Extreme Christmas

  • By Debra Smith / Herald staff
  • Wednesday, November 24, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

During the early years when Annette and Ed DeVoes’ Victorian home sat dilapidated and half torn apart by renovations, a bright spot remained.

Photo Gallery

Even taxidermy comes with Christmas spirit at the DeVoe house. Annette… [ view gallery ]

When Christmas rolled around, the Arlington family would string lights, put up a few trees and cover the walls with decorations. Then they would dim the lights and enjoy a warm, glowing vision of what their house could be.

“You can hide a lot of ugly things with Christmas,” Annette DeVoe said.

After 15 years of renovations, the DeVoes’ lovingly repaired 1902 house no longer has much to hide. But that hasn’t lessened the family’s zeal for decorating. With 14 Christmas trees, an army of nutcrackers, hundreds of ornaments and several miniature villages, this might be the most decorated holiday home in Snohomish County.

Tips from an expert

Christmas decorating fanatic Annette DeVoe of Arlington puts up (and takes down) more than a dozen Christmas trees and hundreds of ornaments each year. She offered these tips for taking care of both.

  • Shop and chop at the farm: Trees stay fresher longer when you cut them yourself at a tree farm. Plus, farms generally offer more selection.

    DeVoe tries not to use the same type of tree twice, and shell buy from several different farms to find unusual trees such as a white pine.

    Some farms do a better job of pruning and caring for trees, so shop around. Her favorite Arlington farms are Holiday Forest, 3520 Stanwood-Bryant Road, Arlington, 360-629-9097; and Outback Christmas Trees, 10030 Highway 530, Arlington, 360-403-7474.

  • Use a tree stand with a deep reservoir: Trees need plenty of water, and a deep reservoir refilled on a regular basis ensures they get enough. Before DeVoe puts the tree in the stand, she saws off a quarter-inch slice from the base of the tree, which aids water absorption. This method keeps her trees fresh from Thanksgiving until mid-January.
  • Slip on a tree removal bag for easy disposal: DeVoe cuts a hole in a tree removal bag (even a large trash bag would work) and slides it onto the bottom of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand.
  • The bag stays crumpled at the bottom of the trunk, hidden under the tree skirt. When its time to get rid of the tree, she removes the skirt and stand and pulls the bag over the tree, making cleanup a snap.
  • Store precious ornaments in acid-free tissue paper: DeVoe keeps a collection of antique ornaments in good shape by avoiding regular tissue paper, which can tarnish some older pieces.
  • After wrapping antique ornaments in acid-free tissue paper, available at most craft stores, she stores them in a plastic tote in a heated space such as a closet, rather than the attic.

  • Annette DeVoe, 42 – the family’s decorating czar – loves all things Christmas. Over the years, her passion for acquiring ornaments and unusual decorations has grown into a full-time obsession.

    Her collection ranges from the typical ornaments found at Wal-Mart to the unusual and antique. There’s a giant Santa lounging in the front parlor and two life-sized nutcrackers guarding the library. Dozens of smaller nutcrackers, all unique, line the front staircase.

    “Oh, we all have our little addictions. Mine is Christmas,” she said. “I spend my money on it like people might spend money on designer shoes or purses.”

    The extravagant decorations seem to fit the family home, a Queen Anne Victorian decorated with antiques, rugs and wallpaper with patterns appropriate to the era.

    Despite having a home that’s tucked away on 85 acres of land, Annette DeVoe and her husband, Ed, 42, invite several hundred friends and family to their home for open houses during the holidays.

    “I love the creative process, and I love the look on people’s faces when they see it,” she said. “It’s not something I want to keep to myself. It’s something I enjoy sharing.”

    Victorian decorations are a particular passion, and many of the ornaments on the family room tree are antiques or Victorian reproductions. She even used twisted pieces of tin – the original tinsel – on this tree. The antique tree topper is an angel with a bird near its feet. The bird has an ostrich plume for a tail.

    She has created her own Christmas village on top of the billiard table in the family room, complete with an alpine region and seaport. The 90-some buildings and hundreds of people in the intricate scene aren’t even half of her collection. Another scene in the butler’s pantry is the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” complete with Baby Jesus.

    In the off-season, there are so many decorations stored in the home’s cavernous attic that she made a map to keep track of everything.

    Decorating begins in September and doesn’t end until Christmas – and sometimes later. DeVoe estimates she spends 200 hours arranging her extensive collection, and just as much time taking it all down. Last Christmas, all the trees didn’t come down until July.

    Annette DeVoe is an encyclopedia of Christmas decoration knowledge. She knows, for instance, that Victorian families kept a bucket and a sponge close to their trees because they were lighted with real candles.

    Electric tree lighting didn’t come on the scene until the early 1900s, she said, and ornaments made during World War II were often clear with a few stripes to save paint for the war effort.

    Each room in her home has a tree. Most have several. This year, the trees are all artificial, but most years, DeVoe has a mix of natural and artificial trees.

    “No bedroom is complete without a tree,” she said.

    She gets an idea for a tree and begins gathering ornaments to fit the theme. As the ornaments grow in number over the years, DeVoe moves the decorations to larger trees.

    One tree is filled only with red Santas. Another rotates and is filled with a fantasy North Pole scene.

    A tree in the kitchen features food-themed ornaments. A second tree in the kitchen is hung entirely with dozens of S’mores ornaments doing winter activities: S’mores skiing, skating, roasting a weenie.

    She has started a “Grandma’s Tree” with ornaments sturdy enough for kids to play with. DeVoe’s not a grandmother yet, but she’s ready.

    In her son’s room, there’s an Arlington High School Eagle’s tree, a floor-to-ceiling creation loaded with stuffed eagles, yellow and blue pompoms and a “I (heart) AHS” banner.

    Her four children get into the act, too. Her youngest son critiques the placement of buildings in the expansive Dept. 56 Christmas village. Her daughter decorated a tiny alpine scene at the foot of her bed.

    DeVoe would like to find a permanent home to display her collection. She wants something good to come out of her collection beyond her family’s enjoyment.

    And she doesn’t plan to stop collecting anytime soon.

    “I’m a wow kind of person,” she said. “When I get started, it almost always goes over the top.”

    Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@ heraldnet.com.

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