Arlene Rogers, a professed self-taught holiday decorator, says a trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., was her first real lesson in Christmas creativity.
"We visited Biltmore in the early 1980s and it was gorgeous. It had beautiful trees in every room. Prior to that trip, I put up two trees each year, but I came home and started putting up more," she says.
Each year, the number of trees increased until she now has 18 trees in her Missionary Ridge home -- 11 of them glittering with lights and ornaments, the remaining seven a variety of tabletop styles such as bells stacked in a tree shape or metallic-painted resins.
Her love for holiday decorating has prompted road trips to trim trees in the family's vacation condo even when they stayed home for the holidays.
"I used to go to Florida for Thanksgiving and would put up eight or 10 trees in the condo, set them on timers and leave. The neighbors would tell me they loved looking at them. Then I would go back at New Year's and take them down. I did that for 10 years," she says.
What makes her handwork impressive is that she has educated herself in holiday decorating, developing a good eye for color and design.
"You can educate yourself in any topic. I've collected the December issues of magazines for years to get ideas," she says.
In the large front windows of her home here, four slim-line, 7-foot trees stand, delivering a twinkling, cheerful sight from the street. Two 6-foot pencil trees flank the fireplace, placed before the hearth's mirrors to generate twice the impact. A grouping of four trees lines the base of the entry foyer stairwell with a fifth tabletop tree opposite them on a sideboard.
Not every room has a lit tree. In the library, Christmas tree-shaped stocking hangers and a grouping of Santas on a coffee table add a subtle seasonal touch. Visitors also will find a grouping of Santa figures at the foot of the guest bed.
The overall look is understated elegance -- a decor tailored to complement each room's furnishings, not overwhelm them.
"It looks very festive. She does it every year for garden club. She does them from scratch -- I'm always impressed she's got that much energy. She works hard and they really are beautiful," says Marie Turner, a friend of the Rogerses.
Three key themes define Rogers' style:
• She puts her own spin on the traditional red-and-green holiday colors using burgundy (to match her living room walls), shades of green from apple to moss and gold for contrast. "This is the first year I've added Christmas green balls to a tree," she says.
• All the trees are wound in white lights and the only ornaments are balls -- between 2,500 and 3,000 of them spread between the decorated trees. She combines colors and finishes of balls so the trees have textural interest. There are spheres in matte or satin finishes, fluted or filigree, two inches in diameter to weighty six-inch orbs.
• She doesn't use tree-toppers, but densely clusters smaller balls at the top of each tree to give an illusion of a topper. "I think toppers are beautiful, but in this case I think they compete with the swag in the draperies and the crown molding."
The week-long decorating process begins with bringing up boxes and bins from the home's basement bomb-shelter-turned-storage-room. Rogers says she unpacks and divides all balls by colors, placing them in piles on the floor.
After deciding how many trees she will decorate and what colors will be on each tree, she divides the balls accordingly. Then, when the colors have been divided between trees, she again divides each tree's balls to ensure that an even amount hang on each side.
"Yes, I'm a perfectionist," she laughs.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.