Growing up in Pennsylvania with a family that loved Christmas — “There was always a lot of fun and a lot of food; as children we would sleep in sleeping bags around the tree — a flocked tree!” — Margaret Schwartz carried that spirit with her through college and her early working life, acquiring items old and new as they caught her eye.
“I started getting little things when I was in college, then picked up a small feather tree when I worked at Martha Stewart Omnimedia.” She was there for four years before launching her own business — The Summer House, which was originally located on New Canaan’s Elm St. but which recently moved to 107 Cherry St. — in 2011.
Living in a condominium in Ridgefield, she goes all-out decorating for Christmas, filling her home with delights and surprises, creating vignettes in each room or hallway space, welcoming friends and family as they visit throughout the holidays, climaxing with the gathering of her immediate and extended family on Christmas Eve. Her furniture and decorative pieces are a mix of Swedish Gustavian style, contemporary, Modern and Asian, and her eclectic holiday decorations play off the décor.
Margaret begins decorating in early November with flocked rope greenery intertwined with lights winding around stair rails. Plain greenery swoops around the fireplace, and the mantel is decorated with a Santa, sleigh and Modern-style trees. Santas, whether heads, figurines, full-bodied or flat, can be found in every room. A three-foot-tall antique blow-mold Santa — hard plastic, lit from within — greets visitors as they enter Margaret’s home. “I love the blow molds,” she notes. “Although they are intended for outside, I bring them inside.” A two-footer waves in another hallway.
Her 9-year-old Shih Tzu rescues, Wally and Rusty — “I live for those pups!” she declares — nose around when the decorations reappear each year, but are respectful of the holiday additions.
Another thing Margaret loves is gingerbread structures, both resin and ornately decorated, internally lit ceramic models. “They are fun and whimsical, and I keep them at little kids’ eye level. I kept adding more every year, but the gingerbread has exploded in the last couple of years,” she said with a laugh.
She puts up a seven-and-a-half-foot artificial flocked tree in her den, decorated with an assortment of old and new ornaments, some that are large and /or of unusual shapes. There is plenty of space around it, awaiting the family gathering to come. The room also features a tabletop Santa lamp with red shade.
A collection of holiday pillows mix with a few year-round ones on the living room sofa; the handmade wreaths that dot the walls were made by her mother. Some of the ceramic gingerbread houses, various figurines and a collection of small feather trees occupy a window seat.
The dining room table, which remains set for six when not being used, reflects her love of china, and her successful quest to “cobble together a service for 12” after “stumbling upon a Noritake Christmas pattern years ago. I was searching for years to track down the last six place settings,” she recounts. She also found vintage glasses and candlesticks that complement the dishes, which are accented by an elaborate set of silverware.
But come Christmas Eve, the carefully placed tablewares are replaced with “a huge dinner with all our favorite Holiday foods. Christmas Eve is our big night! It is a do-not-miss event for our family. The whole family attends — my parents, my brothers and all their kids, my grandmother, and even my sister-in-law’s parents. It’s wonderful!” Margaret exclaims.
“We finish off with a huge spread of homemade Christmas cookies. Nobody makes Italian Wedding cookies like my Grandma! After dinner everybody gets to open one present, which is the perfect thing to help tide the kids over one more night. I always loved that part of the night, with everyone sitting around the tree, staking out territory for their pile of presents. The house is so decked out with Christmas everywhere you look, Christmas music playing, food always ready, kids running around. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Brass and fun-shaped ceramic candlesticks are scattered about, as are candleholders with artificial flickering candles. Fabric door hangers are accented with bells or other decorative items, and a sizable antique Santa in a sleigh can be found in the master bedroom. Even the bathroom is not exempt from decoration; Santa smiles up from vintage seat cover, and a older figurine rests on the tank top, while an elf in a sleigh and a toy soldier soap dispenser are on the vanity, lit by a Christmas tree-shaped nightlight.
Margaret notes that she has always adored antiques, “It is really what I am most passionate about.”
Her passion for antiques has been recognized by the industry as well; in late 2015 she was named the inaugural Young Gun of the Year for the Antiques Young Guns, a group dedicated to supporting members of the antiques industry under 40. She is a member of Britain’s LAPDA, its largest professional association of art and antiques dealers.