All That Glitters | Generations Add Holiday Sparkle to Family Home
Photography by Michael Patch
For 43 years, Archer and Billy Hunt have made their home in a residence that’s been in the family for four generations. They raised their four sons here and now their nine grandchildren visit often, keeping the house young and alive.
Built to last
This elegant Georgian house was built in 1926 by Mrs. Hunt’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Davis Bell. The firm of Craighill and Cardwell designed the house. Archer says that, “my grandfather was said to have worked very closely with the architects, and he had a vision of how he wanted the house designed.” He wanted there to be an open view from one end of the house to the other with a graceful hanging staircase that extended to the third floor. He also envisioned the wide foyer that reaches to the back of the house, framing a view of the mountains beyond.
When the house was built, the entire area was nothing more than pastures. In fact, Archer says her grandmother often heard cows mooing while in her kitchen, and no more than one or two cars passed by every day. To this day, even with all the modern houses built around them, Billy says they still have mountain views out of any window in the back of their house. The original teak, wide plank floors, as well as the elaborate chair rails and double crown moldings, are still found throughout the house.
With a house so steeped in family history, Archer could not wait to start her own family Christmas decorating traditions. The Hunts always decorate early so that they have prolonged time to enjoy the season. Archer loves all things about Christmas and tries to create a magical, old fashioned Christmas setting. She loves to use real greenery combined with faux. She will spray holly, magnolia, seed pods, pines cones and nandina with silver and gold paint to enhance the holiday sparkle. Archer says, “I like for things to glitter. My family calls it my fairy dust.”
When you enter the front door, the Christmas magic begins. The banister that extends to the third floor is decorated with lighted garlands and embellished with gold ribbons and bows. Sprays of gold magnolia and olive leaves are also tucked in the garland. On the second floor landing, Archer has a new tree, done in blue and white chinoiserie ornaments.
Flowing off of the foyer, the living room is Christmas central and home to several family traditions. The most important part of the décor for the Hunts is the actual tree, nicknamed “Big Betty” by Archer for its huge size. The Hunts order a tree every year from Virginia Garden Supply that stretches from the floor to ceiling, sometimes with little or no room for an angel at the top. Colored lights and collected glass ornaments adorn almost every branch of the tree. The tree resides in the living room along with a huge collection of Department 56 Snow Village scenes.
Archer was given her first Snow Village piece by her great friend Lalla Sydnor, who knew of Archer’s love of miniatures and dollhouses. Archer says, “Lalla was my Christmas angel who started the tradition of family and friends giving me more pieces to add to the collection.” The grandchildren love to help unpack and set up the village. Archer lets them be creative and decorate at will, even if it means townspeople figurines dangling from trees or faceplanted on the ice-skating rink. Anything goes.
The rest of the living room Christmas décor is done in green and gold tones that complement the American, English and French antiques in the room. The mantel a lush magnolia garland that is interspersed with gold ribbon, berries, pinecones and seedpods. A pair of gold topiaries and a gold angel round out the adornments on the mantel.
Let in the light
Off of the living room through French doors is the sunroom. Above the French doors are a pair of antique terra cotta rams heads that Archer and Billy carried home from Paris in their suitcases. The Hunts line the sunroom walls with scenic watercolors from a Paris flea market.
This light and airy room houses Billy’s bottle opener Christmas tree. Over the last 30 years, his friends and family have given him and/or he has collected over 3,000 openers. Each year, the tree is decorated only with the openers he has received this year. This collection brings him joy as each one has a special memory of a trip or close friend.
Billy also has a collection of seashells and sea glass on the coffee table in this room that he has collected on vacations in the same way. The grandchildren even bring home shells for the table now. Archer jokes that when the table collapses under its own weight, then maybe he will have enough pieces, and that “Billy is the only person I know who has traveled all over the world and shipped home two boxes of rocks and shells.”
The mantel in this room is centered around a beautiful Italian papier mâché nativity set tucked into fresh magnolia, boxwood and gold ribbon. The first piece of the nativity was given to Archer by a close friend, and she has collected the other pieces little by little over the years. The Hunts fondly remember the day when their youngest son, Davis, as a little boy, pulled a chair up to the mantel and started playing with the crèche. Apparently when asked what he was doing he replied that “he was just playing with the God people.” Totally amused, Billy took him the very next day to purchase his own plastic set that he could play with more safely on a lower table.
The Hunts say that many of their collections are due to friends and family, and it’s one of the many reasons they love Christmas. They say, “Christmas makes us stop a minute and remember our friends and family and makes us realize how grateful that we are to have had them in our lives.”
On the other side of the foyer resides the dining room. At Christmas the dining room table is covered in a white tablecloth that was custom made by an artisan in France, and then Archer ties a big red ribbon around the entire table with bows on all four corners. She says, “Christmas is a gift and this is how I symbolize it.”
At any other time of the year though, she adds, guests can see the divets in the table from four boys playing ping pong on it. Not to be outdone by the table, the walls in the dining room are one of the most memorable parts of the house. They are covered in scenic French wallpaper depicting flora and fauna from all over the world by famous French woodblock artist Jean Zuber. The colors have mellowed and darkened over time, and Archer says it feels like sitting in an oil painting. When the house settled a few years ago, a crack appeared in the mural walls. The grandchildren asked Archer about it, and in her typical form, she tells them it’s part of the mural — lightning from a terrible storm.
The centerpiece of the dining room table is a peacock figure that Archer hand made. Peacock feathers emerge from a body made of grapevine. Archer found inspiration for the peacock from the wallpaper.
Christmas china sits atop gold chargers and the family sterling silver flatware and candlesticks also add shimmer to the table. Waterford goblets reflect light around the room as well. The family tries to have Christmas Eve dinner here every year.
Off of the dining room, the breakfast room has a special treat for the grandchildren.
Archer uses the table here to stage a hot chocolate and dessert bar, proving just how much this house is about family. A silver platter holds a sterling pitcher with cream and sugar. Other vases hold candy canes for dipping and cake bites for nibbling. What child wouldn’t love this? Wreaths and miniature trees round out the décor in this room, adding to the lovely mixture of watercolor art on the walls, some done by Archer herself.
The Hunt’s home is loved and cherished by all members of their family, but also by their friends. Archer says, “Christmas is such a magical time of year. It evokes happy memories and traditions of family and friends. We are always reminded of the true meaning of Christmas and celebrate the joy and love that it represents.” Their house is filled with not only lovely items but also beautiful stories of kindness and friendship. Many say, “all roads lead home at Christmas,” and if you are lucky, your road may lead to this house. ✦
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