My friend, designer Lisa Hilderbrand, lives in a renovated 18th century saltbox that each year she transforms into the epitome of Christmas in Connecticut. Having purchased the house in 2004, Lisa and her husband fell hard for the spacious antique in a historic part of New Canaan. With seven fireplaces, seven bedrooms, sleeping porches and a ballroom, it had potential, but was a fixer upper with major challenges, from broken windows to leaky roof. But they were up to the task, and despite a major fire in 2005 during the final stages of renovation, the house was finished and this year the work effected by the Hilderbrands and their architect/contractor, Robert Chipley, received the President’s Award for Preservation from the New Canaan Preservation Alliance in 2015. While the exterior still retains an antique feel, double doors were added for a more gracious entry.
Several weeks ago, I visited Lisa’s home during the Newcomers Club of New Canaan‘s Homes for the Holidays House Tour. Lisa’s father passed a way several years ago but she carries on his passion for holiday decorating. For her entry hall, she keeps her eye out for vintage mercury glass balls and other interesting decorative objects that add special holiday appeal.
She mixes fresh greens with store finds, like the Pier 1 giant glittered pinecones, for a lush festive garland up the stairs.
Lisa is full of helpful hints for making the most of holiday decor. “Fireplaces are an easy place to dress up for the holidays. Here I used extra branches from my tree (we always cut a few stragglers from the bottom), and bunches of berry branches.”
Their large living room, the ballroom in the original house is an enormous 20′ x 40′ space. Able to accommodate a towering 11 foot Christmas tree, Lisa follows her father’s advice of cutting a foot off the top and bottom to enhance the illusion of an ever larger and fuller tree.
Tree decorating tip 101 – “Tuck lights all the way in to the base of the tree, then hang shiny balls far inside so they reflect and multiply the light.” Every surface reflects the holiday. At the other end of the room, an antique library table mixes in subtle holiday touches amongst Lisa’s collections. Her days working at Christie’s helped educate her eye for unusual and unique decorative accessories.
A festive bar is every ready for guests.
Lisa has collected vintage barware over the years that she also recommends as great gifts – from silver bottle openers and jiggers to cocktail forks and coasters. Monogrammed cocktail napkins add a personal elegant touch.
The dining room seems right out of a movie set for a modern version of Christmas in Connecticut. With its original early nineteenth century paneling and ceiling beams, it is a cozy room perfect for holiday entertaining.
Not only is the mantel festooned with festive finery,
but the antique brass chandelier is draped with a pinecone garland and little glittery glass ornaments
as well as the antique sconces from John Rosselli.
Antique Fitzhugh china is surrounded by the glittering reflection of many tiny votive candles and mirror placemats, which Lisa suggests looking for on wedding websites.
The charming library is the oldest part of the house, dating from 1770. “When we bought the house, it was a wreck and this room had a dropped sheetrock ceiling, to which I took a crowbar! We added all of the bookcases and I had the sofa made to fit in between.”
Lisa had an old mink coat fashioned into a throw
and bought the pantings at auction because they look like her dog Rudy. Sprigs of evergreen, holly and tiny pinecones are everywhere,
including the fireplace.
The country kitchen is the site for many holiday crafts and baking activities with the kids.
Lisa always decorates the pot rack and this year’s theme was candy. Everything is real except the giant candy canes.
Beyond the living room is an original outdoor pavilion. The Hilderbrands added the fireplace to extend the seasonality of the space. I’m sure it’s getting lots of use this year with the mild weather.
Thank you Lisa for inviting us into your beautiful home. It is indeed the perfect setting for a wonderful Christmas in Connecticut.