Caroline Harper Knapp transforms her family’s new Houston digs into a festive retreat for brightening spirits and forging new traditions.

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Caroline Harper Knapp felt like last year's holiday season couldn't come soon enough. After the whirlwind of 2020—which included welcoming her third baby while juggling the demands of a new house with a long list of delayed renovations—finally settling into her family's Houston dream home in late summer felt like the ultimate early Christmas gift. "It was a long process, but we were able to turn it into exactly what we wanted," she says.

When the Knapps found the well-loved ranch house on a large lot in their neighborhood, it wasn't exactly a head turner. "It had spent more than 80 days on the market," she recalls. "I think people were intimidated by the size of the project." But Knapp, who helms the lifestyle-and-design blog House of Harper, saw promise in its one-story, U-shaped layout; sky-high family room ceiling; and ample outdoor space. Reconfiguring the kitchen and breakfast area to open up to the family room while connecting it to the dining room via a pass-through wet bar brought the tired 1960s foundation up to date for a young couple who love to entertain.

Caroline Harper Knapp at home for the holidays
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Of course, in the midst of a pandemic, big bashes weren't in the cards for their first Christmas in the house. Instead, Knapp worked on creating an intimate haven that felt familiar yet fresh for a sparkling new space. "Our old home didn't have a front porch, so being able to really focus on that made decorating the outside a lot more fun," she says. Inside, Knapp's signature modern-meets-classic aesthetic informed a lineup of decor choices that fit naturally into the home while nodding back to Christmases past. "I would describe my holiday look as traditional but very sentimental," she notes. "I'm not one for a perfectly polished, themed tree. The ornaments we've collected over the years or that the kids made in school are the ones I get most excited about." Here, Knapp shares how she dressed up her space with sophisticated style.

White House with Blue Accents at Christmas
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Make a Dazzling Entrance

Blessed with 100-year-old oak trees and a stately column-lined porch, the facade didn't need much more than a fresh coat of paint, says Knapp. (She opted for white siding paired with a front door and shutters in Benjamin Moore's Boothbay Gray, HC-165.) Holiday decor played up the home's outdoor assets as well, with white lights, a pair of life-size nutcrackers standing guard by the entrance, and thick red ribbons wrapping the columns so they look like candy canes.

Ranch House Entry with Console Table and Mirror at Christmas
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Play the Blues

The entry establishes the home's old-school-meets-new tone with chinoiserie lamps, a pair of geometric burled wood stools, and a classic-print wallpaper. Knapp dressed up a wreath hung over the brass-framed mirror with blue ribbon—a theme that ties together the rest of her holiday decor. "It's not the usual Christmas hue, but I'm much more drawn to French blue than I am to reds and greens," Knapp says. "It's a color that's carried throughout the house, so it was fun to bring it into our holiday palette with ribbon too."

Ranch House Formal Living Room
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Mix Past with Present

Located just off the entry, the formal living room makes a grand first impression thanks to its newly paneled walls and mix of curated antiques, including the blue-upholstered armchairs and gingham ottomans. But to keep the setup from seeming too matchy, Knapp made sure to blend in some modern elements, from the custom painting by artist Alexis Walter to the green lacquered lamps that rest atop thrifted end tables. "The lighting can make a space feel really fresh and young when surrounded by some more traditional elements," explains Knapp. Fabrics help bring in the home's signature hue.

Christmas Tree with Blue Ribbon
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Tied Together

The festive side of the formal living room features the holiday showstopper along with an antique secretary desk that's perfect for penning Christmas cards. While blue is the tree's prominent hue, Knapp introduced the classic green-and-red combo through the gift wrap. The presents' mismatched ribbons were actually a happy accident. "I was just working with what I could find at the store, but I really do love how it turned out," she says.

Ranch House Living Room with Mantel Decorated at Christmas
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Embrace Natural Beauty

In the family room, Knapp preserved existing assets—including vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows leading out to the patio—while reconfiguring others such as the fireplace, which was uprooted from its corner location to serve as the central focal point. "I'm a big fan of symmetry," she says. For Christmas, Knapp enhanced its star power even more by dressing the mantel with a wild, organic arrangement of au naturel garland. "I like to have at least one moment of real evergreen so the house smells like Christmas," she says. "And garland is so much easier to maintain than a tree."

er Knapp Colorful Breakfast Nook
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Celebrate Every Day

The breakfast nook, which is tucked neatly into a corner of the family room, is a place for casual meals and board games. Knapp paired the banquette's year-round green-and-blue throw pillows with a matching gingham tablecloth to increase the seasonal spirit. Other nods to the holiday are more direct. "As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I'll swap out all of our regular dishes and move in our Christmas Spode ones," says Knapp. "They help make every meal feel just a little bit more special."

Ranch House Kitchen with White Cabinetry and Island Seating
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Leave It to the Details

One of the biggest game changers in the remodel was opening up the kitchen to the family room to create a more entertaining-friendly layout. In keeping with the home's look, Knapp opted for Shaker-style cabinetry (painted Benjamin Moore's Alabaster, OC-129) and quartz countertops, punctuated by contemporary accents such as unlacquered brass hardware and Circa Lighting jar pendants. Pops of evergreen add little moments of Christmas cheer.

Formal Dining Room at Christmas
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Save on Sophistication

When Knapp moved from a small apartment in New York City back to her native Texas, she found herself with extra square footage to fill. "I had expensive taste on a budget," she says. To stretch her cash, she turned to finds from eBay or local consignment shops, including her dining table, chairs, buffet, and Italian-style mirror. A mural wallpaper enhanced the formality of the antiques while establishing the room's palette. Knapp pulled inspiration for everything—from the chairs' blush pink upholstery to her leafy green holiday place mats bought at Hibiscus Linens—from the shades found on the walls. "I always set the table long before Christmas dinner so I can enjoy it as part of the decor," she says.

Ranch House Wet Bar in Deep Turquoise
Credit: Marta Xochilt Perez; Styling: Jenny O’Connor

Stage a Surprise

Although Knapp isn't normally one to break with tradition, she saw the bonus wet bar—which connects the kitchen and dining room—as an opportunity for adventure. Cabinetry painted deep turquoise (Sherwin-Williams' Silken Peacock, SW 9059) and paired with brass hardware strikes a moody tone.