It’s the week before Christmas, and creatures are definitely stirring all around Elway Hall. Dinah, a gregarious wire fox terrier, dashes along the upstairs corridor, looking for a game of fetch or, more than likely, her next treat. Down at the cutting garden, Dolly and Llama, a pair of friendly llamas (whose owner is always at the ready with a good pun) peer over the fence while floral designer Barbara Hamilton gathers armfuls of ilex branches to be used in arrangements. A veritable herd of sheep and Angora goats keeps a close watch as clearly they’re curious about the buzz of activity, too.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Barry Dixon and Will Thomas are putting the final touches on a 13-foot tree in the music room, one of a dozen that will be decorated to grace this 1907 Edwardian-style house nestled amidst almost 400 acres in Virginia’s horse country.
Dixon, who is known for designing richly layered and eminently livable interiors for clients around the globe, as well as for creating his own sought-after collections of furnishings, fabrics, accessories, and paint, relishes the opportunity to focus on his own home as he prepares for the holidays. With 10 exquisitely decorated bedrooms and Dixon’s easygoing, yet always thoughtful manner regarding hospitality, it’s no surprise that Elway becomes a revolving door for a steady stream of family and friends during the season.
“For us, Christmas is much more than a day or two—it’s two weeks of our nearest and dearest coming and going,” he says. “I like to stagger guests in smaller groups, sort of ‘tapas style.’ Then every day becomes special because we’ll be eating something delicious, regaling each other with stories, and opening a few presents in a quiet way, rather than having a massive Armageddon on Christmas morning, with the whole floor strewn with shreds of paper from all the gifts. I love celebrating the smaller, more personable moments.”
For this designer, part of the joy of orchestrating those intimate, celebratory moments is creating a magical setting for them to take place. Although the everyday décor at Elway Hall would be welcoming without nary an extra bough or berry, Dixon can’t resist adding in another sumptuous layer to his design—one that takes advantage of the beauty, textures, and fragrances found right in his backyard. Thus a “decking-the-halls frenzy” commences in full earnest.
Should you step into one of the guest bathrooms before the first wave of visitors arrives, you’ll find the claw-foot tubs filled to the brim with just-cut fir, juniper, pine, and magnolia, all getting a good soaking before Hamilton helps fashion wreaths and garlands. When all is said and done, every stair banister, window, and mantel will be dressed in the bounty that has been gathered from the property.
And then Dixon will turn his attention back to bringing several-dozen large boxes of ornaments out of storage, each one carefully labeled with the room and tree for which they’re intended. Although some of the smaller trees he’ll trim have been harvested from his woods, the taller ones have been brought in from farms nearby. That will surely change not too far down the road. Last year Thomas gave Dixon a special gift, a sign painted with a picture of Dinah announcing their personal Christmas tree farm. This past spring and fall a hundred noble firs and Norwegian spruces were planted on the property, all merrily destined to spend future holidays inside Elway Hall.