Christmas at Woodfield

Huey and Jill Perry go all out when decorating their unique home for the holidays. It’s a way to honor the past and create memories for the future.

By Carter Taylor Seaton

In 2002, when Huey and Jill Perry were planning their home near Lavalette, they chose a design that would enhance the existing plantation home built on the land in 1821. The nearly 80-acre property had once belonged to John Plymale, the great-grandfather of West Virginia Senator Bob Plymale and a member of the Virginia legislature. Recognizing the history behind the site, they selected a William Poole Federal design that replicated the 1840s home of Tennessee’s Confederate General Gideon Johnson Pillow. Taking care to choose bricks for the new construction that would match the old ones as closely as possible, they also carefully duplicated Pillow’s four-columned exterior right down to the period-authentic dentil molding. Both structures blend well together; they fondly have named the original portion The Old House, which is an integral part of their farm. The entire house, along with the brick four-stall barn and acres of four-board black fencing, warmly welcomes friends and family to Woodfield.

Inside, they chose old growth wide-plank pine flooring typical of a plantation home and had Amish carpenter Jonas Yoder handcraft the doors and trim, crown moldings and baseboards in authentic Federal style. When decorating, Jill worked with Kate Jones of Mary Moffat Jones Interiors and Maggie Whitney Designs to select appropriate Federal-style wallpaper and upholstery fabric for the 10,000-square-foot house.

But when it came to decorating for Christmas, Jill invoked the nostalgia of a picture-perfect postcard of a New England Christmas, drawing on her memories of childhood holiday visits to her grandparents’ home in Vermont. There, she said, the family would gather in the living room, where “you could see the fat Frasier Fir tree merrily dressed with heirloom glass ornaments and sprinkles of silver tinsel standing proudly in front of the back window. It’s a vision I hold dear.” Now, she uses the few remaining ornaments from her grandmother to decorate one of her four trees. It gives her great pleasure to realize that her great-grandmother and her grandmother treasured them, she said. In the parlor of The Old House, she adds vintage Shiny Brite glass ornaments to her heirloom ornaments and delicate snowflakes made in the 1950s. She found those from the estate sale of Gwynn and Robert Daine, the Huntington philanthropists whose name graces a gallery at the Huntington Museum of Art. Silk ribbon swags typical of the Federal Period finish off the Blue Spruce that nearly tops the ceiling. On the mantle in this room Jill tucks silver glass ornaments into natural greenery to blend with the room’s French pre-1900s silver-colored chandelier.

Jill crafts her own swags, mantle decorations and bows. That’s a leftover from her childhood as well. With no television set, she was encouraged to be creative which has remained with her to this day.

“I buy trees and then cut them up to use the boughs in my garlands, wreaths and mantle pieces,” she explains. “I try to be as authentic to the old ways as possible and strive to make our home blend with the outdoors. If you notice, everything has nature and birds and woodland themes because that’s what we’re about out here.”

The tree in the great room certainly exemplifies that. Feathered birds, pinecones, berries, seedpods and handmade acorn garlands grace the 8-foot tall tree. It takes about six hours to completely dress it. She chose a woodland theme because the tree stands in front of a large window offering bucolic views of their horse pastures, fields and forest. The theme also complements the room’s upholstery, which features pheasants and botanicals.

The library is a natural woodland as well. The sporting theme of the patterned wallpaper shows golden retrievers, ducks, quail and rabbits and blends well with the Bavarian hunt table that features a different carved animal on each leg. Because this room is somewhat dark, Jill decorates the pencil-thin tree, chosen for space considerations, with colorful Radko glass ornaments made in Poland from the 1980s until 2000, which have now become collectors’ items. As the light from the over-sized solid-cast brass chandelier hits the ornaments, it bounces around the room, giving it a warm glow. To complement the tree, Jill weaves red and green plaid ribbon through huge bunches of pine boughs and magnolias for the mantle. Above, an equestrian fox hunt wreath graces the fireplace area.

In the dining room, a simple pine tree covered with white lights sits in a cream-colored urn quietly adorned with various hues of golden ornaments. Because the chandelier in this room demands your attention, Jill wanted a tree that would complement the pale gold damask Zoffany wallpaper but wouldn’t detract from the retrofitted Louis XVI Sèrves porcelain chandelier that originally burned candles.

Completing the Christmas décor are the many swags and garlands that Jill creates and weaves on some chandeliers and up the large curved banister to the second floor. The garland on the banister includes red and gold plaid ribbon, Christmas lights, naturally shed feathers found on the farm and branches of fresh pine or cedar. Outside, the wrought-iron balcony is draped with thick greenery, red ribbons and a large wreath. Complementary wreaths adorn each window of the house. From the long, winding driveway, the entire setting glows with an inviting warmth.

Although Jill’s brand of Christmas decorating takes a lot of work, she doesn’t mind. For her, it’s a labor of love. She tries to get everything completed by Dec. 1, and she leaves it up until Epiphany, hoping to get good, snow-filled pictures like the scenes from her childhood. Family now is far away for the Perrys, and Christmas is the perfect time to gather everyone to the farm to make good memories. “When loved ones stay at the farm during the holidays, I hope they’ll remember their visits as fondly as I remember visiting my grandparents’ house,” Jill says. “I want to give that back and make everyone feel special.”

CARTER TAYLOR SEATON is a freelance writer living in Huntington. She is the author of two novels and the nonfiction book Hippie Homesteaders. She received the 2014 Literary Merit Award from the West Virginia Library Association, the Marshall University College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 and the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in 2016. Her biography of Ken Hechler, The Rebel in the Red Jeep, was published in May 2017.

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