A snowy neoclassical palette ensures a white Christmas every year in this Virginia home.
Written by Candace Ord Manroe
Photography by Werner Straube
Produced by Susan Stiles Dowell
Like an amaryllis blooming at Christmas, Judy Jeffress follows the light. That’s easy in the breezy renovated house she shares with her lawyer husband near the nation’s capital—even, and especially, in winter.
“One of the most wonderful things about Christmas is celebrating the end of the darkest day of the year and the return of the light,” says Judy. “Light now plays center stage in this house. The [redesign’s] flow of sunlight and the clean look make me feel better in winter, which is why I keep my Christmas decorating simple. I like the simplicity of light and what it represents.”
The house, which the couple had lived in for 20 years while launching their three children into adulthood, wasn’t always so accommodating. A 1930s Pennsylvania-style fieldstone farmhouse (think Bucks County), it had grown increasingly dark and dated. Then the foundation needed shoring up. Instead of panicking, Judy seized the opportunity to usher in more beloved light. She brought in designer Frank Babb Randolph, whose light-filled work for friends she’d admired, and the architect he recommended, Christian Zapatka. Their mission was to refresh the house with an airy neoclassical design that both lightened and enriched it.
“We transformed a tired stone farmhouse into a classic, light-filled center-hall colonial that feels more contemporary for the 21st century,” explains Zapatka. “We opened up the circulation for clearer views and axes through the house.”
At Christmas—the family is now celebrating their third since the redo—Randolph’s signature white creates a pristine backdrop for Judy’s natural, low-key holiday decorating. And the light? It fairly bounces off the white walls, the pale pickled floors, and the beautifully beefed-up woodwork. Judy left the windows undressed to soak up every precious ray.
“We all crave light at this time of year,” she notes. To make it the focus even when rooms are decked in full Christmas finery, she keeps a tight rein on color. “I love the green hues from lots of different green foliage. Bringing in red makes a look that’s too busy for me. I limit the array of Christmas colors in my holiday decorating.”
Her husband cuts holly each year from a big American holly tree that grows nearby, then Judy arranges the sprigs to dress the foot-deep, low windowsills flanking a demure tone-on-tone Swedish-style bench in the living room. More cut greens on the original mantel knit the room together while adding contrast to classic white moldings. With only a round mirror above the mantel, the Christmas garland of spruce, magnolia leaves, and pinecones commands the entire shelf, with ends gracefully draping down either side. Silver stars, diaphanous silk ribbons, a few of Judy’s favorite silver ornaments, and a final layer of fresh pears keep the look clean and simple.
“Nature has a great textural and color range in its plant world,” says Randolph, who helped Judy decorate the house for Christmas. “What a statement you can make with all those greens against a placid backdrop. I like the idea of clearing out the overdone commercialism and making something special for a family home,” says the designer.
Holiday touches are seamlessly woven into the rooms. In a living room window bay, a small fir sits atop an urn table that honors the classicism of the room’s new millwork. The family’s big white fir, where they gather Christmas morning to exchange gifts, stands at the end of the center hall. “It’s a beautiful vision for everyone to see when they enter the front door,” says Judy. Before the renovation, that view would have been impossible, obscured by a partition.
The gift exchange occurs when the oldest grandchild distributes the presents, but the celebration isn’t limited to Christmas morning or a single space. “It’s family, family, family, all over the house,” laughs Judy. The living room’s cushy seating assures comfort on Christmas Eve. Edibles prepared for Christmas feasts are presented in the dining room, where newly pickled floors shine, uncovered by sisal rugs that dress the floors elsewhere.
“I like seeing chair legs dancing on a bare floor,” says Randolph, “and why have a rug that gathers what falls from the table when you could have such light?” Those particular legs happen to belong to vintage Swedish chairs—new additions paired with the family’s mahogany table to create the frisson that makes rooms memorable.
“There’s a whiteness to these rooms that, combined with the bare trees outside, is wintry,” Randolph observes. “With greens and color touches here and there, it becomes so simply Christmas.”
Architect: Christian Zapatka, Christian Zapatka Architect, 1656 33rd St. N.W., Washington, DC 20007-2749; 202/333-2735, christianzapatka.com.
Interior designer: Frank Babb Randolph, Frank Babb Randolph Interior, 1671 34th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20007; 202/944-2120.
Builder and contractor: Mauck Zantzinger & Assoc., 5141 MacArthur Blvd. N.W., Washington, DC 20016; 202/363-8501, mauckzantzinger.com.