Festive Holiday Style
Take a tour of five west suburban house walks to view homes decked out for the holidays — while also supporting local community causes
Reindeer Route Housewalk
Like a decorating magazine or a Pinterest board come to life, holiday house tours allow ticket holders to step inside fabulous interiors decked out in seasonal splendor. Several community organizations across the western suburbs host these annual events, which are a wonderful way to kick off the season in festive style. Here’s the scoop on a few of them.
Wheaton Holiday Housewalk
DATE: Saturday, Nov. 10
TICKETS: $30 in advance/$35 day of event; www.wheatonholidayhousewalk.com
CAUSE: Wheaton North High School Flight Show Choir
Scheduled early in the season, the Wheaton Holiday Housewalk offers inspiration for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, with two homes decorated in a fall theme and two featuring a winter holiday theme. “We usually take a look at the homes and see what they might lend themselves to,” says current chairperson Kelli Ahern, noting that one of this year’s homes is a 1905-built charmer with white siding and green shutters, which was a natural showcase or Christmas decor. That home and the others on display are all located in historic downtown Wheaton.
The event, which is entering its fifth year, benefits Flight, the award-winning show choir for Wheaton North High School. “Our community really values music and art, so we get a great show of support,” says Ahern, who notes that attendees will be able to view Flight performances on video screens while queuing up for the tour, and that show choir members and their parents will be working as tour guides at each home. The tour is limited to 800 people and is expected to sell out, so she advises purchasing tickets early.
Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society Holiday Housewalk and Market
DATES: House Walk held Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1; Market held Thursday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1
TICKETS: $45 in advance/$50 day of event ( market
admission is free); www.childrenscliniciws.org
CAUSE: Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society
To mark its 20th anniversary, the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society Holiday Housewalk and Market is featuring a museum along with four distinctive area homes. “This year, we have the Oak Park River Forest Museum festively decorated for the holidays, and the museum’s collection of holiday ornaments, which go back to the 1880s, will be on display,” says Katie O’Brien, director of strategic marketing for the society.
Held in conjunction with the housewalk, a juried artisan market will offer unique clothing, jewelry, home decor, gourmet food and children's gifts. In addition to the walk and market, several new events are available (at additional cost) this year, including a kick-off party with a wine and spirits tasting on Thursday, a trivia night on Friday and a "sip and shop" champagne brunch on Saturday..
The walk, market and surrounding events serve as the major fundraiser for the IWS Children’s Clinic, which provides some 3,400 children with medical care as well as behavioral health and dental care. “It’s a safety net for area children, and we focus on caring for the whole child,” says event chairperson Mary Cate Kuhl, who notes that the clinic has recently added a “giving library” to provide children with take-home books, as well as a pet therapy program. She says the housewalk is an event to feel good about: “Come out, have fun and get your holiday spirit going, all for a good cause.”
Cup of Cheer
DATES: Thursday, Dec. 6 and Friday, Dec. 7
TICKETS: $55 for Thursday preview/$40 for Friday (includes commemorative teacup and saucer); www.napervillegardenclub.org
CAUSE: Naperville Garden Club scholarship fund
What started 58 years ago as a Christmas Tea — the Naperville Garden Club Cup of Cheer — has grown into an annual event that includes a tour of four Naperville-area homes dressed to celebrate the season, plus a holiday market. The tea is still part of the event, and the ticket price includes a commemorative cup and saucer, with a different pattern selected every year. Garden club members assist homeowners in preparing their homes for the festivities.
“We want to present the homeowner’s house and decoration, but we want to tell a story, so we provide a design consultant to help them make things like garlands, tree toppers and centerpieces that reflect their home’s style,” says event Chairperson Gwenn Lloyd.
The tea and market are held at Naperville’s North Central College. At the market, shoppers can expect to find handmade gifts and decor, some of which they may have spotted in the showcased homes. For example, club members have been crafting lighted Christmas balls and mosaic trees to adorn some of the homes and to sell at the market.
The walk and market help fund scholarships for local students seeking degrees in fields related to the environment, from landscape architecture to conservation biology and more.
“It just gets people into the spirit,” says Lloyd of the event’s longstanding appeal. “It’s early in the month when people have just started decorating their homes, so they want to come for the latest color trends and to pick up something new.”
Geneva Holiday House Tour
DATES: Friday, Dec. 7 and Saturday, Dec. 8
TICKETS: $35 www.genevachamber.com
CAUSE: Downtown Geneva holiday decorations
Featuring five architecturally unique homes throughout the Geneva community brimming with holiday charm, the Geneva Holiday House Tour is celebrating its 50th year. The Geneva Chamber of Commerce has run the event (originally started by the Community Hospital Women’s Auxiliary) for about 30 years. In addition to providing access to the homes, which can be toured in any order, the ticket price includes a traditional holiday tea at First Congregational Church. The first evening of the House Tour coincides with Geneva’s downtown holiday celebration, the Christmas Walk.
Member businesses help to decorate the homes, often selecting unique themes that accentuate each residence’s natural beauty. Homes on the tour have ranged from historic structures to new construction.
“Every home has the potential to be house-tour worthy,” says Laura Rush communications manager for the Geneva Chamber. “It depends on what you show and how you show it.”
