The holidays traditionally represent a beacon of hope, and we need that in 2020 like never before. Holiday sales started early, holiday carols are flowing through stores and coffeehouses, and for many, holiday decorating will be particularly poignant this year.
But Germantown’s Bret (“Stoney”) and Vicki Stoneking have been capturing the magic of the season long before 2020, and spreading joy in the process. Their picture-perfect approach to Christmas décor within their historic Eastlake Italianate home captures both the modern festivity of Christmas and the nostalgia of Christmases long past. Visitors and guests alike are enchanted.
Built in the 1860s, the home was one of dozens that the Stonekings viewed online while house hunting. “There were all the reasons not to buy it,” Stoney recalls, yet the couple decided to take a tour, as Vicki had lived in a Victorian as a child. The rest is history. Self-described wanderers, they had never lived in any one place—or home—more than a year or so, but they’ve been in this home, and literally decking the halls of it, since 2006.
It helps that the previous owners spent 33 years bringing the home up to a livable state. Still, Stoney says, “Like any old large thing, it gets your attention when it needs it.” The family had to deal with not only the draftiness of an old house but also the challenge of very dark spaces, as all of the windows have interior shutters. The couple prowled antique stores for vintage light fixtures, many featuring stained glass and crystal, including one with 3,000 crystals; they added mirrors to create reflective light throughout; and they brightened up many of the spaces with stunning wallpapers.
Color climbs the walls
Kevin O’Donnel of O’Donnel & Company, whom Stoney calls a true artist, tackled all of the wallpapers, often using design sheets that Stoney created in the Microsoft Paint program and engineering them throughout the home. “Engineering” is apropos because each room took at least a week to complete and each was like a jigsaw puzzle. Fortunately, Kevin loves his craft and didn’t mind that some rooms contain up to 15 different wallpapers.
The wallpapers, all of which are handmade and silk-screened, transformed bland rooms into real-life vignettes that are rich in color. A stunning example of the craft is the Persian papers in the Men’s Parlor. Here, as in the stairwell ceilings, the deep blue sky is adorned with shining stars. But in this room, centered on the ceiling is paper that recalls an antique Tabriz rug. (“A flying carpet, if you will,” says Stoney). Kevin also cites that the “flying carpet ceiling” in the men’s parlor as an example of both the effective use of color and the intricacy of the project: “It required me to expand and contract the wallpaper to make it appear not to have starting or ending point around the border,” he explains. “This was done on all of the ceilings.”
Not a cookie cutter affair
Just as each wallpaper is unique, so too is the Christmas theme in each room. Also, the couple never decorates the house the same from year to year. And for Stoney, it’s personal. He was born the day after Christmas and thus has always had a passion for the holidays. “I tease my wife and say if a month ends in ‘ber,’ I start the Christmas season,” he says.
The library is always nutcracker-themed and features some of the couple’s hundreds of nutcrackers, including a Phantom of the Opera nutcracker, Old King Cole nutcracker, and a 10-foot nutcracker constructed by Stoney. He comprised it of industrial paper tubes, steel pipes and spray paint. This is not unusual; the couple handles all of the Christmas decorating and the home’s overall interior design themselves, relying on Vicki’s engineering skills and Stoney’s proficiency in carpentry and as an electrician. (The couple has four grown sons. And regarding their parents’ Christmas obsession? “They love it when they visit but don’t want to help,” Stoney says with a laugh.) The nutcracker tradition is based on the fact that Stoney’s mother began collecting them the day he was born, and the handcrafted one is fashioned in such a way that it’s easy to move, which was helpful when they loaned him out to a local school band that was performing the Nutcracker Suite.
Birds find their perch
There is a pair of peacocks that roost in various locations from year to year. When the first peacock shipped, it arrived without a tail, and the store claimed to be out of them. So, the Stonekings bought peacock feathers and created a tail and, ultimately, a peacock tree. “We have received a lot of accolades over the years for the peacock tree,” Stoney says.
In fact, there are 12-foot trees in every room, and interestingly, each room’s theme has an element that carries into other rooms: the Persian room has Persian nutcrackers. The angel room boasts angel nutcrackers. And there are Santa Clauses everywhere.
It’s fitting, perhaps. Because yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Especially when you consider a historic home such as this, where there are trinkets that date back to the 1800s, while there are also modern conveniences such as radiant heat and Alexa. The home is at once historic and livable. And always aesthetically pleasing.
“We can sit in our home theater looking out the windows to the Victorian mansion across the street and the field beyond that. And especially when it snows, it’s quite beautiful,” Stoney concludes.
Photos by Daniel Feldkemp