A tree of treasures in Ann Arbor reflects a passion for storied pieces
BACKSTORY: “My parents were art dealers in Paris. I’ve been living with artful objects ever since I can remember, and they’ve been a part of my life every Christmas. I’ve been collecting old mercury glass, gold, silver, and vermeil ornaments forever; some of them are really old. I have a lot of ornaments, because I used to live in a loft (where we) had a 20-foot-high tree,” says Michael Kondziolka, vice president, programming and production of the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor. (He currently resides in a charming Greek Revival farmhouse in Ann Arbor Township that was constructed in 1830.)
NATURE CALLS: “My husband, Mathias- Philippe Badin, and I always start decorating our tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s a multiweek process, it’s all about experimenting, and it’s different every year. One year I did a tree that was flocked in turquoise and trimmed solely with gold ornaments and red ropes. I always put (organic) items such as milkweed seed pods in a tree, because I like to feel connected to nature and the surroundings here,” Kondziolka says. “Some years I don’t do a tree at all. I just do branches.”
CROWNING GLORY: An early 17th century brass crown — which Kondziolka says probably originally topped a statue — now serves as a charming tree-topper. They also like to decorate with fresh fruit including kumquats, tiny Japanese mandarin oranges, and persimmons. “We really like using fruit because it’s an old idea. In Europe, citrus was once considered the ultimate luxury; there were orangery rooms in chateaus, where you brought in fruit for the winter because people enjoyed having something from a warm climate in a cold climate. And my mom always put an orange in my Christmas stocking,” he notes.
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD: Kondziolka says he enjoys going to “offbeat places to find things that are unexpectedly beautiful,” and he often incorporates those finds in his tree décor. Favorites include 19th century mercury glass holy water holders that pilgrims would carry on their way to Lourdes, in France.
— By Judith Harris Solomon
It’s not unusual to spot six tannenbaums in the home of this popular florist
BACKSTORY: Florist and event and party planner Ralph Bellisario, of Eastpointe- and Birmingham-based Bellisario Florist, says he has clear memories, starting around the age of 2, of his father, a florist, bringing home fresh evergreen trees at Christmastime, then flocking and decorating them. “When I was 12, I remember helping him do a tree that was decorated with porcelain ballerinas. I helped add jewels to their lacy skirts. He was always doing custom, unique things,” Bellisario says. “At our home, my partner, Chris Tringali, and I decorate six different trees according to the décor of the room they’ll be in. We have several different themes that we rotate, including angels, peacocks, pears, apples, bears, elves, butterflies, and nutcrackers. We’re constantly embellishing, adding, and subtracting,” the Grosse Pointe Shores resident says.
BEAR HUGS: “The bear tree is our sentimental tree,” Bellisario says. “It’s an artificial tree located in the library that my dad bought for us 25 years ago, so it’s really special.” Trimmed with ribbon, acorns, and holly berries, the tree features a bear dressed in a Santa coat and has a matching tree skirt.
FEELING BLUE: Bellisario says Tringali’s favorite tree is blue-and-silver-themed, and is “sort of Italian Hnukkah, but really Christmas, as well.” Rather than going with a typical red-and-green Christmas theme in the dining room, whose walls are painted navy blue and whose chairs are upholstered in a blue-and-white fabric, the tree is trimmed with acrylic snowflakes and lots of sparkly blue and white-and-silver ornaments, as well as navy blue velvet poinsettias “to complement the color of the walls,” Tringali says. On the table, a centerpiece featuring white roses, white French tulips, and white hydrangeas graces the navy blue sequined tablecloth. bellisarioflorist.com
— By Judith Harris Solomon
A historic Detroit carriage house is delightfully embellished for the holiday season
BACKSTORY: As the estate manager for the Fisher Mansion, which has been lovingly restored by Hill Harper, Tristan Putnam — who lives on-site with his husband, Charlie Howard-Putnam — has a short commute. The couple, along with their dogs Zipper and Fletcher, currently call the carriage house apartment on the property home sweet home. Originally two units that housed the chauffeur and other seasonal employees, the cozy quarters provide a perfect backdrop for seasonal celebrations and décor.
HOLIDAY HOSTS: The couple does a lot of entertaining in the recently remodeled 1,200-square-foot apartment, which is situated above a four-car garage. While Tristan works behind the scenes with planning and other logistics, Charlie creates a presentation reminiscent of Christmas Past, featuring everything from proper stemware to fine china.
