Driving up to Brooke and Ted Gilliam’s place in the snow-dusted Virginia countryside on a December evening is like arriving at an Alsatian ski house. With white holiday lights dotting the hedges, antler wreaths on the doors, the scent of wood burning and the glow of dozens of candles inside, the yellow stucco house welcomes guests to savor the season.
On the outskirts of the tiny Fauquier County town of Orlean, the Gilliams, their two sons, two cats, one yellow Lab and assorted horses and guinea hens do the holidays up big time. The outside of their home sparkles with hurricane lights and urns of glittery silver faux branches and pine boughs. Indoors, the comfortable mix of antiques, thrift shop finds and barn sale scores showcases an eye for casual country decorating.
Brooke, 39, is always looking forward to the scent of pine in her house. She has a large collection of Christmas accessories, including tabletop pine cone trees and twig garlands, as well as her handmade quilted Christmas stocking from childhood. Brooke grew up in Clifton and as a high-schooler worked at Merrifield Garden Center. She once owned home decor shops in The Plains and Orlean, where she sold holiday accessories and gifts. “From all these experiences, I learned how to decorate everything in and outside of the house . . . wrapping trees with lights, making bows and cutting boughs,” says Brooke, now a mortgage broker. Ted Gilliam, 42, a real estate investor, and their sons Gray, 11, and Porter, 13, take charge of putting the lights on the boxwood hedge as well as the nine-foot family Christmas tree.
The Gilliams’ four-bedroom house, with its four fireplaces, has a lot of charm. The oldest part, which includes the den and the dining room on the main floor and two bedrooms upstairs, dates to 1920. In 1990, a new owner put on an addition reminiscent of something at a French or Italian farmhouse. The original kitchen was ripped off and replaced with a big eat-in country kitchen spilling into a beamed family room with a massive wood-burning fireplace. Upstairs, two bedrooms were added, one with a wood-burning fireplace. In 2001, the Gilliams bought the home and its 20 acres and put on a three-level addition: a basement man/boy cave, a first-floor great room with a gas fireplace and a top-floor home office (also with gas fireplace).
Brooke evokes the holiday season in virtually every room: Doorways are topped with white pine branches tied with a bow; sconces are trimmed with sprigs of holly; stairs get birch bark buckets of red glass balls. She’s continuously clipping something and adding it to a mantel or an urn. “Out here, people are always stopping by, so you want your house to look festive,” she says.
This year, she was going for the “chalet look,” something reminiscent of Bavaria or Alsace. In the kitchen, she surrounded the table she uses for her holiday buffets with bunches of bare sycamore branches. “At night, with dim lights, it looks sort of like you’re in the woods,” she says. She pulled out her ironstone pitchers and filled them with greens, oak leaves, faux silvered branches and lights and put them around the house. On her mantels, she plugged in a couple of table lamps to give a nice glow to the garlands, greens and gold mesh balls she layered for a lush look.
The Gilliams have friends and family over during the whole month of December. Because they were hosting 15 for Thanksgiving dinner, they made their holiday decorating plans early. First, they moved all the furniture from the family room onto the covered side porch and pulled in a large table by the fire, as well as assorted chairs from throughout the house. For her chalet theme, Brooke found perfect centerpieces at Overstock.com: two dramatic bronze metal antler candelabra. They were perfect for Thanksgiving, and now she’ll be hosting Christmas Eve dinner for family and friends at this table, as well as Christmas morning brunch for 12.
Often she sets a second table in the original dining room of the house, which is a small, cozy red space. Here she uses a quilt as a tablecloth and pulls out cranberry glass goblets that belonged to her mother, along with a centerpiece of cut-glass pitchers filled with glittered pine cones and lights.
The Gilliams will get a lot of mileage out of all their efforts. They’re planning to leave the mantel decorations up and refresh them into the new year. “In January and February we get a lot of snow out here, and we often have people over for winter parties,” Brooke says. “These greens give life to the house that time of year.” After all, nobody ever wants Christmas to be over.