recalls. “In our house, decorating for Christmas was a very important occasion and great fun.”

Jones plucks pepperberry from her yard, which she weaves into wreaths and the garlands that adorn the staircase in the foyer. When she was growing up, finding magnolia leaves in winter was not a problem. After she moved to Delaware, she started buying leaves from a florist.

Because heating systems dry out greens, don’t expect them to last more than two weeks. To keep them from wilting before their time, Jones gives her garlands a daily spritz with a mister.

“I think it helps if you give them a little moisture,” she says. “I enjoy the greenery so much, I want to keep it looking nice for as long as possible.”

After the holidays, when the greens have been discarded and the amaryllis have shed their spectacular blossoms, Jones gets a head start on the next year with thoughtful packing.

“I use the great, big covered plastic boxes with dividers,” she says. “That way, things don’t get squashed—and you can see what’s in there.”

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