From the December 2019/January 2020 Issue  

Bringing Christmas Tradition to this Upper Saddle River Home

Writer Ren Miller  |  Photographer Peter Rymwid  |  Location Upper Saddle River, NJ  |  Holiday Decor Laurie Luttrell

The rear foyer, identical in shape and size to the front foyer, includes a table holding more Christmas memories in the form of framed photos of the children sitting on Santa’s lap. Two trees that Luttrell created with silk cherry blossoms attached to dragonwood add a touch of nature.

Family and friends celebrate the holidays in style in Upper Saddle River

Loving Christmas comes naturally to some people, like the owners of this Upper Saddle River home. “Christmas has always been absolute magic to me,” the wife says. “It was a very happy time for my family when I was growing up. We all enjoyed decorating: the lights, the music, the warmth and the joyful feelings those things evoked were simply unparalleled throughout the year.”

If anything, those feelings have grown even stronger over the years for the couple; the home they share with their two young children is a good example. “I want everyone who comes into my home this time of year to feel as though they just stepped inside a Christmas ball,” she says. “I want the overwhelming warmth and joy that Christmas brings to envelop my family and friends from the moment they walk in to long after they leave.

“I want them to be able to shake off the day’s worries and get lost in the happiness of the giving season.”

That goal of happiness is one the wife learned early in life from the stories she heard of her own father’s childhood in the Bronx. He grew up, one of six children, in a family with a modest income but extravagant love. Her grandfather would drill holes in an old broomstick, and her father and his siblings would create a tree by filling the holes with branches of discarded evergreen branches they had collected. They draped drug-store silver garland and tinsel over the branches until the “tree” glistened in the light.

In the dining room, gold and silver ribbons with blue/gray coloring and strings of faux pearls on the trees complement the garland on the table and console. The trees are actually only half trees so they fit tightly against the wall rather than encroach into the dining space. “We continued our theme of “encrusted” with texture and size variation,” Luttrell says. The garlands themselves feature white lights, ribbons, flowers and ornaments in silver and gold. The stemware is Waterford and the china is Vera Wang by Wedgwood.

Fast forward one generation and her parents were able to have a real Christmas tree (“something my father was very proud of,” she says), but he still had to have his silver garland and tinsel — boxes and boxes of tinsel, she says. “[The tree] became a giant, light-reflecting, silver mirror in the shape of a tree,” she recalls, amused. “And we loved it. We loved it because we created it together. We made it our own, but we still paid homage to Christmases past.”

Fast forward one more generation, and today the wife carries on the glistening tradition at her own home. “I honor my childhood Christmases and all of the magic that came with them, but in a way that also reflects my husband, our children and the way we currently live,” she says.

The living room says “art” to Luttrell so she searched for holiday décor that feels “artsy.” Her choices include oversized latex poinsettias and magnolias and cascading beaded crystal branches. The fireplace is decorated with a mantel garland that complements the tree décor plus hanging crystals with marabou feathers. The snow-covered twig wreath over the fireplace is one of four in the home; two more hang in the dining room and one decorates the powder room. “Repetition keeps everything cohesive,” Luttrell says.

The wife tries to involve all of the senses in the holiday décor. “The decorated trees, garlands, swags and wreaths provide a lot of visual stimulation,” she says. “We also include many textures on the trees so the children (and the adults) can touch and feel as well.” She has Christmas music playing throughout the house all day and evening, some of it with lyrics and some instrumental. “I also include live plants and greenery where it is safe to do so, mostly by the motor court and the front door, so the aromas of the season greet you from the moment you step out of your car. And the Christmas treats. “My mother and I make Christmas cookies with my daughter each year (with varying degrees of success),” she says. “People do seem to come back for seconds of our chocolate-covered Oreo balls, so at least those are a hit.”

The entryway runs the entire depth of the home and comprises three sections. The first section, the front foyer, is a square space featuring a round table holding an organically shaped vase filled with large white, silver and gold balls and a collection of golden deer.

She also has help. The wife met Laurie Luttrell of Laurelwood Designs in Washington Township when she was looking for someone to provide the floral décor for a baby shower and has called on her on numerous occasions since then. Luttrell’s award-winning floral design boutique specializes in creating flowers for weddings and other special events, but then transforms into one of Santa’s elves in helping clients decorate for the holidays as the seasons change. When the homeowners moved into their current residence in 2015, they knew Luttrell was the right person to bring onboard for the holiday décor. “She is my go-to décor professional,” the wife says.

“We work very well together,” Luttrell adds. “I take her with me on shopping trips because I want the décor to truly reflect her design style. She is very involved but does trust me to run with her overall idea. She knows I ‘get her.’” Both women have a passion for interior design. In fact, the wife has her own decorating firm, Curating the Everyday, based in Upper Saddle River, that does interior design, home décor and home staging. For her part, Luttrell focuses on a client’s interior design when planning her designs. “I feel the holiday decorating should either coordinate or complement your interior design,” she notes.

