Christmas with Natural Beauty

Lush greens paired with organic and found elements keep a Mountain Brook, Alabama home feeling fresh and festive all season long.
A lit and heavily ornamented Christmas tree stands in a sitting room next to two velvet emerald chairs.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

“We wait a little longer to put our tree up so that it stays fresh and fragrant through the Feast of Epiphany,” homeowner Kathryn Eckert says.

Who knew that the ancient Celts were such trendsetters? According to lore, they were the first to deck their halls with boughs of holly—a practice that sprouted from their belief that the evergreen served as a source of strength and protection during the bleak winter months and promoted good fortune in the new year. Over the centuries, Santa Claus and snowmen may have given the plant a run for its money, but its classic red-and-green complexion remains an icon in its own rite to this very day.

There is one Alabama abode, however, where Christmas joie de vivre seems to overflow despite the absence of vibrant red hues and secular symbols. From November through January, the old-world interiors of Kathryn and Doug Eckert’s Mountain Brook manse are stocked with artful arrangements of vegetables, fruit, berries, and nuts peppered with fresh florals, shed antlers, and foraged pinecones and feathers—nuances that celebrate an entire season of blessings and abundance as opposed to just one day. “I take a holistic and somewhat historic approach to decorating this time of year,” Kathryn says. “Instead of displaying lots of holiday-specific knickknacks and colors, I layer our everyday interiors with found and natural elements that evoke the spirit of the fall and winter seasons. I imagine that’s how it was done ages ago and, to me, that simplicity feels authentic.”

A two-story white colonial house is decorated in greenery for Christmas.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

“This was no small undertaking!” says decorator Mandi Smith T. She explains that it took four people, eight wreaths, and 150 feet of garland to decorate the home’s stately façade.

Such simplicity also feels relevant from Thanksgiving Day through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. For the past several years, Kathryn has called on decorator Mandi Smith T to compose enduring decor built atop hardy bases of grapevine, smilax vine, and silk greens finished with fresh cedar, pine, blue spruce, boxwood, and noble fir. These lush garlands and swags add enchantment to the European-inspired rooms anchored by fine French period antiques, some sourced by interior designer Mary Finch and others scored abroad by the homeowners during time spent in Brittany, Provence, and the Loire Valley. “Our goal was to complement the beauty that’s there—not compete with it,” Mandi says. “To achieve that, we gave careful consideration to every detail—the ribbon, linens, and tabletop accessories. Even the green shades in the greenery!”

Assorted amaryllis, nerines, garden roses, and ranunculus form an arrangement in front of a 17th century Italian painting.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

“A lush, English garden-inspired arrangement by Sybil Sylvester spills from an antique brass cachepot on top of a 19th-century French faux marble-top console in the foyer. “The flowers highlight the 17th-century Italian painting to create a tableau that fades from dark to light,” she says. The living masterpiece is comprised of traditional holiday greens with assorted amaryllis, nerines, garden roses, and ranunculus.

Olive green and turquoise ribbon are tied in ribbons with pinecones and magnolia leaves at the bottom of a staircase.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

A garland of magnolia, juniper, Lamb’s-ear, and greens decks the banister in the entry. Extra-wide velvet ribbon in cool shades of fern and chartreuse adds highlights to the rich teal and chocolate tones of the accompanying ribbons. Natural pinecones play off the texture of the sisal stair runner. The antique Persian Malayer rug is from Paige Albright Orientals.

“Instead of displaying lots of holiday-centric knickknacks and colors, I layer our everyday interiors with found and natural elements that evoke the spirit of the fall and winter seasons.”

—Kathryn Eckert

Grey linen covered dining chairs sit around a teal velvet table in a teal painted room.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

A garland of mixed greens and smilax vine coils around an antique French confit jar and cascades down the sides of a 19th-century English oak Welsh dresser displaying a Ridgway dessert service from the 1850s. Wool throws in blues and browns are layered over the table for a warm and informal feel. A nubby, cross-hatched Lee Jofa fabric covers slipper chairs from Lee Industries.

Lamb’s-ear is woven into the mix for its silvery, leathery leaves and floppy posture; magnolia for its velvety, burnt orange underbelly; and juniper and seeded eucalyptus for their whimsical, almost-aqua-colored berries. “Given the interior’s cool palette, I welcome the chance to warm things up when the temperature drops,” says Kathryn. “Flowers in yellow, blush, coral, and rust mixed with metallic accents in copper, pewter, and gold are festive yet holiday-neutral, allowing me to edit and experiment with different looks as the seasons change.”

Nativity scene flanked by small blue-green Christmas trees on sideboard.

Photo by Laurey Glenn

A pair of blue-green pines flank a vintage nativity scene and pick up the blues and browns of the dining room decor.