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Snowy Vermont Home Ready for Christmas

A flurry of cookie baking warms up a Scandinavian-flavored Christmas 

Written by Amy Elbert
  • John Bessler

    Kim and Cliff Deetjen’s romance was just blossoming when a quick detour foreshadowed their life together. “We were driving to Boston on I-93, and Kim made me stop so she could run out and grab some winterberries growing in the median,” Cliff says. “I knew right then what I was in for.”

    Cliff didn’t object too strenuously, however. He’s an architectural designer and Kim is an interior designer, and they both have an eye for nature’s artwork and—it turned out—also share a love for the holidays.

    Now married 22 years, Kim and Cliff still search the roadsides for wild berries and branches to decorate their South Burlington, Vermont, home—especially for Christmas. And their two sons, Alex, 16, and Ben, 13, often get recruited for the hunt too.

    Collecting greens and berries is just a small part of the Deetjens’ holiday celebrations, which kick off in earnest on Thanksgiving weekend. The whole clan, including visiting relatives, drives to a tree farm in Middlebury, Vermont, to choose a Scotch pine, a tree admired for its needle retention. That’s followed a few days later by a local outing to buy a fir tree to grace the family room. (“As big as we can find,” says Cliff.) “We get the trees early because we love Christmas so much,” he adds. Echoing that sentiment, Kim adds, “We’ve been known to leave our trees up till February because it breaks our hearts to take them down.”

    The Scotch pine goes in the living room of their 1940s stone cottage and is decorated with glass balls and other special keepsakes. “It’s more formal and doesn’t have the boys’ handmade ornaments,” Kim explains.

    In the family room, an eyebrow-arch bay window adds “a little bit of whimsy,” says homeowner and architectural designer Cliff Deetjen. Pine board walls and ceilings, built-in shelves, and a loft space contribute to the casual farmhouse feel. “We knew the kids would grow up in the family room, and that holidays would be spent there,” Cliff says. Doors on each side of the fireplace connect to a home office. Decorations include cookies made with a vintage wood press.  

    Photography: John Bessler  
    Produced by Karin Lidbeck-Brent

    Architect: Cliff Deetjen, Peregrine Design/Build, 49 Commerce Ave., Suite A-1, South Burlington, VT 05403; 802/383-1808,
    Interior designer: Kim Deetjen, Truex Cullins Architecture + Interior Design, 209 Battery St., Burlington, VT 05401; 800/227-1076 and 802/658-2775,

    Tree (“8-foot Noble Fir”): Green Valley Christmas Trees,
    Chandelier (custom): Larz Allen,
    Sconces (custom): Conant Metal & Light,
    Cabinetry: Amoskeag Woodworking,
    Sofa (“Hamilton Custom Sofa”); lounge chair to left of sofa (English Arm Club Chair, custom): Lester Furniture Mfg. Inc.,
    Sofa fabric (“Cozy Cord”/Moss #25395.3, colorway discontinued): Kravet,
    Coffee table; ladder-back chair: owner’s collection.
    Carpet (“Kindly”/Coffee): Williston Weaves,
    Chair-seat fabric (“Nevada”/Ficelle #4622-10, by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout,
    Loft ladder: Alaco Ladder Co.,  

  • John Bessler

    Edible Ornament

    Those kid-crafted decorations (“Every ornament the boys have made since kindergarten,” says Kim) cover the family room tree. Kim is of Swedish descent and Cliff’s heritage is Norwegian, so a Scandinavian-inspired red-and-white palette dominates the holiday scheme. Foot-tall white and silver snowflakes and clusters of red poinsettia blooms (kept fresh in florist water vials) poke from branches, balancing the size of the tree and bringing cohesiveness to its decor. Heart-shape cookies Kim makes using a vintage wooden cookie press from Switzerland add Old World charm. 

  • John Bessler

    Loft Space

    Cliff designed the 850-square-foot family room (with input from Kim and the boys) knowing it would be “holiday central.” He even created a special stage for the Christmas tree—a large bay with an eyebrow arch window. “That window faces our view west to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond,” he says. “The afternoon and evening light is just phenomenal.”

    The view looking in from the road is just as magical. The arch is repeated on the board-and-batten exterior, gently crowning the twinkling tree inside. Snow—a given in northern Vermont—clings to the copper roofline and caps the hedges across the front yard. 