A chest in the living room is topped with a stone tablet in an iron frame the wife found at a show house. “I love to travel and to see ancient architecture and ruins, so this piece spoke to me,” she says. Luttrell added the swag under the tablet.

The owners also call on Scenic Landscaping in Haskell to help with landscaping (for example, a flowing knot garden with a boxwood hedge and tightly pruned holly bush accents) as well as decorating the front door for the holidays and filling the cast limestone planters on top of four piers at the front of the motor court. The planters hold different materials each season, with winter arrangements of magnolia leaves (one of the wife’s favorites), Japanese cryptomeria branches, Norway spruce branches and dried pinecones.

The husband also gets involved, putting up the trees indoors and, with a neighborhood handyman, placing more than 50,000 miniature white lights on the shrubs and trees leading to the motor court. He and his wife decorate and hang the wreaths. “My husband loves Christmas as much as I do,” the wife says. For his first meeting with his then-future in-laws, he planned a dinner for the two couples at Rolf’s, a restaurant in New York City that’s known as much for its holiday décor as for its German cuisine (the wife’s father is German). “In fact, Rolf’s highly concentrated décor inspired some of our own decorating,” the wife says.

 


The homeowners call this staircase space between the front and rear foyers the rotunda, though the wife says they laugh at that “overly formal moniker.” Here guests encounter the first Christmas tree, decorated with multiple types of ribbon, cascading iced amaranthus, crystal icicles, hydrangeas, poinsettias, magnolias, roses, oversized gold and silver ornaments, large glittered snowflakes, delicate mercury glass ornaments, gold-encrusted leaf garlands, beaded fruit and snow-flocked wired branches. The rotunda also has swags and a staircase garland that complement the tree, all with battery-powered lights. The train that circles the tree was added in 2018, the year the couple’s young son became obsessed with The Polar Express. “He spent the entire Christmas season yelling ‘All aboard!’ in his best Tom Hanks voice,” the wife recalls.

Luttrell describes the highly concentrated style as an “encrusted designer look.” Examples abound in every decorated space, and many pieces elicit fond memories. The colors of the oversized balls in the urn in the front foyer remind the wife of the ivory and gold ornaments her mother gave her annually while she was growing up. “My collection of ornaments is one of my most prized possessions and is a tradition I continue for my own children,” she says.


Another memory dates back to when the wife was 14 and she and her father wanted to create a special decoration but on a budget. Her father, a sheet metal worker, burned sheets of metal into a silhouetted image of Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer. She then added details by painting the entire 30-foot design, and they hung the finished work, complete with a lighted nose on Rudolph, on their fence. “Creating that scene is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I think of it every time I walk in my home and see a collection of golden deer in our front foyer,” she says.

To this day, the couple maintain the overall color scheme of her mother’s favorite ivory and gold and her father’s favorite silver. From the day in mid-October when they start putting up the exterior lights to the second week of January when Luttrell returns to remove and store the decorations for the next year, the owners find their home the perfect place to host everything from immediate family get-togethers (husband and wife both have birthdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas) to parties for friends and business associates.


Three Tips from Laurie Luttrell

“Any good tree design must include a variety of sizes and textures.”

“One mistake people make is trying to decorate a 12-foot tree with ornaments meant for a 7 ½ foot tree. It’s not powerful enough. Also, if you don’t have enough décor you will be underwhelmed.”

“People often add garlands to their staircases but forget the lights. The lights always add a little magic! ”Luttrell says.  Battery-operated lights are ideal for staircase garlands, table arrangements, swags and other decorations that aren’t located near an electrical outlet.


Loving Christmas comes naturally to some people, like the owners of this Upper Saddle River home. “Christmas has always been absolute magic to me,” the wife says. “It was a very happy time for my family when I was growing up. We all enjoyed decorating: the lights, the music, the warmth and the joyful feelings those things evoked were simply unparalleled throughout the year.”

If anything, those feelings have grown even stronger over the years for the couple; the home they share with their two young children is a good example. “I want everyone who comes into my home this time of year to feel as though they just stepped inside a Christmas ball,” she says. “I want the overwhelming warmth and joy that Christmas brings to envelop my family and friends from the moment they walk in to long after they leave.

“I want them to be able to shake off the day’s worries and get lost in the happiness of the giving season.”

That goal of happiness is one the wife learned early in life from the stories she heard of her own father’s childhood in the Bronx. He grew up, one of six children, in a family with a modest income but extravagant love. Her grandfather would drill holes in an old broomstick, and her father and his siblings would create a tree by filling the holes with branches of discarded evergreen branches they had collected. They draped drug-store silver garland and tinsel over the branches until the “tree” glistened in the light.

