Tradition with a Twist

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Vintage Meets Modern in “The Christmas Elf’s” Colorful Home

By Charlotte A. F. Farley | photos by Heather Kidd

On a quiet street in a secluded Boonsboro neighborhood, a white center-hall Colonial with black shutters presents the perfect background for colorful Christmas decorations. Blue lights drape over tree branches and Kelly Green bows wrap the light pole and add the final touch to an evergreen wreath.

These fun escapes from traditional red and green have appeared throughout Carter Bendall’s home ever since she and her husband Richard purchased it nearly four years ago. “We have retouched every single surface,” she explains. The Bendalls have created a lively, traditional, and comfortable home for themselves and their daughter, Lawson, and Carter creates especially memorable scenery for the holidays.

Contemporary geometric wallpaper serves as the backdrop for treasured antiques in the front hallway. A hot pink Christmas tree bedecked in silver bells lives atop a small antique half-moon console, and an otherwise traditional swag cloaks the banister, filled with ornaments in shades of cobalt, fuchsia, red, and robin’s egg blue.

In this space, and throughout her home, Carter combines her passion for all things vintage with her love for color and pattern—and it works. Carter painted her living room a cheery shade of robin’s egg blue and hung sunny coral draperies on the window. “When my mother helped me with this room, she said that her mother—and this would have been in the 60s—did the same exact colors,” Carter admits.

Carter added some charm to the space through the purchase of her faux mantelpiece.

“Because this house was built in the 1990s, there wasn’t any architectural interest, so we went to an antique mall in Staunton and picked up this bad boy, and we have scraped [off]I cannot tell you how many layers of paint.”

A vivid garland of magenta and tangerine glass balls sprawls across the mantel—another juxtaposition of vintage meets modern. Three stockings hang from the fireplace: one for Carter, one for her husband Richard, and one for their daughter Lawson. A thin white tabletop tree provides the perfect perch for faux peacocks, canaries, and cardinals that add whimsy and color. In the corner, pink, teal, and red accessories enliven a full-sized white tree, and a few oversized ornaments dress up the window.

Across the hall from the living room, a dining room with saffron-colored walls transforms into what the Bendalls jokingly refer to as “the forest” thanks to Carter’s tasteful displays filled with her bottlebrush tree collection. She’s been gathering them for years. “Whenever I see them, I buy them. Half are vintage, and half are from what I find at Target.”

One vignette serves as a centerpiece; another dwells on the sideboard. The myriad bottlebrush trees range in hue from traditional green to gold, pink, and teal, and some are even snowy, frosted trees with miniature decorations. Two small Christmas trees top the china cabinet, which also receives the holiday treatment—Carter fills pieces of silver, porcelain, and crystal with small decorative baubles. Additional ornaments dangle from the chandelier and sconces.

Enter through the kitchen and you’ll notice a series of Virginia landscapes that Carter found at the annual Lynchburg Art Festival. Even this room finds itself dressed for the holidays as Carter places a few mini trees on the island.

Carter incorporates more traditional Christmas décor in the den. Presents sit under a tall, full green tree adorned in silver, gold, and pinecones. The theme carries over onto the mantel’s pinecone trees and lush garland. “We live in here, and this is where Santa comes,” Carter points out. A complete nutcracker army lines the top shelf of built-in bookcases, remnants from when Carter’s mother owned a flower shop. “She sold Christmas decorations, too,” Carter explains. “That’s one way I got into it—I would go with my mom to market in Atlanta and help her pick out ornaments.”

As she recalls, it all started with those ornaments. “I remember being dragged in and out of antique stores, and my mother found a way to get me excited about [those shopping trips]when she noticed that I seemed to like Christmas ornaments, so I started collecting them as a kid. From about third grade on, I did all of our Christmas decorations in our house—I’d decorate the tree, I’d do the mantel, and I just loved it.”

Carter truly has a lifetime of experience in holiday decorating, which is evident through her tasteful displays and careful consideration of placement, color, and overall design. Even though she has a huge bounty of decorations stored in the garage, the decor doesn’t feel like it’s too much—
it all reads vibrant and happy. In fact, she’s developed such an excellent reputation for holiday decorating that others have asked her for help.

As “The Christmas Elf,” Carter helps people decorate their homes for the holidays.

“I just love doing it. I do their trees, I do their mantel, I do their tables,” she explains.

She’s even been asked to shop for extra decorations, which she loves doing. From estate sales to Target and every place in between, Carter shops around. One of her favorite places to find treasures, however, is a locally-owned shop. “My buddy Troy Deacon owns High Cotton, and he’s always got cute things in there,” she says. Whether hanging greens or browsing for centerpiece items, Carter offers a complete service, including “un-decorating.” “I take it all down, put it up in the attic, and they’re done with it!”

In her own home, Carter begins decorating on Black Friday and finishes within a week—and she points out “that’s not full-time!”(Carter works part-time as a nurse.)
She admits that by the time Christmas comes, she’s “pretty much done with it,” so she begins disassembling the décor the day after Christmas, explaining that her grandmother was always superstitious about getting it down by the New Year. “That is always my target, to get it down by New Years,” she says.

It’s no easy task when you consider that she also has various themed trees throughout the house. The guest room contains a souvenir tree; another room showcases a UVA tree (Carter’s an alumna). A frog tree and a paper mâché angel tree make appearances, too.

Upstairs, even Lawson’s bathroom has a themed tree: Lilly Pulitzer ornaments float beside the theme du jour, which is whatever Lawson’s interests are at the time. “I’ve got a couple of themes I kind of rotate through but Lawson’s tree is always the same and has plush ornaments, and I just like to mix things up,” Carter says.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lawson decorates her room’s tree herself, choosing plush ornaments. “Lawson does her tree because all of the decorations are plush, so she can get in there, and she’ll do what she can reach!” Carter laughs. Even the nativity set in her room is plush. The room is absolutely charming, with two reupholstered twin beds (a find from a Langhorne Road estate sale) and a yellow floral rug reminiscent of Scandinavian folk patterns, which is another memento from her mother’s store. “I love to antique, I love to go to junk stores. I remember being dragged, and my poor daughter gets dragged now!” she says with a smile. Like her mother, Carter has found a way to engage her daughter’s interest while out on “hunting” trips. “Lawson loves snow globes,” she says, “She’s gotten into that. That’s kind of her contribution into things.”

Carter calls herself “The Christmas Elf,” and she couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate name. It takes an elf of sorts—or a figure with magical powers—to set such a scene for memory making, and Carter has done that very thing so well as she has embraced traditions, found ways to make them her own, and passed that love down along the way.

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