This Kentucky Cottage Proves Christmas Decorating Can Be Natural, Elegant, and Beautiful
As cliché as it sounds, there's no simpler way to explain Shannon and Joseph Hillenmeyer's holiday-decor ethos than "bringing the outside in." Joseph says, "There are so many fresh greens and berries with great textures and scents available to decorate with during this time of year." Of course, this duo knows just the right greenery to use. They're the owners of Joseph Hillenmeyer Garden Design, which they magically transform into the Hillenmeyer Christmas Shop, a seasonal holiday pop-up store complete with a live Nativity and a plethora of fresh greenery and trees. It's an old-fashioned but modern approach, just like their home. Here's how the couple spreads their down-to-earth charm in their Kentucky residence.
The Living Room
The Hillenmeyers' passions for nature and design unite in the living room's fireplace decor, deliberately free of any ribbons or glitz. To start, Joseph laid a large pair of naturally shed elk antlers on the back of the mantelpiece and paired them with a simple Fraser fir garland embellished with clippings of boxwood, magnolia, and "Canaertii" Eastern red cedar. Rather than drape the garland downward, they ran it off the sides of the mantel onto the built-in shelves. The mirror positioned behind the portrait of Joseph's father, which his great-grandmother painted, magnifies its importance.
Piling On the Texture
Sprays of magnolia on the coffee table will last all season. More wispy and colorful arrangements are added when company is arriving. Their favorite entertaining trick is to dress up a plain candle in a hurricane with sprigs of greenery (pushed to the sides, away from the flame) just before company arrives. It doubles as an arrangement and a candle.
The Dining Room
After running their shop all day, the couple entertains with a small late-season supper in their dining room. While Joseph prefers more tailored elements, Shannon gave the room a modern look with a set of groovy yellow-cushioned chairs. The one—and only—ribbon in their home suspends a boxwood wreath from the mirror. "Because I tie bows all day, I take a break at home," she says. Joseph treats the many topiaries and boxwood wreaths with Wilt-Pruf, an antidesiccant spray that makes them last up to four months.
The Place Setting
The duo sets their dining table with a compilation of heirloom pieces. Joseph's great-grandparents' crystal stemware and his mother's wedding china look formal, but they feel light in shades of gold and blue. In lieu of traditional place card holders, this garden-minded couple prefers to make their own with a bit of faux moss set on salad plates. The faux moss rests on a slip of parchment paper to keep it from sticking to the plate.
"An end-of-season dinner party means we can make use of all the materials from the shop," says Joseph. So, instead of using flowers, they get creative, mixing greenery and clippings in an urn. Here, they started off with a base of silver fir and popped branches of cedar of Lebanon for extra height and dogwood berries for a hit of color.
The Hillenmeyers' organic style pushes them away from glitter and glitz (unless it's antique crystal or sterling silver). To make their rooms and parties feel special, they choose candles in several shapes and sizes. They scatter votives throughout the centerpiece garland and flank the living room mantel with glass hurricanes.
"We wanted the front of the house to look almost forestlike to convey what it was like to come inside," says Shannon. To pull off this idea, they piled on thick garland around the door. "We think it's easiest to start with a ready-made garland, hang it, and then enhance it with fresh clippings on-site," says Joseph. A shapely boxwood wreath (free of any ribbons) hangs like a holiday bull's-eye on the door (Mediterranean Charm [P510-2]; behr.com). The Hillenmeyers filled both sets of their oversize planters with loose clippings of greenery placed directly in 6 inches of potting soil. "It acts like florist foam," says Joseph.
Fresh and Serene
Nearby Daniel Boone National Forest inspired the woodland décor outside. The Hillenmeyers' filled the urns flanking the stairs with red twig dogwood, oriental spruce, blue spruce tips, and arborvitae. Red branches are arranged in the center for an extra splash of holiday color without taking away from the natural decor.
Host Like the Hillenmeyers
1. Have a signature.
The couple hands out flutes of La Marca Prosecco on their front porch as guests arrive. "It's a simple gesture that can make people feel comfortable right away," says Joseph.
2. Know your limits.
It may be easy for the couple to assemble wreaths and garlands on the fly, but they plan and prep their meal ahead of time. "Never let the guests see you stressed," advises Shannon.
3. Be true to your style.
"Everyone else may have inflatable characters in their front yard, but that's not us. Likewise, if you prefer formal entertaining, then go with that," says Shannon.