An Homage to Father Christmas and Mother Nature

The family room, which paid homage to Mother Nature for the 2018 holiday season, is situated in the original farmhouse.

Tracy and Kurt Fichthorn’s home in Reinholds exudes history, tradition and a love for the holidays.

Twenty-nine years ago, Anita Yoder launched Heritage Design Interiors (HDI), which specializes in the accessories aspect of home décor. “Everything and anything for the home, with the exception of furniture,” Anita says.

Christmas decorating entered the picture when the company took over a historic property in New Holland in 2002. “It dates to the 1830s,” she explains of the former inn that features six fireplaces. Anita and her staff, including Pam Leisey, who has been with her almost from the beginning, couldn’t help but envision the former inn decked out for the holidays. “We started out small, just decorating a couple of the fireplace mantels,” Anita recalls.

The timing could not have been more perfect. Holiday decorating was becoming a niche all its own. It has helped to transform home-design studios such as HDI, garden centers, landscaping companies and home stores into decorating sources at a time of the year when business would typically slow down. Think about it … who does a major home project in November or December?

The original portion of the farmhouse dates to 1841. The 130-acre farm was owned by Kurt’s great-uncle Dan Fichthorn from 1938-1971. After his death, it was sold to a farmer and a developer. When Kurt and Tracy decided to relocate from the Philadelphia area, they began searching for a home in the Reinholds area, only to discover the farmhouse was for sale. Working with Cox Evans Architects and Dwight Graybill of Cocalico Builders, the house expanded to 5,000 square feet. After it was finished, Tracy turned to Heritage Design Interiors for help with window treatments and decorating the house for the holidays.

How much of an impact does holiday decorating have on the economy? A lot! The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $6 billion on holiday decorations this year, with purchases ranging from a simple ornament to an outdoor extravaganza of lighting that would rival Longwood Gardens. We won’t even discuss the sale frenzy that transpires on December 26! The $6 billion outpaces last year’s record-setting spending by 8.1%. As for trees, the predicted expenditure comes in at $3.4 billion ($2.6 billion on faux and $800 million on the real varieties).

When Tracy saw the critter-filled tree and winter-themed mantel swag at last year’s open house at Heritage Design Interiors, she knew they would fit perfectly into the décor of the family room. No doubt they will make an encore appearance this year, as Heritage Design Interior’s Anita Yoder reports that Mother Nature will again inspire holiday decorating. Tracy found the fox head carving at Frey’s Greenhouse and added a boxwood wreath for a holiday touch.

Those numbers are reflected in the fact that QVC begins rolling out holiday decorations in July. Christmas starts creeping into department stores over Labor Day weekend, when holiday shops are unveiled. Shops devoted solely to Christmas décor thrive year-round in destinations such as Saint Michaels, Maryland, and Manteo, North Carolina. Holiday open houses dominate the calendar as soon as Halloween ends (if not before).

Holiday home tours have become successful fundraisers for nonprofit organizations. The holiday décor at historic sites and public gardens such as Winterthur, Williamsburg, Biltmore and Longwood attracts millions of visitors. And, have you noticed that Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas movies, which kicked off in mid-October, have placed a greater emphasis on holiday décor? One of last year’s movies had Elvis Presley’s Graceland as the backdrop.

Realizing that their clients are gaga over holiday décor, Heritage Design Interiors began decorating their building to the hilt each Christmas. “We do five trees, five mantels and the open staircase,” notes Anita. An open house, which welcomes visitors during the first two weeks of November, showcases the finds Anita has discovered at the trade and gift shows she frequents. For HDI, Christmas has become almost a year-round endeavor, as the shows get underway in January and inventory begins arriving in late summer.

Tracy has been a client for years. “I’d stop in and browse,” she recalls. Then, when she needed help decorating the 19th-century family homestead she and Kurt restored and expanded a dozen years ago – it earned a C. Emlen Urban award from the Historic Preservation Trust in 2008 – she began working closely with Pam.

Tracy, who loves to decorate for Christmas, became a regular at the HDI’s holiday open houses. “I’d buy decorations for our home and our place in Stone Harbor,” she explains. Last year she spied a tree (and complementary mantel swag) that was filled with critters. “The tones, colors and theme were perfect for our family room,” Tracy explains. “When she said she wanted the tree, I thought she meant some of the ornaments on it,” Pam recalls. “Then, she clarified it and said, ‘No, I want the tree and everything on it!’” Anita and Pam believe that was a first!

The living room is located in the addition that echoes the time period of the house. Melding old and new was accomplished through using reclaimed wood for the floors and adding the fireplace surround that was sourced locally. The painting over the fireplace captures the farm in the early ’50s and was a gift from Emerson Fichthorn to Dan Fichthorn, who owned the property at the time. The draperies reflect the fact that a horse-racing track was once part of the acreage.