A portion of the proceeds fund the decoration of downtown Geneva for the holidays, making the house tour an event that benefits the entire community as well as visitors. Rush notes that a limited number of tickets are available and that the event is expected to sell out, as it did last year.
Many families or groups of friends make the tour part of their yearly celebrations, says Rush, adding, “It’s a great way to kick off the season and come away with ideas for your own home, either holiday-related or for year-round.”
Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Foundation Reindeer Route Housewalk
DATE: Friday, Dec. 7
TICKETS: $30 in advance, $40 day of event; www.emhfoundation.org/events
CAUSE: Elmhurst Memorial Health Foundation scholarships for teen volunteers
Now in its 42nd year, the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital (EMH) Foundation Reindeer Route Housewalk, promises something for everyone with tours of seven beautiful Elmhurst homes decorated with the help of local florists.
Proceeds from the walk support the Teen Volunteer Health Profession Scholarship Fund for teen EMH volunteers interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. Last year, 10 scholarships were awarded. The EMH Foundation is also seeking donations (to be dropped off at Housewalk homes) of art supplies, books and small games that will be placed in waiting rooms on inpatient floors of the main hospital and in the Nancy W. Knowles Cancer Center.
With afternoon and evening sessions available and a team of volunteers leading the way, attendees, many of whom make it an annual outing, are sure to find fresh decorating ideas and jump-start their Yuletide cheer. “It’s a historic kickoff to the holidays for our community,” says Blair Williams, development manager for the foundation.
Take-Home Tips from Housewalk Pros
Some house walks feature decor created and styled by the homeowners, while others match the homeowner with a decorator or volunteer who provides design advice and/or materials. Out of courtesy for the homeowners, many house walks discourage or ban photography, so you might want to take notes, using the booklet or guide provided by event organizers for reference. Here are a few hints from the pros to help you add house-tour style to your own home.
• START OUTDOORS. “Set the tone by decorating the front door and porch. Welcome guests with a wreath, garland, lanterns or festive planters outside,” says Kelly Woodall, owner of KW Staging and Redesign in Winfield, who has worked a on homes for the Wheaton Holiday Housewalk.
• COORDINATE RIBBONS. “Keep the same feel, especially in rooms that are connected,” says Gwenn Lloyd, chairperson of Naperville Garden Club’s Cup of Cheer, noting that ribbon can tie rooms together and even unite interior and exterior decorations.
• TRY OUT A TREND. Bring in a new item or two that enhances some of the things you already have. “Add a new piece or introduce a new color — you don’t have to start fresh or overhaul everything,” say Patti Anselme and Karen Gross, owners of Gatherings By Design, a Batavia event decorating business that works with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce on the Holiday House Tour.
• PICK A THEME. Decide on a theme to carry throughout your decor, whether it’s based on a favorite tradition, such as baking gingerbread cookies, a favorite holiday song or film, or even a recent life event. As an example of the latter, Anselme and Gross are decorating a home for this year’s Geneva house tour with a winter wedding theme, incorporating the homeowner’s daughter’s wedding gown into the decor.
• AVOID OVERWHELMING. You don’t have to go all out to make a festive statement. “Focus on a few key areas to make a big impact versus sprinkling lots of little holiday decor items throughout,” says Woodall.
• SHOW PERSONALITY. “Use things you have collected or received as gifts, vacation finds and family heirlooms to tell your story and combine them with new items to create your own unique style,” says Jeniffer Harper, a real estate broker and home stager with KoenigRubloff Realty Group, who has worked on homes for the Wheaton Holiday Housewalk.
Behind the Scenes: What It’s Like to Have Your Home Featured
For the scoop on what it’s like having hundreds of people visit your home in one weekend, we spoke with Johanna Patterson, who, a few years ago, was a participating homeowner in the Geneva Holiday House Tour and has gone on to be a volunteer for the event.
The year their home was on the tour, Johanna and her husband, Jason, had recently finished renovating and were parents to three young children. Having previously attended, Johanna had observed the care that the Geneva Chamber of Commerce took to ensure each home was protected during the event, including requiring attendees to wear booties and positioning hostesses throughout the rooms.
“It actually exceeded my expectations,” she says, reflecting on her experience, adding that the chamber members, volunteers and company that decorated the home were careful to take her family’s tastes and needs into consideration.
The chamber provided the family with restaurant meals during the event and presented them with a plaque and a hand-drawn rendering of their home afterwards. At the event’s conclusion, the home was cleaned so thoroughly that “you could not tell a single person had come through.”
The greatest benefit of participating was getting a fully decorated home in time for the holidays. Gatherings By Design provided the decor for the Patterson home, working with things the family had (such as Johanna’s grandmother’s ornaments) and adding new items as well. They made sure to add elements that the children would appreciate, including special door decorations for their rooms. “It really made the season magical for them,” Johanna says.
Saturday evening, after the tour was over, the Pattersons took advantage of their beautifully decorated home and hosted a holiday party for friends and family.
Johanna enjoyed the process so much that she continues to volunteer as a head hostess, assigned to supervise other volunteers and assist the homeowner at one of the houses each year. “I really love the walk and I love our town,” she says. “I have a unique perspective, so I can help set the homeowners at ease, but I think most people see it as a privilege and an honor — you recognize it’s a gift you are giving to Geneva because the ticket sales go to beautify your town.”Edit Module