A snowy neoclassical palette in a thirties-era fieldstone farmhouse
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 .
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Susan Stiles Dowell
The family gathers at the back of the house Christmas morning to open gifts beneath the big white fir decorated simply with ball ornaments.
See details on the following slide.
Christmas Tree Details
Icy silver and blue decorations adorn the center hall’s towering tree, offering a refreshing alternative palette to traditional reds and golds.
Trim added by architect Christian Zapatka brings a classic, sculptural look to the windows.
Flanked by period Swedish chairs, an amaryllis bouquet atop an antique Swedish console table welcomes the extended family home for the holidays. The mirror is from David Iatesta.
A kindred pale beauty unites custom club chairs upholstered in hand-blocked painted fabric with an antique Swedish ottoman.
Living Room Bench
A Manuel Canovas fabric covers the Niermann Weeks bench centered between the windows. “You can work in more seating with a neutral palette,” says designer Frank Babb Randolph.
Living Room Bay Window
A small fir in a bay window displays Marilyn Hannigan’s handmade “Cherishables” ornaments.
A mahogany table and Swedish-style chairs are from Tone-on-Tone. Traditional style mixes with modern touches to honor the 1930s fieldstone farmhouse and usher in the family’s new holiday traditions.
Dining Room Details
Antiques. Sferra green linen napkins, small red tulip arrangements, and antique lettuce-leaf plates inject touches of holiday color into the setting of white vintage reticulated plates from Mottahedeh.
Dining Room Details
Silver candlesticks and the antique chandelier contribute to the elegant look. An antique candlestick holder with glass hurricane bring a touch of colonial tradition to the table.
Homeowner Judy Jeffress reads a holiday story to her 6-year-old grandson, Henry.
A holiday display goes natural with magnolia leaves, spruce, and pinecones accented with silver.
Multiple-paned windows flanking the door add to the home’s 1930s-vintage charm. The simplicity of the front-door wreath trimmed with silver ribbon is echoed throughout the home’s interiors.
Dining Room Detail
The pale Swedish antique chest and a mirror that reflects the chandelier are from Tone on Tone Antiques. Mercury glass candlesticks and vintage glasses add seasonal shimmer.
In this inviting room, a period Swedish ottoman joins a Holly Hunt sofa sprinkled with pillows covered in a pretty Schumacher floral for quiet color.
The sunroom’s antique Swedish side table whispers holiday greetings with a cachepot of winter jasmine and a glass bowl from Simon Pearce filled with decorative balls from Target.