Nature-Inspired Decor

How does designer Chris Hutchens decorate for the holidays? Take a peek inside his Bessemer Tudor for a look at the traditional, nature-inspired décor he’s drawn to—peppered with seasonal sparkle, of course.

In the dining room, a pickled wood table and armchairs from Gabby mix with a French antique bench and a French “king’s chair” in its original fabric. Chris’s overscaled holiday décor includes a large wreath festooned with sugar pine cones and pheasant feathers; a bread bowl brimming with amaryllis, white roses, ornaments, and greens; and twinkle-light-wrapped, lemon-leaf garlands. “The custom garlands are from a wedding I designed for friends,” says Chris. “I decided to dry them and spray-paint them flat white. Then I wrapped them in lights.” Photography by Jean Allsopp

In Bessemer, a small number of 1920s and 30s homes perch on a hill in what Chris Hutchens calls “an untouched, really cool neighborhood.” It is here that he and partner Bill Brayman bought a three-bedroom, two-bath Tudor-style home that they are slowly remodeling. Despite the house not yet being perfectly in-line with Chris’s final design vision—he is creative director for Gabby Home and Summer Classics, after all—the couple opens their doors wide to family and friends to celebrate the holiday season.

design tip: “I always start with an artificial wreath and then add real elements,” says Chris. “For this one, I used a mixed garland. I kept circling it around and layering until it was nice and full on top of the faux form. The feathers are from my Amherst pheasant in my aviary. He drops his tail once a year.”

Luckily, Chris is a seasoned pro when it comes to Christmas decorating. For years, he worked as a floral designer and event planner through his own business, Christopher Joseph Designs. “I loved my Christmas clients and had a fun time taking their style to the next level,” he says. “It’s always harder to decorate my own home, though, because I think people expect it to be over-the-top.” But the designer explains that his style is much simpler. “I like my own décor to be a little more subtle, and I try to keep it natural,” he says.

“Putting the lights on the tree is not the most fun thing to do. It involves two hours of intense focus, but it’s a real treat when it’s done,” says Chris. “In my family, we have always used colored lights on a real tree. It’s old-timey and traditional, and it has stuck with me.”

For Chris, the natural world has long been a source of awe and inspiration. As a result, his home is peppered with plants, feathers, rocks, and other finds from the outdoors, and he even has an aviary where he raises birds. “I’ve been obsessed with birds since I was a kid,” Chris says. “Around the house, you’ll see lots of Audubon prints and evidence of my obsession with waterfowl and wildlife.”

design tip: “It’s important to have rooms that feel a little less like Christmas to give you a break,” says Chris. “That way, you can enjoy the decorated rooms a bit more.” He put this advice into practice in the sunroom. “There are already botanicals in here, so the wreath with succulents and orchids is the only addition.”

On this year-round backdrop, Chris layers in holiday accents using wreaths, garlands, and lights. In the living room, the usual focal point—the mantel on which treasured finds from the couple’s international travels are displayed and knit stockings are hung with care—takes a backseat to the giant Christmas tree glowing in the corner, each branch meticulously wrapped in colored lights. “Just because you choose simple décor doesn’t mean you can’t go big,” says the designer. “Create one statement piece and keep everything else in the room a bit quieter.”

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design tip: “When decorating outside, keep in mind that most people are viewing it from a distance,” says Chris. “Because of that, you need to go big.” Here, a triple-thick cedar, fir, and magnolia garland accented by clusters of giant sugar pine cones drapes the front door.

According to Chris, making a holiday statement is even more important when you’re entertaining and your home is full of people. “You have to think in terms of what is still visible when people are standing and the room is full,” he says. “Bodies cover up tabletop centerpieces and arrangements, but everyone can see what’s above their heads. So be sure to focus on those decorations that will highlight the party and show up in people’s pictures. It just makes your gathering feel that much more like a celebration.”

RESOURCES: Designer: Chris Hutchens of Gabby Home and Summer

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