Interior Designer Andrew Howard's Home is Bursting With Holiday Charm
Worth the Wait
It's the morning after Thanksgiving, and for the Howards, Christmas starts now—not with stringing lights or hunting for the perfect tree (that will happen in a few days) but with John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together playing throughout the Jacksonville, Florida, home.
"We listen to holiday music almost to the point of insanity; it's nonstop," interior designer Andrew Howard says of his family's number one seasonal tradition. So when he designed a new home to share with his wife, Katie (a speech therapist), and sons Jack, 10, and Henry, 7, he made sure to include a whole-house speaker system.
It's just one of the many features he chose for the Cape Cod-style home that he and his wife designed from the ground up. "This wasn't a house that I put together instantly," he says. "I collected these ideas while we waited until we could do it right."
"Right" for the tight-knit Howards meant a design that encourages them to hang out in the same space and offers big doses of color. No room is off-limits to the boys, so Andrew strategically chose tiles, fabrics, and wallcoverings that can stand up to their play without sacrificing any of the design panache he's known for.
After years of dreaming and planning, their home feels special enough that just a light dressing of magnolia garland (from Andrew's favorite Florida purveyor, The Magnolia Company) and potted evergreens is about all they need to get ready for the holiday season. "This keeps it festive without taking away from the decoration of the house," Katie says.
Andrew agrees, "It feels like, as you get older, that magic of Christmas goes away, but we got a bit of that back."
Put On a Base Layer
Blue and ivory make up Andrew's signature palette because they're sophisticated on their own and easily accept layers of seasonal hues, like the traditional red and green of the holidays. "Colors don't clash with each other unless they're very similar and off just a little bit," he says. "It's not an issue to bring something that's not already there into a room—such as red." Peonies picked up from the florist and potted amaryllis purchased from the Amaryllis & Caladium Bulb Co. provide the rich hit that plays off the metallic ornaments on the tree in the family room.
Big Impact, Little Space
"The surround for a fireplace is a big part of room," Andrew says. "It's a design opportunity that can be missed if you don't pay attention to it." Tiles are a less-expensive alternative to stone, he says, and are a subtle way to boost style. "In rooms with neutral sofas, tile adds a little bit more pattern." This crescent tile replicates one he found in a Charleston shop and saved for years. Ready-made unadorned magnolia garland from The Magnolia Company (a nearby Florida supplier) frames it without stealing the spotlight.
Andrew packed his classic white kitchen with surprise personality, starting with the Moroccan-star tile backsplash that launched the watery blue accents in the lighting and art. The tile also inspired the inset stars on the island and upper cabinetry. "It was a cool detail to mimic throughout the kitchen," he says. The custom-painted small-scale check on the ceiling alleviates the "bowling alley effect" of the combined kitchen and breakfast room. "No one gets excited about plain drywall," he says. This year's annual Christmas cookie-making marathon with friends put the Howards' kid-friendly kitchen to the test. The quartz countertops ("a must for me with kids," Andrew says), wipeable bar seats, and white oak flooring easily passed. Unlacquered brass fixtures and hardware warm up the cool tones in the white kitchen. Andrew isn't worried about the maintenance or the finish's current "it status" fading. "I'm good with surfaces wearing out and looking like they've been used," he says. "And brass is not trendy. It's in 200-year-old houses in London."
"A banquette is fun way to do a table," Andrew says. "Chairs don't have to back in and out, so it saves some space." The vinyl-covered seat is home base for all their meals (and making gingerbread houses and clove-covered oranges). It's so popular with the boys that Andrew rarely scores a spot there. In an inspired moment of DIY, he painted stars on the pendant's drum shade. "Anywhere I can do something, I will," he says.
The powder room gains showstopper status from a custom Gracie Studio mural that's lacquered "kind of like the hood of your car," Andrew says. "It's not totally stain resistant, but if water hits the wall, it beads up and is easy to clean." The lattice vanity hints at a theme for the whole house: Cabinetry with something extra, whether a decorative finish or an interesting color. (In this case, the lattice extends to the back side of the door, seen when inside.)
Spread the Love
"Always have fresh plants in the house to bring home the season," is Andrew's yearlong mantra, but it's especially fitting at Christmas, when white cut amaryllis (from the Amaryllis & Caladium Bulb Co.) and potted evergreens in ginger jars are all it takes to make the dining room festive. The white table setting doesn't compete with the blue-on-blue scheme, inspired by the Iksel wallpaper that he bookmarked years ago for his own future home.
Home to the television that runs the NORAD Santa tracker almost without a break leading up to Christmas, the den is the family's cocoon-like hangout thanks to the lacquered walls (again, "no handprints!" he points out) in a rich Prussian blue, the deep sofa, and a wallpapered ceiling. "I think the ceiling is kind of like curtains and rugs; if you've done something interesting there, the room feels more complete," he says. In a tongue-in-cheek move, Andrew filled what he calls his man cave primarily with items designed or made by women, like this abstract artwork by Patricia Iglesias.
By the time he designed the entry area, Andrew had overdosed on blue and white, so he shifted to aqua green to create a solarium feel.
Plan for Action
"This room is not as delicate as it seems," Andrew says of the foyer. The custom bamboo-and-leaf mural is meant to surprise guests, but its durability is even more unexpected. The aqua background is just flat paint, so he can touch it up himself if the boys ding it. For the same reason, the baseboards are painted rather than stained. Underfoot, he laid a tough-as-nails, easy-to-mop porcelain tile from Mosaic House.
Layer on the Lattice
He traded color for texture to help dial down the master bedroom from the rest of the house, but he didn't sleep on a big wow moment. "I saw a lattice ceiling in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and then again at the Kennedys' home on Cape Cod," he says. "If the Kennedys did it, then it has to be cool."
This room was initially planned for guests, but Jack and Henry stayed here on their first night in the house and never left. The couple put a second, smaller tree in the bunk room the boys share and instructed them to load it up with their handmade and sentimental ornaments. "We have the best of both worlds," Andrew says. "At night downstairs, we can stare at our coordinated tree for hours, and every other ornament (tacky, pretty, or somewhere in between) finds a home up here." A fresh bay leaf garland and knit stockings from Sundance Catalog enhance the cheer.
Take a Chance
Andrew suggests experimenting in a guest bedroom because it will rarely be used. He took his own advice and pulled an aqua color (Benjamin Moore's Sonoma Skies, 737) from the Quadrille wallpaper to cover the ceiling. "It felt like a smoother transition than having just white," he says. A vintage rattan four-poster bed and nightstand match the exuberance of the walls.
A Happy Space for A Mundane Task
"Husbands and wives spend long portions of each day in the laundry room, so I wanted to make ours happy," Andrew says of his max-it-out approach to the utilitarian space that doubles as a mudroom. He started with Benjamin Moore's Spruce Green (2035-50) on the cabinets and a checkerboard porcelain-tile floor for durability and then decided wallpaper would take it over the top in a smile-inducing way. "A small-scale pattern in a compact room won't feel busy because there's not that much of it," he says.
A grand entrance wouldn't have sent the welcoming signal Andrew wanted for the house, so he opted for wide steps laid with antique brick instead, leaving just enough room for a pair of The Magnolia Company's small magnolia trees and two potted "Blue Point" junipers from The Southern Living Plant Collection. Above the door, he hung an extra-long magnolia garland, letting the ends trail all the way down to the floor. Wary of the children's fingerprints, he coated the door with a smudge-repellent lacquer (Benjamin Moore's Graphite, 1603) and clad the exterior with super-durable James Hardie fiber-cement siding.