Southern Comfort | No Place Like Home For Raleigh Court Family’s Holidays
The front porch of the grand 1920s Georgian-style home, situated within walking distance of Historic Grandin Village in Raleigh Court, hints at what’s to come—a large wreath adorning the door, flanked by urns of artful arrangements of birch and pine branches. The Crawfords, an active family of seven, are mad for the holidays. Their newly renovated home is family friendly and holiday perfect, decorated to the hilt and ready for neighbors and friends to stop by to toast the season, and for the out-of-town family that will soon descend on the house to celebrate Christmas.
While most moms are stressed by the holiday to-do list, matriarch Clare Crawford is cool and collected, because this is her zone. “You could say I have a Christmas problem,” jokes Clare, whose Southern accent hails from South Carolina, where she grew up learning how to prepare a house for Christmas alongside her mother, an interior decorator. “I really do just love the holidays and everything about Christmas.”
In the spacious foyer, a large round glass table with an ornate carved-wood base greets guests. For the holidays, it is covered in an arrangement of bronze and champagne-toned metallic branches, ornaments, string lights and garland, with a towering artisan-made sheep and shepherd and two antique bells, which once adorned the necks of sheep. Clare, who loves a good hunt for both housewares and Christmas decor, found the sheep and several other decorations at Main Street Primitives in Salem.
Visible from the front entrance is the main staircase, the railing wrapped in coordinating tones of bronze garland, anchored by a large Mark Roberts Santa Claus fairy tied to the newel post. Clare, who mixes high and low furnishing in every room of her home, does the same with holiday decor—handmade collector’s items are mixed with craft store clearance specials and vintage ornaments snapped up for a steal on auction sites like eBay, which she scours regularly for Christmas loot. Locally, in addition to Main Street Primitives, she likes to shop Joran’s Interiors, Present Thyme, Black Dog Salvage, and Rustic and Refined, and she occasionally pops in thrift stores, which sometimes have hidden vintage treasures.
To the left of the entry is the original parlor, separated by pocket doors, and decorated in soothing tones of cream and beige. The hardwood floor is covered in a large seagrass rug, topped by a creamy linen sofa and beige chairs flanking the fireplace. Twin antique chairs from Present Thyme in a rich peach silk with tufting finish the seating, and an antique chandelier sparkles above the coffee table. At first glance the light tones seem like they’d present a challenge to keep clean with small children and pets (the Crawfords have both a cat and a dog), but Clare points to the easy-care upholstery on the sofa and the durable seagrass, which stands up to family life.
“After trying both jute and sisal rugs at different times, I found seagrass—if the rug is 100 percent seagrass—will hold up to just about anything,” Clare says. “We are so used to having lots of people at the house for church functions… between that, and our friends and family, and the kids’ friends… we want every space in the house to be truly welcoming. We enjoy hosting.”
The neutral parlor is the perfect backdrop to the real star of the room—the 7 ½ -foot flocked Christmas tree, perched high on a burlap-covered table, commanding attention. In front of the tree and camouflaging the table is an antique, weathered-wood large sleigh (purchased from Rustic and Refined) overflowing with gift packages in coordinating tones. Clare’s collection of vintage ornaments adorns the tree, most of which hail from the 1930s through the 1960s, in pops of candy colors. The tree is topped in a set of white fuzzy angel wings—another eBay find—which was a child’s costume that Clare has reimagined here. A sign saying “rejoice” from craft site Etsy finishes the tree. If the tree is the star of the room, the mantel is the understudy—a grand arrangement of bronze and champagne-colored garlands, ribbons and ornaments, glowing with candles and peppered with bronzed magnolias, shells and starfish.
“I like to add in shells and beach decor, which you’ll notice all over the house,” says Clare. “It reminds me of growing up and spending summers on the coast in Carolina.”
