A River Oaks French Country Christmas
Biennially at Christmas time, Houstonians are allowed a rare treat: an intimate glimpse into some of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods and most luxurious homes showcasing the best in interior, floral and holiday-inspired design ideas all with a philanthropic twist. A Bayou City tradition since 1941, the Kappa Holiday Pilgrimage includes a tour of four homes in River Oaks and Tanglewood, with proceeds from the tour (more than $2.5 million since 1976) going to a significant number of large and small charities.
The 2010 Pilgrimage raised $270,000 for deserving recipients who have utilized the funds for improving programs, facilities and equipment and helped thousands of Houstonians in need. Beyond the charitable benefits of the tour, visitors to each of the amazing residences glean a plethora of holiday decorating ideas which will no doubt be duplicated this Christmas in homes all over town.
The Moncrief home in River Oaks, riveting in its presentation and inspiring in its holiday decor, immediately transported visitors to the French countryside. Drawing on her 34 years’ experience as a realtor, the homeowner and her late husband refined their ideas and collected treasures for years before actually building their dream home, which is constructed on the same lot where the family’s previous home of 14 years once stood. The new domicile was completed in 2007 and was designed around a courtyard comprised of a spacious outdoor living area and pool, which is the heart of the home and makes living and entertaining easy and enjoyable.
Upon approach, visitors enter the property through a French wrought-iron gate equipped with antique bronze shells and massive limestone columns, also from France. The exterior of the home includes hand-made Old Mississippi bricks, a massive wooden front door copied from an antique, a French limestone entry arch and a window and door surrounds made of Texas limestone. For the Pilgrimage, the arch is garlanded with bright red and green apples and huge red bows adding bright contrast and natural appeal.
Inside the entry, guests encounter an antique trumeau and an 18th century carriage lamp chandelier, both of which offer another layer of authenticity to the holiday effects all around. Additionally gracing the home’s interior are French limestone floors and stair tread, cool plaster walls, soaring 11-foot ceilings, and hand-beveled wide plank walnut and 200-year-old reclaimed oak flooring.
From the gallery of the home, matching chandeliers in the groin vaults (reclaimed from Doris Duke’s New York townhome) are visible, along with a large rock crystal chandelier which hangs in the stairway. Four antique prints each depicting a scheme from a different Shakespearean play hang dramatically at the landing.
Down the wide stairway guests find a subterranean wine cellar. Antique French tile flooring and a pair of antique altar candelabra embellish the tasting room. The focus of the 1,200-bottle wine storage room is Texas artist Kyle Polvin’s painting of the home, set in the Napa vineyard owned by family friends. Ceiling lights in the cellar are from Murano, Italy, and the tasting room table is an antique French wine table. The sideboard and China cabinet were the owner’s grandmother’s, and the antique French grape harvest bucket on the wall validates to the overall aesthetic of this distinctive space.
In the living room where sits the home’s largest Christmas tree, the limestone fireplace from France is beautifully bedecked for the season with angels watching over the scene and creamy whites and pale lime greens amid the traditional garland. A pair of sconces from the Rice Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom and a circa 1800 Secretary are notable pieces.
A look inside the dining room of this extraordinary dwelling reveals a stunning vignette. Bird sconces from Italy illuminate hand-painted, custom designed DeGournay wallpaper. Creamy whites and pale lime greens again echo the softness of the season and underscore the elegance. The use of pale hydrangeas and Christmas lilies blends the traditional with the unexpected. The twinkling chandelier adds glimmer to the gold in the Royal Crown Derby china and while capturing the gleam of the Baccarat Capri crystal.
The kitchen, breakfast room and den flow seamlessly creating a family space, which at this time of year is heavily decorated with holly, mistletoe and Christmas wreaths, not to mention the savory seasonal snacks. Cookies, nuts and fruit become decorous in their decadence, and guests are hard-pressed not to grab a morsel or two. The antique fire plate behind the cooktop beautifully backdrops the scene. The dining table in the breakfast area belonged to the owner’s grandmother, and the homeowner’s late husband designed the magnificent carved wood fireplace that is the focal point of the family room, showcasing the family’s collection of Christmas stockings. Just outside the west window is a French limestone fountain which so fittingly depicts Bacchus, the god of fun and merriment.
Everyone who worked on this holiday home and visitors alike agree: the natural and unique arrangements, interwoven among a select number of traditional collections on display throughout the home, extravagantly complemented the homeowner’s everyday décor, which any designer will tell you is the trick to creating an amazing design scheme for the holidays. Guests walked away with many holiday ideas that will be incorporated into their homes this year.
Planning has already begun on the 2012 Holiday Pilgrimage, traditionally held on the first weekend in December in even-numbered years. Mark your calendars! The 2012 Pilgrimage Home Tour and Preview Party dates are Nov. 30 — Dec. 2, 2012. Cynthia Urquhart and Katie Thompson are 2012 Pilgrimage chairs.
To get involved or find out more information about Holiday Pilgrimage, contact Kappa Alumni Volunteers at 713-871-0734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text: Cheryl Alexander
Photography: Petr Poliak
Floral Design: Jerry Mason, Mason’s Flowers
Builder: Andy Abercrombie, Abercrombie Custom Homes
Architect: Bob Wetmore, Cornerstone Architects (Austin)
Decorator: Jane Osborne, A Feathered Nest
Landscape Design: Dennis Wright, Ruckel Dillon Wright & Associates