ALL THAT GLISTENS: Tristan explains that their tree gets the royal treatment with classic ornaments from the likes of Christopher Radko and Patricia Breen. Other timeless elements include garlands and wreaths, and packages with handmade ribbons that contribute to the old-fashioned feel. “Charlie does the Christmas decorating. It’s always something different (every) year. He adds details that are lacking in today’s world,” Tristan says.
NOSTALGIC NOD: The couple says they like to focus on the sentiment behind the season. “The holidays have a really special feel that’s kind of lost,” says Tristan. “We try to make it less about gifts and more about the day. We put more effort into having a fun and memorable experience with a great dinner, drinks, and conversation.”
BE OUR GUEST: Charlie also collects Swarovski crystal snowflakes, which adorn the chandelier in the dining room where a 1920s Chanel table sets the tone. “We like to have family and friends over and just enjoy the moment in time,” he says. “Christmas has a warm and happy feel. There’s nothing like it. We get to create special memories that last a lifetime.”
— By Jeanine Matlow
An entire family shares a love for themed holiday décor, including a fascinating village
BACKSTORY: When it comes to decorating his West Bloomfield home for the holidays, event planning specialist Lawrence Yaldo, co-owner of Top That Table, goes all out. “I’ve been decorating trees since I was 10 years old,” he says. “The first one was located in my grandparents’ home in Southfield, and decorating it was a tradition I used to do with my grandfather. (Those were) such special moments, (they’ve) stuck with me forever.”
SANTA CENTRAL: Yaldo says he has five or six different sets of Christmas tree décor at his home. Some are “fun-themed,” while others are more traditional, and he likes to rotate them from year to year. “The Santa tree collection, most recently located in the living room, started with my aunt around 20 years ago and she’s just kept it going. She probably started with 20 to 30 Santas, and now we have over 400. They’re made out of glass, so that makes it our most fragile collection.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: A room just across from the living room features an entire village. “My family and I have been collecting pieces for the village for 25-plus years,” Yaldo says. “A few years ago, I came across a wonderful carousel and decided we should build on to our village collection and complete it with a full carnival. This is my sister’s favorite part, so she went ahead and did some deep searching. After four years, we now have almost all of the carnival pieces we wanted, and the rest of the village has also just grown and grown. This is everybody’s favorite room, but it requires a lot of work so we don’t display it every year,” Yaldo says.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Yaldo says the family decorates a minimum of three trees each Christmas. “This year we’ll probably add a children’s-themed one, because it will be the first year my parents have a grandchild. We’re really excited for it and have been thinking about it a lot since last year,” he says.
PRO POINTERS: “When you’re decorating your tree, just have fun with it,” Yaldo says. “The longer you stare at the tree, the more you’re going to want to move things around. So just do it, and then be done with it and enjoy the rest of the season.”
— By Judith Harris Solomon
INTO THE WOODS
This Birmingham Christmas tree evokes a peaceful woodland mood
BACKSTORY: Upon moving from her home in Bloomfield Hills to one in Birmingham that’s located along the banks of the Rouge River, this homeowner decided she wanted to create a Christmas tree that would feature “a rustic woodland river theme that reflects the wildlife (including ducks and deer) just outside our door.” Some of the ornaments were used in the old house, she says, “but because this is a completely different house, this is a completely different tree. This is the new theme that comes with this house. I love it; it’s so me.”
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY: The oldest ornament on the tree is a bisque bunny the homeowner painted red when she was a kindergartener at MacGowan Elementary School in Redford Township. A toy train, lovingly placed under the tree, formerly spent 25 years dwelling under various trees at her husband’s childhood home.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND: The Birmingham resident asked good friend Gabrielle Reilly, owner of Flowers by Gabrielle in Grosse Pointe Park, to help design the new tree. (This is just one of several dozen trees the florist designs each holiday season.)
INTO THE WOODS: Reilly says the 7.5-foot-tall artificial tree, located on the lower level, showcases woodland-themed, unique ornaments including bears, birds, deer, mice, foxes, and owls — some made out of wood, others made out of felted wool — that make it personal and special. It also contains lots of layering and different textures, including sparkly green garlands, a jingle bell garland, fresh greenery, red metal bells, lots of glitter, and 4-inch-wide ribbons that are made out of burlap and trimmed with gold thread. “With their frayed edges, they look really natural,” Reilly says.
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY: A second tree, located in the first-floor family room, is chock-full of family heirlooms and handmade ornaments the owners’ children created throughout the years. flowersbygabrielle.com
— By Judith Harris Solomon