Directly across from the parlor on the other side of the foyer is Clare’s husband Charlie’s office, where he logs extra hours working on projects for the construction company bearing his name, as well as his environmental consulting firm. Pocket doors identical to the ones separating the parlor can be closed for conference calls and privacy. A smaller space off the main office, bathed in light from windows on both sides, houses Clare’s desk and command center for managing the paperwork of family life. The holiday decor in Charlie’s office has a masculine bent, with a deer and pinecones serving as the main adornments.
Further down the hallway is a formal dining room, where the adults might sit for a large family dinner when uncles, aunts and cousins arrive for Christmas. Before the Crawfords made an addition to the back of the house for a new great room, kitchen, master bedroom and open dining area, the dining room served as a den in the original house. While the dining room may be for formal dinners, it has an elegantly casual feel, with a weathered table at its center that can seat eight comfortably. The table, too, is ready for the holidays, awash in candlelight from towering candlesticks on top of a neutral-toned arrangement in keeping with the holiday decor scheme throughout the front of the house.
When Clare walks to the back of the house—the addition that was painstakingly completed by Charlie’s construction company over a period of several years—she explains the shift in decor.
“The front of the house is more reverent, more religious, with the softer colors and the sheep and shepherds, the Holy Family,” says Clare. “The back of the house is more fun, with all the red and green and the family tree.”
While Clare is the hands-on decorator, the home is also a showplace for Charlie, who oversaw every aspect of the remodel and expansion. It took so long to complete, Clare explains, because other firm projects took priority, and the couple labored over the details on their forever home. One eyeful of the inviting space, and you know they got it just right.
The expansive great room, which is open to the kitchen and a casual dining area, has ample seating for a crowd. The gathering area of the great room has dark leather couches with deep, sink-in seats for visiting with guests or watching the big-screen TV, which is housed in a wall of built-in bookcases. Hair-on-hide chairs accompany the two couches and face the large square ottoman, upholstered in a 200-year-old Turkish Oushak rug.
“If the rug survived for so many years on the floor, it can survive on the ottoman,” Clare jokes. It was her idea to cover the ottoman in the rug, though she does get design input and furnishings from Present Thyme, as well as decorator and artist friends like Kim Bell, a local painter whose work hangs in the Crawford home, and who helped Clare pull off the daunting task of decorating for the holidays. “I could not have done it without Kim,” says Clare.
The family tree is nestled in an area between the two couches, and is draped in family ornaments. The tree topper is a whimsical arrangement featuring a large red bow, and a cluster of oversized faux candy canes placed at various angles.
“The kids get an ornament each year for Christmas that has something to do with what they are interested in right now, so when we pull them out each year it’s a kind of timeline of what they’ve been doing,” says Clare.
The sofa table, which delineates the open kitchen and dining area from the great room, is covered in red, green and silver, with a smiling snowman at the center and twin trees made of silver tinsel, hung with the crystals from a vintage chandelier that was no longer in use. On the fireplace mantel, a stately Santa Claus holds court over the red and green ornaments and garlands hung from the cascading faux evergreens covered in lights. Dangling from the mantel are the family’s stockings, hand knit by Charlie’s mother in shades of red and green with a name stitched into each—including the one Charlie used as a child.
The kitchen, where Clare and Charlie can cook and prepare food while still interacting with the family and guests, is white on white, with custom creamy white cabinets topped with a leathered marble countertop, white subway tiles that extend to the ceiling, and a custom range hood, which is also draped in an evergreen garland. A vintage scale on the counter balances a fruit bowl, another find from one of Clare’s treasure hunts. An expansive, rectangular kitchen island has seating for four, and a nearby dining area, to the side of the kitchen, houses a large wooden table and upholstered seating for family meals.
Off the great room is a hallway that leads to a master suite, where Clare and Charlie can retire for some solace during the busy holiday season, while the kids retire upstairs. But it’s obvious this couple prefers to be in the thick of things, enjoying time with the ones they love. All those who cross the threshold into this festive house from November to January will be treated to the fruits of Clare’s labor, and one can only imagine that it will be the happiest of holidays in this Roanoke retreat.
Photography by Kevin Hurley