Fast forward one generation and her parents were able to have a real Christmas tree (“something my father was very proud of,” she says), but he still had to have his silver garland and tinsel — boxes and boxes of tinsel, she says. “[The tree] became a giant, light-reflecting, silver mirror in the shape of a tree,” she recalls, amused. “And we loved it. We loved it because we created it together. We made it our own, but we still paid homage to Christmases past.”

Fast forward one more generation, and today the wife carries on the glistening tradition at her own home. “I honor my childhood Christmases and all of the magic that came with them, but in a way that also reflects my husband, our children and the way we currently live,” she says.

The wife tries to involve all of the senses in the holiday décor. “The decorated trees, garlands, swags and wreaths provide a lot of visual stimulation,” she says. “We also include many textures on the trees so the children (and the adults) can touch and feel as well.” She has Christmas music playing throughout the house all day and evening, some of it with lyrics and some instrumental. “I also include live plants and greenery where it is safe to do so, mostly by the motor court and the front door, so the aromas of the season greet you from the moment you step out of your car. And the Christmas treats. “My mother and I make Christmas cookies with my daughter each year (with varying degrees of success),” she says. “People do seem to come back for seconds of our chocolate-covered Oreo balls, so at least those are a hit.”

She also has help. The wife met Laurie Luttrell of Laurelwood Designs in Washington Township when she was looking for someone to provide the floral décor for a baby shower and has called on her on numerous occasions since then. Luttrell’s award-winning floral design boutique specializes in creating flowers for weddings and other special events, but then transforms into one of Santa’s elves in helping clients decorate for the holidays as the seasons change. When the homeowners moved into their current residence in 2015, they knew Luttrell was the right person to bring onboard for the holiday décor. “She is my go-to décor professional,” the wife says.

| A chest in the living room is topped with a stone tablet in an iron frame the wife found at a show house. “I love to travel and to see ancient architecture and ruins, so this piece spoke to me,” she says. Luttrell added the swag under the tablet.

“We work very well together,” Luttrell adds. “I take her with me on shopping trips because I want the décor to truly reflect her design style. She is very involved but does trust me to run with her overall idea. She knows I ‘get her.’” Both women have a passion for interior design. In fact, the wife has her own decorating firm, Curating the Everyday, based in Upper Saddle River, that does interior design, home décor and home staging. For her part, Luttrell focuses on a client’s interior design when planning her designs. “I feel the holiday decorating should either coordinate or complement your interior design,” she notes.

The owners also call on Scenic Landscaping in Haskell to help with landscaping (for example, a flowing knot garden with a boxwood hedge and tightly pruned holly bush accents) as well as decorating the front door for the holidays and filling the cast limestone planters on top of four piers at the front of the motor court. The planters hold different materials each season, with winter arrangements of magnolia leaves (one of the wife’s favorites), Japanese cryptomeria branches, Norway spruce branches and dried pinecones.

More than 50,000 miniature lights decorate the driveway and motor court at this home in Upper Saddle River.

The husband also gets involved, putting up the trees indoors and, with a neighborhood handyman, placing more than 50,000 miniature white lights on the shrubs and trees leading to the motor court. He and his wife decorate and hang the wreaths. “My husband loves Christmas as much as I do,” the wife says. For his first meeting with his then-future in-laws, he planned a dinner for the two couples at Rolf’s, a restaurant in New York City that’s known as much for its holiday décor as for its German cuisine (the wife’s father is German). “In fact, Rolf’s highly concentrated décor inspired some of our own decorating,” the wife says.

  • A trumpet to sound holiday tidings. | Ornaments of different shades, sizes and textures keep the eye moving around the tree.

     

  • The homeowner has collected interesting tree skirts to add a finishing touch to her Christmas trees. | Look closely and you’ll see passengers in the miniature train running under the tree.

     

  • A king figurine stands guard at a Christmas tree. | A white horse figurine heads rests on top of a console.

     

Luttrell describes the highly concentrated style as an “encrusted designer look.” Examples abound in every decorated space, and many pieces elicit fond memories. The colors of the oversized balls in the urn in the front foyer remind the wife of the ivory and gold ornaments her mother gave her annually while she was growing up. “My collection of ornaments is one of my most prized possessions and is a tradition I continue for my own children,” she says.

Another memory dates back to when the wife was 14 and she and her father wanted to create a special decoration but on a budget. Her father, a sheet metal worker, burned sheets of metal into a silhouetted image of Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer. She then added details by painting the entire 30-foot design, and they hung the finished work, complete with a lighted nose on Rudolph, on their fence. “Creating that scene is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I think of it every time I walk in my home and see a collection of golden deer in our front foyer,” she says.

To this day, the couple maintain the overall color scheme of her mother’s favorite ivory and gold and her father’s favorite silver. From the day in mid-October when they start putting up the exterior lights to the second week of January when Luttrell returns to remove and store the decorations for the next year, the owners find their home the perfect place to host everything from immediate family get-togethers (husband and wife both have birthdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas) to parties for friends and business associates.