    The family room features a cozy, carpeted loft (accessed by a ladder) above the fireplace, where Alex and Ben would set up their electric trains and hone their Lego building skills. “Now that the boys are older, it’s pretty much a Lego museum,” Kim says.

    “We knew the family room would be a place where the boys would grow up,” Cliff says of the 2005 addition. “We really wanted it to be a room where we could all be together.” The television is in a cabinet near the fireplace, built-in desks for the boys are across the room, and Kim and Cliff share an office space under the loft. 

  • John Bessler

    Spacious Kitchen

    More holiday traditions play out in the Deetjens’ large kitchen—another room renovated with holiday activities in mind. Shortly after Thanksgiving, Kim stirs up multiple batches of butter-rich dough for spritz and Scandinavian rolled sugar cookies using her Swedish grandmother’s recipes.

    The dough is refrigerated until close to Christmas when Kim and a Swiss-born girlfriend, as well as both women’s sons, gather around the Deetjens’ huge island for a cookie-baking marathon. “She brings her traditional Swiss recipes and I do my Swedish cookies,” Kim says. “The boys definitely participate.” Not that they mind, she adds. “They ask why we don’t make them year-round.”

    Enlarging the kitchen allowed for more natural light and created sight lines through the house. A back entry with stone floor connects with a food pantry with a frosted glass door labeled “feed” and a mudroom labeled “tack.” The cowhide chairs in the foreground were imported from Switzerland.

    Wall paint (“Creamy” #SW 7012): Sherwin-Williams,
    Cabinetry : Tom Lyman, Run of the Mill Handcrafted Wood Products,
    Perimeter countertop (Vermont soapstone); island countertop (Honed Vermont Danby Marble): Burlington Marble & Granite,
    Island: John Lomas Custom Furniture,
    Light fixture (hand-blown glass pendant, custom designed and fabricated): Conant Metal and Light,
    Area rug (“Stellar Stripe”); art (by Helen Johnson): owner’s collection.
    Main faucet (“Talis S 2-Spray High Arc Kitchen Faucet”): Hansgrohe,
    Island faucet (“Concetto”): Grohe,
    Refrigerator: KitchenAid,

  • John Bessler

    Kitchen Sitting Area

    Once cookies are baked and eggnog whipped up, the Deetjens and friends gather for a tree-lighting ceremony in the European tradition. Candles clipped to a freshly cut tabletop tree sitting near the kitchen island are lighted, and everyone toasts the holidays.

    Kim’s annual baking sessions were a big reason the Deetjens designed a 15-foot island when they renovated and allowed plenty of space for people to gather. “We knew we needed a huge island and two ovens so we would be able to do our cookie thing,” Kim says.

    Daily life revolves around the island too. “While I’m cooking, my husband, who is an avid fly fisherman, is tying flies at the island,” she explains. “And I might have design plans from work spread out on the other end of the counter. Plus the kids are doing their work. That was the intent—to have a place where we could all gather and be able to work on whatever we have going.” 

    Kim lights candles on a tabletop tree. Walls in the kitchen addition are white-painted horizontal ship-lap boards, and floors are white oak, giving the room an inviting Scandinavian farmhouse feel. 

    Gas fireplace: Mendota,
    Sconces (“Boston Functional Library Wall Light” #SL2922): Circa Lighting,
    Clock on mantel: antique.
    Cowhide chairs (imported from Switzerland); leather milking stool; red spool table: Alpine Home, 802/253-7005.
    Cowhide rug: Stowe Kitchen Bath & Linens,
    Wool check throw: Pompanoosuc Mills,
    Swiss heart-shaped ornaments (made by owner); Swiss candleholders for tree: owner’s collection.

  • John Bessler

    Back Entry

    The kitchen island is topped with honed Danby marble from Vermont. “It’s one of the hardest marbles in the world and is the choice of most chefs,” says Kim, who often uses Danby for her professional restaurant and hotel projects. Perimeter counters are topped with Vermont soapstone.  “We tried to source materials locally as much as possible,” Cliff says. That includes stones used for the back entry floor, which the Deetjens and their friends collected over the years from the Lake Champlain area. “Cliff sent me a heart-shape stone when we were dating, and that’s incorporated into the floor,” Kim says. “The stones have some dimension to them but they’ve been worn smooth by the water. They’re wonderfully therapeutic to walk on.”  

