Sometimes fate plays a large part in finding a dream home, as was the case for Louisa and Philip Vann. When Louisa moved from Texas to Columbia, she and Philip became friends with another Texas transplant family. The Vanns would often go to their friends’ house for dinner and quickly fell in love with their home, privately nestled in a Columbia neighborhood. Louisa told them if they ever moved back to Texas, she and Philip would buy their home.
An interesting offer, considering that the Vanns had just completed a large renovation in Forest Acres. As soon as they finished construction on their home, someone offered to buy it. The renovation had been time-consuming and taxing. So much so that they had already become tired of the place, making it easier to sell it and walk away. “After such a large project, I just wanted to be able to move into our next house without much fuss or fanfare,” says Louisa. And as fate would have it, their friends decided to move back to Texas. “They called us and said it’s time.”
The Vanns were thrilled to make the move into their forever home, which was immensely different from the one they had just renovated. This home was one of the first designed by famed Columbia architect Robert Kennedy in the late 1960s. Completed in 1973, the mid-century modern estate boasts a unique floor plan in which the one-story residence is long, situated one room wide by one room deep. A feature statement in the space is the stunning dry/wet bar in the living room, the other side of which is a wall of cabinetry located in the dining room.
The fully mirrored wall provides ample storage for Louisa’s china while also uniquely reflecting the elegant dining room. The bar and mirrored fixture, a true conversation piece, serves as more than a functional space for mixing drinks and providing storage — it also plays a very important structural role, in essence serving as the backbone of the house, holding it together. It is just one of the many noteworthy aspects of this well-appointed home.
While today they continue to refresh the interior with new chandeliers, wallpaper, and a new piece of furniture here or there, for Louisa, decorating her home at Christmas brings her the most joy.
Thanks to the high, stately ceilings in the home, the Vanns’ Christmas tree is often more than 20 feet tall. The unique ceilings mimic the bottom of a boat, one of the unique design elements Robert Kennedy created. Louisa still employs his expertise today; he helped with a bathroom renovation as well as the design for the pool house. “It’s so nice to be able to work with the original architect,” she says.
While color is her typical modus operandi, Louisa dons the tree with white lights. “I am definitely not anti-colored lights,” says Louisa with a laugh. “I am used to seeing colored lights all over Texas, but I have so much going on in my house with the other colors that I do clear lights on the tree.”
Louisa’s tree is always a focal point. A few years ago, she began to tie ribbons on the tree — a design element that she continues to incorporate today. The tree is covered in colorful ribbons and replete with special ornaments, from preschool pieces of construction paper that are more than 35 years old to memorable ornaments from her godparents. Louisa also is sure to make an annual holiday trip to non(e)such for an ornament refresh. “We have a great time buying ornaments there,” says Louisa. “They always have new, fresh ornaments that I like to add to my collection.”
Avid travelers, the Vanns have a second, smaller tree, deemed the travel tree. This tree features the many unique ornaments the Vanns have procured during their various journeys. These include a buffalo chicken wing ornament from Buffalo and painted oyster shells from Philip’s home state of North Carolina, as well as special finds from their honeymoon in Saint Lucia and a recent jaunt to Morocco. “We always buy a Christmas ornament when we travel,” says Louisa. “We put the ornaments on the travel tree every year and reminisce about our past trips.”
In addition to the fresh, majestic tree, which they usually purchase at the Farmers Market, Louisa is also sure to grab fresh greenery for wreaths, garland, and the dining room centerpiece.
As a graduate of Woodberry Forest, Philip is adept at making wreaths and garland — a responsibility the students were charged with each year. At Wofford, his fraternity would also go to great lengths to decorate over the holidays. “Philip has been making wreaths since he was 14, so he loves handling that and other Christmas decorations,” says Louisa. “I provide the art direction, and he makes it happen!”
When it comes to design, Louisa doesn’t take things too seriously and never works with a theme. Instead, her planning is more organic. “I have a very loud design aesthetic,” she says. “It probably looks like I plan it all out, but really, I just throw things up. So many people hire professionals, but I just like to do it myself. I enjoy it — it’s fun for me.”
For those looking for inspiration with their holiday decorating, Louisa does suggest hiring an expert or reaching out to a friend. “Whatever works for you, make it happen. Whether you have a budget or not, just start and make it an iterative process,” she says. “I typically do the same thing every year in general, but I add something new each year. It’s a Mexican Christmas at my house. And whatever that looks like, I will always use the ribbon.” Louisa started with the ribbons only on the tree but now finds herself taking extra ribbon and tying it around sconces or lamps, complementing the fanciful design element from the tree.
Louisa is also sure to have greenery donning the entryway, which runs the length of the house. When the home was built, the owner’s only desire was for the entryway to be wide enough to dance in. Louisa has taken that to heart and uses this ample space for entertaining. “The hallway is like a room itself,” she says. “Since the hallway runs the length of the house and enters directly into each room, this becomes a very functional space.”
As expected, the dining room is an oft-used area during the holidays. While entertaining, Louisa will close all of the pocket doors leading to the room until it’s time to sit down for dinner. She then opens the space and invites in her guests. It’s this grand gesture that underscores Louisa’s love of entertaining. Louisa keeps the tablescape set all season, only replacing the flowers as necessary. She sets the table with a mix of fine Richard Ginori china and pottery, preferring a mix of fancy and casual. This pairing makes for a looser, more relaxed ambiance in keeping with Louisa’s design personality. The shimmering silver was Louisa’s paternal grandmother’s — her Christmas decorating inspiration. Stylish Estelle colored wine glasses add interest to the table and complement the hues in the china.
“Life was more practical than embellished in the ’60s and ’70s,” says Louisa. “This house isn’t overembellished, but I am really intentional about the design of our home, which may make it feel fancier than it is, without feeling stuffy.” The beautiful combination of natural elegance and holiday whimsy mixed with family and friends brings much joy and anticipation for the coming of the holidays and the sharing of one’s forever home.