Merry and Bright
Candles, trees and traditions wrap home in Christmas cheer
The first clue is the line of luminarias lining the front walk. The next hint comes from the fresh fragrances emanating from cedar roping on the porch and an evergreen wreath at the front door. The message is clear when the door opens and Santa greets you: whoever lives here has a thing for Christmas.
In this case they would be Mike Maly and Greg Espinoza.
“I grew up in Wisconsin where my parents made a big deal about Christmas, it was a magical time,” Mike remembers. “Our Christmas decorating takes us back to what holidays should be,” he adds.
Mike and Greg’s neighborhood is Woodland Park, one of the city’s first upscale subdivisions. Their home was built in 1911 and is rich with history. “Two years ago a woman stopped by because her grandmother had lived here. She shared with us old newspaper articles and photographs about the house and her grandmother’s family, the Sweets,” Mike explains. Dr. Sweet was a prominent physician and the family entertained often, hosting high teas and engagement parties. “We bought the home in 2004 and are thrilled to honor its history by continuing the tradition of entertaining, especially at Christmas,” Mike adds.
I’ll be home for Christmas
Nine interior trees grace the home and most have themes: Father Christmas, vacations, a red, green and white Santa tree. Each bedroom has a tree and the colors of the ornaments complement the rooms’ interiors.
The “family” tree is laden with ornaments from Mike’s childhood, and includes handmade ones from nieces and nephews. There are also ornaments that Mike’s sister, Patti, made. Those are extra special, Mike says, because she passed away in 1999. Mike’s childhood toys like trucks, a baseball glove, and a train are placed under the tree. “Each year they come down from the attic I feel like I’m recreating the Christmases of bygone days,” Mike reflects.
“Because my family lives in Wisconsin and we don’t get to see each other often, it’s hard to find just the right gift,” Mike explains. “So, about 20 years ago I started giving everyone ornaments, usually a collectible like Radko, Waterford, or Swarovski. I try to find an ornament that represents something special to them. For my mother, one of a cardinal or other bird; for my nieces, anything dealing with Broadway or theater; for my nephews, cars or trucks,” he adds.
It takes one day to decorate each tree. Every branch is wrapped in lights and the center of the tree is packed with solid colored ornaments as a backdrop for the featured ornaments.
“We begin decorating in November,” Mike says with a chuckle. “The key is to set aside time and make it fun, not a chore.” Because Mike and Greg travel frequently, they stick to artificial trees.
Mike and Greg are big believers in lots of candles to set the holiday mood. “Yes, it takes 15 minutes to light them all but it’s worth the effort because it adds such warmth,” they maintain.
A collection of old style Father Christmas statues—which Mike and Greg have been collecting for over 20 years—is displayed on the living room mantle. Mantles and tables throughout the house are adorned with fresh pine boughs. “We use six different types for various textures and scents and add holly sprigs, cranberries and pine cones,” Mike says. Poinsettias and fires in the fireplaces complete the scene.
“The centerpiece for the dining room table is a wall mirror that I found a few years ago,” Mike says. By laying the mirror flat, he can place candle holders in various sizes on top which adds to the sparkle of the table.
Let it snow
“Christmas is our time to remember the past and share our home with friends,” says Mike. “We try to have a big Christmas party each year which is our ‘gift’ to our friends.”
“We also host intimate parties—6 to 12 people—for close friends. On these occasions, we prepare the table ahead of time, and then pull the French doors shut and leave the room dark. Then, when dinner is ready to be served, we light the candles and the fireplace, and put the chandelier and wall sconces on dim, and unveil the magic,” says Mike.
The dining room has dark navy blue walls and drapes—a color scheme he saw in the library of a residence in New York City and fell in love with. The Christmas tree in the dining room features a combination of blue, crystal and glass ornaments which complement the room color and the Waterford on the table.
Guests linger for hours in the dining room and Mike and Greg credit not only the warm decorations but their round table. “It was one of the best purchases we ever made. With the round table, everyone is interactive and engaged in conversation.”
“When you live far away from your family, the friends you choose mean a great deal,” Mike observes. “They become our family in Columbus and some have come to expect the decorations, so it makes all the effort worth the while.”
Mike and Greg share some decorating and entertaining tips:
✷ Strategically place winter-scented candles to give a hint of fragrance.
✷ Place candles in the freezer the morning of an event. Frozen candles will cause the candle to burn much slower and cleaner. Trim the wicks to ¼ inch before lighting to slow the burn and eliminate smoke.
✷ If candles are being used for illumination and won’t be seen, use tea lights (ones with a 3 to 4-hour burn time). This is perfect for parties because you don’t have to deal with wax and they automatically go out—so you don’t need to worry that you left a candle burning when you go to bed.
✷ Use small white lights on a tree to put the focus on decorations and not the light color.
✷ Don’t make decorating a chore. Set aside a day to put things up. Eggnog, a fire in the fireplace, and your favorite holiday movie or music help set the mood.
✷ Label and catalog boxes of decorations to keep organized.
✷ Use different lid colors to distinguish storage bins.
✷ Smaller trees can be wrapped in sheets and tied at the top and bottom—ornaments and all—to be stored fully decorated, saving time.
✷ Enjoy your own party by hiring a small staff to help with large affairs. Have them bartend, keep the appetizers fresh, and clean things up. It enables you to be completely focused on your guests, not hiding in the kitchen or restocking ice.
It’s worth every penny.