Some years ago, a young family had a big heart for Christmas but limited means to express that passion. Never among those who let difficulties bar their way, Brenda and Jim Melton, then the parents of two toddlers, came up with the answer — a foray into the woods.
As Brenda remembers, “The kids and I went traipsing through the woods and collected large pieces of bark from pine trees for making ornaments. We cut pictures from old Christmas cards and wrapping paper and glued these onto the pieces of bark, and Jim sprayed varnish on them. We punched a hole in the top of each piece of bark and put yarn through the hole to hang on the tree. Some pieces I used for gift tags on baked and canned goods. The children still have some of their crafts from those days.”
The Meltons no longer have to limit their Christmas trim to ornaments made from forest-harvested bounty; however, they still enjoy incorporating natural materials into their present-day decorating, which they undertake on a much larger scale than in earlier times.
Home over the years to past generations of Jim’s family, the Meltons’ historic house in Camden annually radiates this couple’s Christmas-themed artistry. Known under Camden’s National Register designation as the Stephen Clyburn House, this Broad Street dwelling has been featured several times on the Camden Junior Welfare League Candlelight Tour. Keeping the Classical Revival style of their house in mind, Jim counts the drawing room and outside porches as his decorative province, while Brenda handles the rest of the house.
“For our decorating, we collect as much as we can from the yard,” says Brenda. “We cut magnolia, Leyland cypress, loquat, eucalyptus and hydrangea, and we recycle pinecones, twigs and branches gathered from previous years. We also buy florist flowers to supplement what we’ve gathered ourselves.”
Jim adds to the yard’s largesse a Fraser fir for the family Christmas tree, plus a few extra Fraser firs and Leyland cypresses to cut up and use in arrangements. He takes pleasure in remembering that when their newly planted holly and small-leaf magnolias mature a little more, they’ll be fit for harvesting, too.
When the Meltons finally throw open their doors to holiday visitors, guests view more than just Christmas glamour; they also see a home renovated and restored with Jim’s own hands, his latest completed project being the kitchen. Through the Meltons’ antique business, Jim also finds and repairs the antique furniture that so beautifully accords with the house’s mid 19th-century construction. Brenda sews all the drapery and bed linens to harmonize with the furniture.
Friends who enter the Melton home through the back porch can admire right away Jim’s beautiful kitchen remodel, embellished now with holiday sparkle. Brenda echoes in her kitchen’s festive décor the silver and gold tones of the room’s new color scheme. Her stove hood, for instance, is topped by a central bow of silver-striped geomesh, backed by two white reindeer and the further shine of silver and gold balls, crystal candleholders and white candles. Artfully draped Leyland cypress loans additional color, as does the gold-framed oil painting above the hood.
A look to the left offers a countertop arrangement of two fairy elves perched on a couple of glass ice blocks, set off by gold-edged white ribbon, a gold-spangled gift box, Fraser fir and branches both natural and spray-painted. A look to the right presents a bit of Brenda’s drapery art, the gray-and-white Roman shade covering the kitchen window.
“I like to spray-paint branches gold, silver and white,” Brenda says, “and not just tree branches. When the top of one of our oak trees fell in the backyard, we saved and spray-painted the heavy ivy that dropped from the tree. And every year, we cut crape myrtle branches with hulls left by flowers that drop off. We trim these branches and spray-paint them, too. I save them all and reuse them year to year.”
Across from the kitchen and just off of the breakfast area, a petite screened porch, newly constructed in 2014, awaits the Meltons’ attention. Its holiday dress showcases a green wreath of cheese knives with snowman handles, wine corks, grapes, hydrangeas and whimsical silver reindeer — a perfect setup for one of the Meltons’ Christmas celebrations.
Rather than have one decorating theme for the entire house, Brenda chooses a separate theme for each room, as seen in the wine-and-cheese motif for the screened porch. She ties everything together with repeated color, style and materials, one source of the latter being the Meltons’ Christmas collectibles.
