During the months of November and December, Darien resident Cynthia Princi can be found in the produce section of the local grocery store at least once a week, and she’s not necessarily buying food for her family. Cindy relies on nature’s bounty when it comes to decorating her house for the holidays, and for Cindy, that means keeping things fresh.
“I’ve always pulled out all the stops when decorating for Christmas,” she explains, “and I begin by bringing the natural world inside.”
Cindy, who lived in Darien with her husband and children for 13 years before being expatriated to London for five years for her husband’s job, returned to the States and moved back to a Darien rental property in 2008. “We’ve been told by a local historian that the home was originally built in 1860 by Dr. Charles H. Phillips, the inventor of Milk of Magnesia,” she said. An addition was put on the Colonial revival in 1880, according to the historian, and another in the 1920s. “We loved the house so much that we asked the owners if they wanted to sell,” Cindy said. “Being in such a lovely old home made the transition from city living in London to suburban Connecticut much easier.”
The ghosts of Christmas past
The couple renovated the home’s interior and exterior in 2009, and today it comprises 6,200 square feet spread over three floors. “I am sad to report that the house is not haunted,” Cindy says. “I was very much open to sharing the space with a ghost, as I grew up in what I believe to be a haunted Frank Lloyd Wright home in Illinois.” The home, which comprises 6 bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths, 3 fireplaces, a formal living room, and a kitchen that opens onto the family room, has always lent itself well to holiday decorating.“The house had been renovated and added onto several times by previous owners since it was built,” she explains. “We’ve tried to retain as much of the original period charm and detail as possible while making it conducive to 21st-Century living.” The couple raised the ceilings in the master bedroom and their daughter’s bedroom, for example, and discovered beautiful old wooden beams. “The beams give a charming, rustic look to the space,” Cindy says.
A former actor, Cindy owns and operates Cynthia Princi Restyling and Design (www.cynthiaprinci.com), a staging and interior design business. She eschews the typical Christmas red and green for a neutral creme, brown, gold, silver, and green color scheme. The wife and mother of three hot-glues pinecones and the odd, unidentifiable seed pod to her Christmas wreaths and incorporates fresh fruit on the mantels and side tables, nuts with unusual nutcrackers, wooden platters, antique pewter plates with fresh greens and cranberries strewn around, clove-studded oranges and sliced fruit dried in the oven. “Needless to say, the house smells divine during the holidays,” she says.
Cindy, who disregards the period of the house when decorating for the holidays and culls from nature, follows a couple of hard-and-fast rules: Only clear fairy lights, nothing colored, and no artificial trees, wreaths or greenery. “I buy yards and yards of cedar roping and put it everywhere,” she explains, “and I love using unusual plants and flowers for decorating during the holiday season.”
Mercury glass balls from her childhood adorn the tree every year, and Cindy put a small Christmas tree in each of her children’s bedrooms, plus a wreath in their windows, when they were young. “Each of the kids has their own box of ornaments collected over the years, but sadly, they’re adults now and the tradition has gone by the wayside,” she says. “The kids used to put their shoes in the fireplace on the eve of Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, and in the morning they’d find a little gift stuck inside … that tradition has been retired, too. Did someone say grandchildren?”