Yule logs burning bright, children gathered round the hearth waiting for Santa, chestnuts roasting and candles glowing. The fireplace is often the center of family gatherings and the focal point of the room during the holidays.
By Rebecca Johnston
Photography by Kathryn Ingall
Whether choosing a casual or traditional theme, decorating the mantel offers a chance to let your creativity shine and express your own distinctive style. Many homeowners like to showcase personal collections that speak to them and have a special meaning about the holidays.
For Wanda Roach, of Canton, showcasing her collection of Baccarat and Waterford Christmas angels became the catalyst for a stunning mantel.
Christine Blight of Christine’s Interiors in Woodstock likes to blend the past with the present in her personal holiday looks by bringing in beloved family memorabilia.
The home of Judy and Barry Bishop in Canton is decked out in holiday splendor, with two fireplaces lovingly decorated to welcome family and guests alike, including a mantel in the den resplendent with nutcrackers.
Using beloved collectibles, cherished family heirlooms and treasured pieces can infuse the holidays with joy.
Roach has collected crystal angels for 25 years, with those she uses on her living room mantel all presents from her late husband, Judge C. Michael Roach. She said she had an attraction from the first one she acquired.
“I have always felt angels are special, they represent those watching over us. I have always loved the beauty, detail and clarity and I am very drawn to them,” she said.
“We feel like angels are always watching over us, ever present. I love the beauty of the design of the ones I have.”
Along with the angels, a Waterford crystal nativity graces the traditional wood mantel surrounded by judges paneling.
The wreath is a combination of boxwood, pine, cedar and hemlock, with burgundies and golds, traditional holiday colors Roach uses for the room.
“I love the warm color — I am very traditional in my Christmas decorations,” Roach said.
Large candles on heavy, embossed gold candle holders complete the look and bring additional warmth and light to the room.
Judy Bishop began collecting her nutcrackers in the early 1990s. When she was on a holiday trip to New York she searched for one as a souvenir, and finally found the one on the rocking horse that continues to be part of her collection.
Then she began collecting the Steinbach hand-carved nutcrackers from Germany. Over the years her mother gave her some of those in her collection. One was from a performance of “The Nutcracker” by the Academy of Dance Arts in Canton. Another rocking horse nutcracker was from Christi Hinkley, owner of the academy.
Her first nutcracker stocking was purchased at a performance of “The Nutcracker” by the Atlanta Ballet. Bishop said as a child her mother took her to see the ballet, a tradition she continued with her own children.
The story of the nutcracker embodies a special childhood joy of Christmas, she said.
“I do love family traditions and our gatherings are so special and have always been special,” she said. “I love the beautiful music and the nutcracker as a symbol of the holiday.”
Family figures heavily into Bishop’s holiday traditions. The year her husband, Barry, was discharged from the military when she was a young wife, the two drove all night to get to Canton by Christmas morning.
Judy loves to decorate with magnolia and other local greenery, because it reminds her of her mother.
“My mother always put magnolia on the top of the breakfront, and it is such a Southern tradition,” she said.
Blight agrees that using local seasonal greenery, such as magnolia, is what adds to the beauty of the holidays.
For a mantel in her shop, Blight chose to use a tobacco basket because of its historical significance. She calls the mantel, which features a deer head, plaid ribbon reminiscent of a man’s flannel shirt, Georgia pine and tallow berries, a winter scene perfect for the season that can last into the New Year.
In both her shop and her personal space, Blight loves to combine items from the past with those from the present to spark memories and happy feelings.
For her kitchen mantel, she showcases items used by her grandmother to bake holiday cookies and which evoke the memories of the sights, smells and tastes of the season.
Her grandmother’s cookie cutters fill jars Blight purchased for a party for her son, rolling pins and pastry tools are loving tucked into the arrangement, and portions of porch pickets cut from a historic house that was torn down in downtown Woodstock are woven into the decorations.
The mantel in the house built in 1904 by the Kemp family is much as it always was, reflecting Blight and her husband’s love of old and historic things.
“It is about memories, about sparking those warm feelings about holidays past. It is what makes you happy, all about you and the family,” Blight says of her decorating style.
Her childhood rocker brought over by her grandfather from Sweden, the home of her grandparents, when she was a small child, sits next to the fireplace with a hand-crafted primitive Santa bought for the spot. A piece of canvas art displayed on the mantel reflects the theme.