Glittering snowflakes, shiny globes and purple tinsel trees are just a few of the holiday decorations Catherine Hill puts up each year at her Royal Street home in the French Quarter. Hill will share her singular sense of holiday style with guests tomorrow, Sunday, Dec. 20, when she invites the public into her home for the annual Patio Planters holiday home tour.
Hill seems unfazed by the prospect of a few hundred strangers walking through her residence.
“I’m happy to do it to help support Patio Planters,” she said.
The non-profit group sponsors tours of gardens and houses, plus an annual “white elephant” sale, all to raise money for hosting a beloved New Orleans holiday tradition: Caroling in Jackson Square.
“I think people are catching on that the caroling event isn’t paid for by the city but organized by a group of French Quarter neighbors who put the event on for the whole city,” said Hill, a retired healthcare executive. “I like to volunteer the night of the caroling and stand at the gates giving out candles and songbooks. So many people come that we run out every year.”
Hill purchased her Queen Anne style home 15 years ago when she moved to New Orleans. The house was built in about 1907 by Joseph Greco in an “eclectic turn-of-the-century style which blends the influence of the Colonial Revival and Queen Anne” (The Historic New Orleans’ Collection Vieux Carre Survey). With its double gallery, front bay, turned wood balustrades, and stained glass, it stands out among nearby Creole cottages and townhouses dating to the early and mid-19th century.
The only space that Hill overhauled completely was the kitchen.
“The cabinets were all white laminate when I first moved in, and the door to the side porch was not in a good location, so I took out all the cabinets and got new appliances and countertops,” she explained. Now, honey-colored wood cabinets stack up to the ceiling and a downdraft Jenn-Air range serves as a focal point.
Walls, trim and the ceilings in the dining room and living room were transformed by a decorative painter working with a warm, enveloping palette. The ceiling, painted a weathered golden bronze, reflects the light from the chandeliers and the sparkling holiday decorations.
“I love to decorate for Christmas, but I never know what I’m going to do until I’m doing it,” Hill said. “My friend Frances (Hegenberger) and I do it together. She has a real interest and passion for helping friends with their houses. We never plan where things will go.”
That’s a bit of a surprise, considering the coordinated and designerly placement of holiday trappings.
In the entry hall, a garland wraps around the banister of the staircase which leads up to the bedrooms and private area of the home. Silver frosted snowflakes cascade from the crystal chandelier, which is crowned with a green garland and red tinsel. In the dining room just off the entry hall, a round mirror above the mantel reflects a trio of shiny silver candlesticks and the glimmering crystals in the chandelier. Atop the dining table, a clear glass bowl holds blooming paperwhites, acquired at Harold’s Nursery just last week.
Mirrors brighten the living room, including one over the mantel (draped in a garland of silver leaves) and another in a starburst pattern on the wall above the sideboard. A narrow Christmas tree — outfitted with colorful lights and ornaments — fits snugly in one corner. Diagonally opposite, a faux gingerbread house provides a cozy lounging spot for Hill’s cats Bella, T and Bear, important members of her household.
“Bella started sitting on my back porch and meowing some years ago and when I finally decided to go ahead and adopt her, she showed up with two tiny kittens. They are a family,” Hill said. Even though both Bear and T outweigh their mother, Bella stills doles out discipline as she sees fit. “She doesn’t hesitate to bop them if one of them tries to get too close when she’s in my bed.”
According to Hill, there is one aspect of decorating for Christmas that she adores more than any other.
“If it’s Christmas, that means that Mardi Gras is on its way,” she said. “I leave up a lot of the decorations and add to them for Carnival. I’ll switch out red ornaments and add purple, and the garland around my front door gets tarted up. That’s the thing about living in the Quarter: You can be as quiet or as raucous as you want to be.”