This Richmond Designer Decks The Halls With Cherished Traditions Each Year

Virginia designer Sara Hillery twirls up her home with a new creative theme for Christmas.

Sara Hillery Holiday Home Exterior

Alison Gootee

For interior designer Sara Hillery, Christmastime provides a fun opportunity to flex her creativity. “I apply the same approach to holiday decor as I do to interior design and never repeat a look,” explains Hillery, who dreams up a new theme for her Richmond home every year, leaving her family and friends to wonder what will come next. “I love the element of surprise!”

Person stands on Whisky Creek trail


One thing that never changes? Hillery’s incorporation of beloved traditions, including her husband’s from New Orleans and her own from Virginia. “We both come from large families, and it was always ‘the more the merrier’ in our households,” says Hillery. “We share the same sentiment and host two big annual Christmas parties, one for friends and one for family.” Cajun recipes—like milk punch and gumbo—always make appearances as do heirlooms from her mother. “So much of what I do comes from my mom, who always made this season so special. I make a point to use the ornaments that she passed down to me and follow her habit of displaying more than one tree,” she says.

This year, Hillery went with a winter-wonderland theme using a color palette of icy blues and snowy whites to perfectly complement her home’s usual decor. Blended into the design are ribbons, boxwood wreaths, white pine garlands, twinkle lights, fresh magnolia cuttings from her backyard, and treasured pieces from her many collections and antiquing adventures.

Take a Bough

fresh garland hangs over banister


To keep the garland of fresh cedar, white pine, and juniper adorning the foyer’s banister looking lush, Hillery soaks it overnight in Wilt-Pruf. “I like using natural greenery whenever possible, but this year I tucked in some faux eucalyptus so it remains green longer,” says Hillery. Heirloom glass-ball ornaments and hand-dyed velvet ribbons complete the look.

Triple the Fun

Sarah Hillery poses in her holiday decorated living room


“My mom always decorated multiple trees for Christmas, and I love carrying on the tradition she started,” says Hillery (pictured above) about the three trees she trims. Ornaments old and new adorn the one in the living room, along with her daughter’s collection of silver Christmas bells. “We give her one every year,” she says. Bows made from long blue velvet ribbons deliver a pretty finishing touch. “Ribbons add softness and color,” notes Hillery, who sources her vast collection from Etsy and wholesale craft markets.

Finders Keepers

A punch bowl sits atop a decorated surface


“I am a collector through and through,” says Hillery, “and I love to pull from my treasures when decorating.” A favorite? A punch bowl snatched up at an estate sale after college. It’s the perfect vessel for her husband’s family’s famous milk punch recipe. Hillery uses her pewter Jefferson cups, which were won as awards and given to commemorate special occasions (she calls this “Virginia’s take on the charm bracelet”), to serve the drink. The bud vase is one of dozens she owns.

Hang Tight

Dining room is decorated with holiday designs


A mirror made from a Parisian window and scored on a trip to Round Top, Texas, hides a tiny nail used to hold a boxwood wreath. “Ribbon disguises a clear fishing line that supports the wreath’s weight,” says Hillery, who uses this trick in rooms throughout the house. From the chandelier above the dining table (one of two that she hangs, depending on the decor), Hillery suspends ornaments handed down from her mother. On the built-in console, magnolia and box-wood clippings from the yard are nestled in among the potted myrtle topiaries.

Playing the Blues

Cool blue tones decorate a table


As with the rest of her decorations, Hillery skipped traditional reds and greens and instead opted to anchor her place settings with a range of cool blues. Gold-flecked chargers and gold-rimmed goblets bring a little shimmer to the snowy-hued scene.

A Place to Gather

Modern renovated kitchen with seasonal flair
Repeating the white walls and reclaimed-pine floors throughout makes the space feel larger.


The kitchen renovation was especially important to Hillery, as she and her husband love to entertain. The island offers guests a spot to linger and catch up before dinner. Paperwhites and holiday trees made from shells lend seasonal flair.

Sign of the Times

Christmas wreath and chandelier hang in modern styled dining room
Every year, Hillery bakes cinnamon rolls for friends and family to enjoy on Christmas morning.


Textured greenery amps up the celebratory atmosphere in the bright and airy breakfast nook off the kitchen. “I’m a big fan of wreaths,” says Hillery. “They’re simple and structured, and they instantly tell you it’s the holiday season or that there’s something special going on.”

Sweet Dreams

children's room is decorated with Winter wonderland


Hillery puts a retro spin on the winter-wonderland theme in her daughter’s room (pictured below). “There is definitely a 1950s vibe going on with the white artificial tree trimmed with brightly colored ornaments in the shape of icy treats,” she says. A pink poinsettia sits alongside a nutcracker, a nod to their annual viewings of The Nutcracker ballet.

Little Wonders

Christmas decorations pair with baseball aesthetics in children's room


In the bedroom of one of her young sons, a baseball-themed Santa and a tiny tree adorn the side table (shown above). “My children each have their own miniature trees, and every year we give them new little wooden ornaments,” says Hillery. “They trade them and have a blast decorating however they want.”

Something Borrowed

bedroom is decorated with sunny palette
A trio of myrtle topiaries in varying heights keeps the nightstand feeling festive all year long.


For the primary bedroom’s serenely sunny palette, the designer took color cues from her oak-and-pine dresser. “I picked it up from a moving sale in my neighborhood in Houston,” says Hillery. “Inside the drawer, there’s a record of everyone who has owned it and where they got it. I haven’t added my name or details yet. I need to do that!” She echoed the warmth of the handmade piece’s patina in the bed skirt, made of a pretty plaid by Brunschwig & Fils.

Winning Combination

Bath tub is positioned beside antique chair


An antique Italian gilded chair holds court in the neutral primary bath. “I’m a sucker for those,” says Hillery of her auction score. “I think there’s such a nice balance between the pristine white marble and the chair’s crusty gold finish and tapestry that’s been around for generations.”

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