The critters represent an ode to the Mother Nature trend that began about three or four years ago with songbirds and has evolved to include last year’s favorites: owls, red foxes and other woodland creatures. Anita says they will be in vogue again this year, with white foxes and tropical birds joining the menagerie. The natural world is also celebrated by the seashore theme that has also been popular over the last several years, with sea creatures, shells and lighthouses taking the shape of shimmering ornaments. Trees with floral accents are also on the rise.

The Father Christmas aspect of decorating hearkens to ornaments and keepsakes that have been passed down through generations or are reproductions of the German-made decorations that Frank Woolworth took a chance on and offered for sale at his landmark store on North Queen Street beginning in 1880. (Much to his surprise, the ornaments sold out in a matter of hours.) Anita shares that ornaments circa 2019 will be available in a rainbow of colors, including turquoise and pink for vintage fans.

For modernists, metallics (especially brass and gold tones) and the color blue embellished with bling are two newer trends for the 2019 holiday season.

Heritage Design Interiors is also benefiting from a unique service they offer – clients who turn their homes over to Anita and her staff in the morning, leave for work, and return in the evening to find a winter wonderland has replaced the fall décor. “Our list of clients [for such services] keeps growing,” Anita confirms. As you can imagine, the window of opportunity for such services is short and fast-paced. “We get started right around Thanksgiving and work every day for the next couple of weeks,” Pam says.

Father Christmas is the theme in the living room. The red-and-white-themed tree held ornaments that relate to the Fichthorns’ interests – horses, beer-making, farm animals, dogs and cats – and ornaments their 16-year-old son, Kole, has made over the years. Tracy worked with Pam Leisey of Heritage Design Interiors to further embellish the tree with red and white amaryllis blooms and branches of glistening berries. Amaryllis blossoms, greens and pinecones topped the mantel in the room. The floral accents are part of a growing trend. Martha Stewart, HGTV and Better Homes & Gardens Magazine all predict that trees will be blooming with flowers this year.

For long-time clients, the goal is to add new elements each year, so as to create subtle changes. “We like to tweak everything from year to year,” she explains. Still other clients might add a new room to the mix, which calls for a fresh start. It’s also become common for clients to have multiple trees in their homes. “We like to work with client’s collections, too. We hear so many great stories through them,” adds Anita. “Decorating for Christmas really helps us to get to know our clients.”

Just as they help clients decorate, they help them remove the decorations. “We’re finding that people are keeping their decorations up longer,” says Pam. “It works really well for those who have winter wonderland themes or, like Tracy, went with a critter theme.” Indeed, Tracy reports the critters decorated the family room well into February.

Because she would be having a lot of guests visiting over the holidays, Tracy decided to take decorating up a notch and asked Pam to assist her. “It was so nice to have help,” she says.

The tree in the formal living room hearkened to Father Christmas, as it was decorated in the traditional red and green colors. It was filled with keepsakes and ornaments that relay family interests – horses, beer-making, football, farm animals, cats and dogs – as well as some made by their son, Kole, over the years.

The holiday décor in the farmhouse kitchen focused on the old-fashioned tradition of pomanders – citrus fruit embellished with aromatic cloves. Pomanders were used to decorate the chandelier and the arrangement of greens and pinecones.

It was Tracy’s idea to further embellish the tree with large “blossoms” of red and white amaryllis. “I saw a tree decorated that way by designer Carolyn Weaver and never forgot it,” she explains. Pam further embellished it with colorful, ice-covered picks, pinecones, glitzy acorns and burlap ribbon. HDI’s custom floral arrangements topped tables, while more amaryllis blooms filled the mantel.

A counter in the kitchen was topped with things that evoke childhood memories for Tracy.

The dining room is always a vision of Lenox – pieces from the holiday china pattern belonged to Tracy’s grandmother, plus Tracy has added to the collection. The tree is hung with Lenox ornaments that a high school friend sends her every year. “She’s like a sister to me,” Tracy remarks. Figurines from Lenox create a crèche that sits atop the buffet.

In the kitchen, the old-fashioned custom of embellishing fruit with fragrant cloves – pomanders – is reflected in the chandelier and floral arrangements. Other finds and sentimental pieces decorate the room.

The newest decorations – the critter-filled tree and mantel swag – made the family room warm and cozy throughout the winter.

The dining room takes on a Lenox theme at holiday time. Much of the china belonged to Tracy’s grandmother, and Tracy has added to it over the years. The tree is filled with ornaments that a high school friend has sent to Tracy each Christmas. An elegant centerpiece echoes the room’s holiday color scheme.

“It’s a fun house to decorate,” Pam says. “I always enjoy coming here.” It appears she will be making a return visit after the holidays to do more than take down the decorations. “I think I want to re-do the living room,” Tracy informed her. “I heard that!” Kurt said as he exited the house to take their dog for a walk.

Heritage Design Interiors, 1064 E. Main St., New Holland. Call 717-354-2233 or visit heritagedesigninteriors.com for more information.

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  1. This is just stunning. The photography is outstanding. Top notch article.I am so impressed with the entire project.