Christmas Decorating

This historic mansion is decked out for Christmases present and future.

Robert Radifera Photography

Homeowners and empty nesters Donna and Garon Stutzman made a seemingly improbable leap when they traded a Chesapeake Bay waterfront farm in Maryland for the historic Old Denton estate in prime Orange County hunt country, in the heart of The Plains.

However, history repeats.

“I once had a farm in Middleburg 30 years ago. I always loved the area and enjoyed mule-riding and foxhunting,” recalls Garon of his earlier days. “Donna and I met on the Eastern Shore later and renovated a farm on the water in Centreville, Maryland. We were once avid boaters, but when we gave up boating, looking at an empty pier wasn’t for us. Why stay there?”

Garon’s return to Virginia with Donna, his wife and soulmate for a decade, was simply fated. The couple share joint passions for horses and mules, fox-hunting, and gracious country living.

Robert Radifera Photography

The allure of the historic old Denton manor house, set on 58 acres, proved irresistible, and the couple purchased it in 2019. In addition to the brick manor house, with its 1860s Greek Revival and Italianate style, the property also includes its original 1820s farmhouse, now a guesthouse; a meat house from the era; along with stables, barns, and tenant lodging. (The couple now operate a horse-and-mule boarding and training facility on the property called the Old Denton Stables.)

“This was our first Christmas here,” says Donna, who enlisted Jamie Merida and his lead designer Melanie Donahue of Jamie Merida Interiors to furnish the home from scratch and deck it out for the holidays. “We thought of it as a Christmas dress rehearsal,” continues Donna. “We have had small gatherings during the season, but we hope to open up our house for holiday home tours, or host Christmas parties for local organizations in the future.”

Merida, who has worked with the couple on several prior properties, was excited to take this one on. As Donna divulges, “This place is Jamie’s sweet spot. He loves historic homes and old architecture, and he knows our taste.”

Turns out Merida also loves Christmas. Every year, his team of elves at Bountiful Home, his design emporium in Easton, Maryland, get to work, decking out grand houses all across the D.C. metro area. He takes his design cues from his homeowners and the style and setting of their homes.

Robert Radifera Photography

“I told Jamie I don’t like glitter or glitz; I wanted something appropriate and old timey to reflect the history of the home,” says Donna of her holiday decorating wish list. “Of course, I trusted him completely,” she adds.

“I understand Donna and Garon’s aesthetic,” says Merida. “This is our third or fourth project. For Christmas, Donna wanted a muted equestrian vibe that’s in keeping with the décor, as well as with the heritage of the house.”

Old Denton (and the original farmhouse and meat house) was built from bricks fired from red clay dredged from ponds on the property. It has a sublime Greek Doric front porch, with four fluted columns, all set on brick piers, accessible by central stairs. The porch ceiling is painted pale blue in the classic Southern manner.

“The house—and its period—dictated how to decorate it for the holidays,” says Merida, who began the decorating project outdoors, working with faux greenery and what he could scavenge from the foliage on the property.

Robert Radifera Photography

The pair of Doric columns on either side of the front door are wrapped in faux evergreen garlands, layered with pine cones and red berries, and lit from within with twinkling fairy lights. Meanwhile, a variety of antique iron urns, vintage French laundry baskets, and other curated containers are filled with a mix of faux and natural bounty. Both front and side doors, of course, have wreaths.

These elements are carried indoors onto the grand center hall staircase that holds deep swags of the same greenery, with fairy lights, up to the upper landing. Beneath the foyer console table, vintage French laundry baskets are brimming with fragrant fresh-cut evergreens. “We repeat the rhythm of the outdoors into this space—and beyond,” adds Merida.

There are two main salons on either side of the foyer hall in the front of the house: the parlor and the dining room. These are the home’s more formal spaces and decorated for the season accordingly. The holiday decorating palette shifts slightly in both of these rooms; more warm-toned in the parlor, which houses the Christmas tree, and more cool-toned in the dining room, where the Stutzmans keep their silver and pewter riding and hunting trophies from over the years.

Robert Radifera Photography

“I’d say the color palette for the holiday décor, like that of the regular décor, is subtle. In addition to the seasonal reds and greens, it’s all burnished metals, nothing shiny: warm coppers, aged golds, patinaed silvers,” says Merida.

The tree in the parlor fits beautifully with the overall equestrian feel of the home, with its plaid sofa, cognac leather accents, and fox oil painting above the mantel. The tree is tall and fireside, with feathery pheasant tree-toppers, quail plumage, pine cones, and a variety of burnished and flecked ornaments. The garland over the fireplace garland echoes these themes.

“In the dining room, we used quail feathers, silvered pine cones, and faux white berries, integrating them with the old silver and pewter trophies on the mantel,” says Merida. “The antique chandelier and sconces here are also silver so we picked up on that.”

Robert Radifera Photography

Above the mantel hangs a custom-designed mirror frame by Merida made of horse saddles. The centerpiece is a simple one of magnolia leaves, deer antlers, chartreuse and ochre-dried flora, all piled in a large trough.

Traveling through to the kitchen, the look becomes more casual and country. The kitchen was a later addition to the home, featuring marble countertops and an eat-in area for home-cooked meals. The back entrance is frequently used during the holidays, as it connects easily to the guest house. (The couple has a blended family with two grown children who like to visit.) On the paned-glass back door is another ribboned wreath with red berries and pine cones.

“We also used fresh fruit where we could,” says Merida. “Pomegranates, green pears, citrus. All in all, the holiday decorating we did here is not unlike what would have been done in a bespoke country estate such as this 150 years ago,” he adds.

The Stutzmans are delighted with their new home. The holiday décor was the icing on the cake.

“We managed to host small gatherings over the holiday season,” adds Donna, who loves to cook. “This home is so much bigger than our last home, and it was great to have Jamie run with it and with its holiday decorating. The result feels like the perfect recipe.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue.

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