“The upstairs hallway is my whimsical area,” she explains with a grin. “That’s where I put my wildest decorations, like my collection of Mark Roberts fairies. I also collect the Byers’ Choice Carolers, most of which I’ve gotten from auctions, and I scatter them all over the house in different groupings. Jim tells me I had about 80 of them at last count! For a while, I collected lighted Christmas houses, and they also are displayed all around the house.”
Brenda always takes pictures of her holiday creations to ensure that each year’s decorations are different. However, one adornment makes a return appearance every year — her manger scene.
She elaborates, “I bought it the year Addison, my oldest grandchild, was born. I just happened across it, fell in love with it and decided that putting it up would be a tradition for Addi and me. That’s one of the first things we put up when it’s time to decorate, and I don’t put it up until she’s here with me. She especially likes to put the Baby Jesus in the manger.”
It’s just as much a tradition that Jim, who makes all the fresh garlands for the house, takes charge of decorating the drawing room. He focused the room’s embellishments around the 1850s Long rifle displayed under the mantel shelf. He set red nandina berries at intervals across the shelf and interspersed around them loquat, magnolia, pinecones, Leyland cypress and gold-sprayed twigs. A charming mantel clock and woodsman-style Santa presides over either end of the display, and a print of red-coated gentlemen relishing their leisure reigns above all. It’s a man’s room but still quite comfortable for the ladies.
In the parlor, Brenda and Addi take charge and look forward to trimming Brenda’s favorite holiday adornment, the family Christmas tree. Old and new join together to beautify it: fairies, red brocaded ribbon, red and gold balls, diminutive white lights and ornaments made by the Melton children and grandchildren. Possibly loveliest of all are the chandelier crystals Brenda links together and repurposes as a garland. Like hundreds of elfin mirrors, the crystals reflect her tree lights to delight the eye.
“Addi is the only one of our four grandchildren who lives close enough to help me decorate,” Brenda notes, “but when they visit at Christmas, all four look in awe at the house and appreciate it.”
The formal dining room offers the Meltons a means to render tribute to a beloved and very much missed family member. The dining table’s central arrangement spotlights a small photo of Jim’s Aunt Libby in a silver frame. Crowned by a heart-shaped topiary wound with flowers and greenery, the arrangement is anchored in a pedestaled silver epergne. Brenda chose red and white roses, eucalyptus, Leyland cypress and other greenery, pink alstroemerias, mini mums and other small flowers, tiny gold and white balls and gold brocaded ribbon as a setting for the photo.
“Aunt Libby gave me a lot of my ornaments,” says Brenda, “as well as our silver tea and coffee service. She loved Christmas like I do.”
When asked which of her many decorations garnered the most attention, Brenda avers that Frosty the Snowman taking a bath upstairs really received the “wows.” A unique imagining of Brenda and Linda, Frosty basks in a tubful of “snow” in the form of cotton batting and white Styrofoam peanuts and packing balls, with a few clear glass balls tossed into the mix. Mini white lights at the bottom of the pedestal tub outline his snowman body. On the rim of the tub, just above his head, Frosty’s snow-sprinkled black top hat keeps dry, with not a stain on his red-ribbon hat band or its holly-and-berry trim.
An exception to Brenda’s custom of changing her Christmas décor every year, the master bedroom, which features antique Southern-made furniture, usually sports a foxhunting theme. At mantel center, Brenda posts two Byers’ Choice Carolers, one a horn-bearing outdoorsman in full hunting garb, the other a gentlewoman gripping a riding crop. Between these two figures, a red fox is curled up awaiting the chase. A horse looks on expectantly from the left, and a hunting dog peers up at the gentlewoman from the right. While green and gold twigs provide a forest backdrop, gold-edged burgundy ribbon furnished the proper festive touch, and a low-hanging foxhunting print underline the theme.
“When he recovers from the kitchen renovation,” says Brenda, “Jim’s next project will be enlarging the master bath and adding a closet since there isn’t one in our bedroom. The addition will make a room on the floor underneath, and he will turn it into my sewing and craft room.”
This project will afford Brenda and Jim even more scope for their annual holiday decorating. This Christmas, their friends once again are ready to view and admire the resplendent results.