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Christmas in a Spanish Mission-Style Home

Joan Colangelo decorates straight from the heart

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Colleen Duffley

    From the ages of 5 to 13, Joan Colangelo spent the six-hour drive between her family’s home in Chicago and her grandmother’s house near St. Louis drawing floor plans and decorating. “Whenever we would pass a little down-at-the-heels house or shack, my sister and I would begin to turn it into something amazing. We would make sketches transforming it with fresh landscaping, beautiful curtains, a better floor plan, the whole thing.” As a milliner’s daughter and a coal miner’s granddaughter, Joan says her family “never had any money. But beginning with my grandmother, who was mainly English, this family had taste coming out its pores. We were always peeling off wallpaper, always redecorating, and we somehow knew instinctively how rooms should look.”

     The 1926 Spanish Mission-style house. 

    Photography: Colleen Duffley
    Produced by Barbara Mundall

    Architect: Mark Candelaria 
    Interior designers: Joan Colangelo and Kristen Brubaker

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    Greens with Flair

    From the looks of her 1926 Phoenix home, the design gene is clearly dominant in Joan. It shows in every room of the abandoned Spanish Mission-style house she rescued 14 years ago with her husband, Jerry, former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In fact, the gene was up and strutting before they had the resources to buy such a house or the fine but tightly edited 18th-century French and Italian antiques that furnish it.

    The arched front door welcomes guests.

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    Airy Entry

    “Many years ago, when we first married, I made my own slipcovers out of necessity and developed a knack for finding treasures at flea markets,” says Joan, who studied interior design through a college retailing curriculum and freelanced as a stay-at-home designer while raising her four children. Jerry also was a self-starter. Before he landed college athletic scholarships and launched his career helping to build the Chicago Bulls basketball team, he grew up in Chicago’s Hungry Hill ethnic neighborhood in a house made from lumber salvaged from two old boxcars. His grandfather immigrated from Italy through Ellis Island.

    The entry was enlarged, and its stair balustrade replaced with airy ironwork. The circa-1650 English settee is upholstered in old Flemish tapestry panels.

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    Gracious Living Room

    They’ve come a long way, but material success hasn’t changed their focus. For both, it’s family first, as evidenced by the history of their home. They bought it with plans to immediately begin restoration. “But our nephew needed a place to live while he was trying to become a professional golfer,” says Joan, “and this old house on the golf course where the Phoenix Open was first played was right for him. “The following year, daughter Krissie Brubaker and family moved in with plans to stay briefly. (See Krissie’s home here.) Four years later, the house finally became available for Joan’s restoration and beautification— work she regards as a mission. 

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    Mantel Decorations

    “I believe that being able to bless others by providing or creating something beautiful is a gift God gave our family,” Joan explains. It’s a gift she shares at the Trouvé antiques and gift shops she and Krissie own in Phoenix and Carmel Valley, California, and it’s one that makes her home a haven, especially at the holidays. “We celebrate every Christmas Eve at home with all four children and 10 grandchildren, as well as extended family and friends. We have from 30 to 80 people on any given Christmas Eve.” 

  • Colleen Duffley

    Comfy Seating

    Only the living room is completely original. “Sadly, the house was so fragile that, if we had filled the tub upstairs and jumped, the walls would have tumbled to the ground,” says homeowner Joan Colangelo. The room’s impressive limestone fireplace was discovered under layers of paint, and its tall windows topped with arched transoms were replicated for all the other, less fortunate, rooms.

    Newly re-covered, the sofas have belonged to the Colangelo family forever. 

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    Oh, Christmas Tree 

    French doors with old-style wavy glass open to the living room. 

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    Spacious Dining

    When the group is smaller “and it’s 90 percent family, we put the two draw-leaf tables together in the dining room and just keep extending until everyone’s seated. When it’s a larger group, we’re all over the house,” laughs Joan. The buffet dinner menu is the same each year: roast tenderloin, ham, sweet potatoes, cranberries, potatoes dauphine, Krissie’s cherry pie, daughter Mandie’s Galiano cake, a Christmas salad, daughter Kathy’s homemade rolls, and Joan’s pumpkin pie made from her mother’s recipe. 

  • Colleen Duffley

    Set for Company

    Each year, there are two trees decorated with “ornaments we’ve had 20 years and ones we’ve had two years. It’s always a blend,” notes Joan. The wild fir trees are bought at “the last minute every year off the truck of an octogenarian who drives them here from Oregon. They are airy, like our home,” Joan explains.

    Joan sets her holiday table with antique silver, china, crystal and rustic iron candelabras. A 17th-century gilded French mirror hangs above the console.

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    Delightful Porch

    It was its airiness that first persuaded her to buy the house, which had sat vacant for more than a decade. “There was something so amazing about its bones—the light from the tall windows. I could always imagine Clark Gable stopping here for cocktails on his way to the desert,” Joan fantasizes. 

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    The Ballroom

    Her 18-year-old granddaughter, Hilary (Krissie’s daughter), apparently inherited the design gene—early on, she “got” the home’s appeal. “She was only four when she walked into what’s known here as an ‘Arizona room.’ It was rough, with concrete floors and steps leading to the main house, but it featured a majestic window. Hilary turned to me and asked, ‘Is this your ballroom?’ Well, it is now. I love music, and this is the room we’ve now set up for musical gatherings. I had the floors redone in wood to look like 17th-century chevron floors.” 

    Light from the graceful windows casts a glow on the room’s new wood floors laid in a chevron pattern. 

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    Graceful Moves

    Of course this is a basketball family, and a certain amount of ribbing about a ballroom was inevitable. “The carpenters couldn’t resist drawing a basket in front of the word ‘ballroom’ every time they saw it on the floor plans,” Joan laughs.

    But the room’s elegance blocked the joke from being a slam dunk. A pair of 18th-century Italian side chairs, a circa-1790 French gilt mirror, and an 18th-century Italian trumeau put a regal spin on the notion of court that has nothing to do with b-ball. Yet even in this most formal space, the mood remains low-key and light—Joan’s signature design style.

    The ballroom, formerly a porchlike “Arizona room,” is transformed with 18th-century French and Italian antiques, including a Venetian sofa. 

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    Elegant Sitting Area

    “There is a place in design for a cozy room, but I’m drawn to a lighter look. I always come back to the soft colors of sky or a foggy day for serenity,” she says. Crisp whites and creamy buttermilks dress the furniture and lend a more casual look, while the pale walls go glam with gilding on just a hint of raised paneling.

    There’s a comfortable getaway at the top of the stairs near tall doors that open to a balcony.

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    Bedroom Retreat

    “I don’t like a lot of bling or glitz,” notes Joan. At Christmas, this means she relies on serene natural greens to announce the season. “Without too many objects to distract, you can enjoy the spaces and the people in them.”

    A pair of late-18th-century benches that Joan found in Paris are at the foot of the 19th-century French iron bed. The Louis XV-style French brass ormolu desk is 19th century.

  • Colleen Duffley


    Homeowners Joan and Jerry Colangelo.

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