    The table in the back entry is a repurposed exterior balcony railing topped with a stone slab. 

    Flooring (“Lake Champlain Stone”): custom installation by Ben Jacobs, Points North Tile, 802/343-6233.
    Console (antique with soapstone top, repurposed from iron porch balcony): Anthony Catalfano Home,
    Ceiling light (“Solaris 3-Light English Bronze Mini Chandelier” #9225-EB): Crystorama,
    Mirror (“Expedition Mirror” #3002): Arteriors,

  • John Bessler

    Dining Room

    The doorway between the kitchen and dining room was widened to better connect the rooms. The dining room walls are finished with a navy-tinted Venetian plaster. 

    Wall treatment (custom Venetian plaster with a waxed finish): Chris Ward, Ladeside Design Studios.
    Drapery; dining table; server (antique, mahogany); area rug (antique, Persian); art between windows (Vermont Summer Meadow, by Carolyn Walton); tablecloth; dinnerware (by Coalport): owner’s collection.
    Chairs: custom.
    Chandelier: antique.
    Sconces (gilded antique mirror sconces): Scofield Lighting,
    Flatware (“Suffolk,” by Alvin): Antique Cupboard,
    Stemware (“Jojo”): Crate & Barrel,

  • John Bessler

    Something Fishy

    Cliff designed whimsical fish-motif balusters for the staircase that leads from the kitchen to the new master suite. His first templates looked a bit too much like trout, he admits, so it was back to the drawing board. “He’s a fisherman, so his mind was on trout, but mine was on my heritage,” Kim says. “I wanted to emulate what you might see on a chalet in the mountains.” 

    Carpet runner (“Stellar Stripe”): owner’s collection.
    Balusters (custom, Swedish fish): Bill Vanat Carpentry, LLC, 802/644-8810. 
    Rocker (hand-painted); baskets for ribbon: antique

  • John Bessler

    Charming Space

    Scandinavian charm flows upstairs where a sliding barn-style door opens to the gabled master suite with slanted ceilings and a cozy window seat. “We’re in the profession, so we see a lot of things, but we didn’t want to do what we do every day for other people,” Kim says. “We wanted to do things differently. We wanted everything to have meaning to us.” 

    Wall paint (“Accessible Beige” #SW 7036); ceiling and trim paint (“Creamy” #SW 7012): Sherwin-Williams,
    Carpet (wool loop): Karastan,
    Pillow with red flower (by Manuel Canovas, discontinued); pillow with white snowflakes (by Manuel Canovas, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout,
    Striped pillow (“Surya” #2074-03, by No. 9 Thompson): Jim Thompson Fabrics, 
    Pillow fabrication: Caryn Long, Window Works, 802/734-3003.
    Cabinet at end of bed: owner’s collection.
    Art on cabinet: by Austin Abbott,
    Wall light above cabinet (“Globen Lighting Tulip One Light Wall Bracket”/Black #799-1236, discontinued): Tesco Direct,

  • John Bessler

    Master Suite

    A custom pencil-post bed from Cloude Quenneville faces a barn-style sliding door and a tulip-motif wall light from Sweden. Bedside “Boston Swing Arm” sconces are from Circa. 

    Pencil post bed (custom): Cloude Quenneville, Quenneville Custom Wood Products, LLC, 802/247-8301.
    Bed linens: Target,
    Pillow with red flower (discontinued): Cowtan & Tout,
    Striped pillow (“Surya” #2074-03, by No. 9 Thompson): Jim Thompson Fabrics,
    Pillow and window-cushion fabrication: Caryn Long, Window Works, 802/734-3003.
    Duvet (product line varies): Pottery Barn,
    Chest: antique.
    Sconces (“Boston Swing Arm Wall Lamp” #SL2920-L): Circa Lighting,
    Botanical prints: owner’s collection. 

  • John Bessler

    Deetjen Home

    The board-and-batten family room addition is just steps forward from the original stone cottage.

  • John Bessler

    Family Portrait

    Cliff and Kim Deetjen and sons Ben (front) and Alex are avid skiers. The family dog, Liefke, is a Stabyhoun.

  • John Bessler