Real Estate

Seeking inspiration -- for a good cause

Christmas at Our House fundraiser opens decorated homes for the holidays

New England villages inhabit the window sills. Santas -- in all sizes and materials -- appear in most every room. Wreaths made of greenery or pearlized buttons deck the walls.

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas at the Los Altos home of Jean and Art Carmichael. And they'll be sharing their decor from Dec. 4 to 6 during the 26th annual Christmas at Our House holiday home tour, a fundraiser for St. Francis High School in Mountain View.

The tour begins with a surrey ride from Saint William's Catholic Church, less than a thousand yards away. A bronze Santa has been taken out of storage to greet visitors at the front entry.

Luckily there's plenty of storage space in the 8,350-square-foot, three-story home, which was built six years ago.

The main decorated areas of the home will be the ground floor, where visitors can view two Christmas trees, plus the formal dining room that is primed for the holiday. The tree in the living room will be wrapped with a garland made of pearlized buttons, complementing a wreath and a small cone-shaped tree made of the same materials. A larger tree, decorated with the family's historical ornaments, will be the focal point of the family room.

Many of the ornaments are handmade, Jean Carmichael said, and "the children look for ornaments -- all of our fun things that go way back," including the "mouse ran up the clock."

Jean won't be putting the finishing touches -- adding greens from the San Francisco Flower Mart and the Kiwanis Christmas tree lot on Grant Road -- until after Thanksgiving. But a preview tour demonstrated why it takes her more than a week to get her decorations out of storage and arrange them throughout the house.

The dining room, with its English barley-twist chairs, is a perfect setting for Jean's grandmother's silver nut bowls, set above the Spode Christmas china setting. Peppermint striped candles continue the color theme. A jardiniere from France will likely be moved to the Steinway piano in the living room closer to the tour date.

"It's fun having the historical things," Jean said, pointing to a high chair that folds into a rocking chair, where a teddy bear is seated.

Even the rug is an heirloom.

"It was in my house when I was growing up outside Boston," Jean said, adding that the weaver incorporated local blossoms in the design.

Throughout the home the artwork is reminiscent of her New England roots, including a painting of a frigate in Art's den and a watercolor of Marblehead Harbor in a hallway.

"Light is important to me, all around the room," Jean said, pointing to the three-"candle" lights sitting on each window sill in the family room. As one enters the house, these candelabras are in each front window.

The house tour goes well beyond the public rooms on the first floor, continuing up to the four bedrooms and four bathrooms above. Jean pointed to the skylights in the hallway, which break up the "bowling alley" feel. In various niches, one can spot carolers under a lit lamplight or wooden trees that can be moved around by the grandchildren to create a forest for the birds and other critters to scamper through.

Each room has its own holiday decor: In the downstairs master bedroom three pine-cone trees surround a deer with birch-candle antlers; an upstairs bedroom will be filled with teddy bears; another has a nautical theme.

The tour finishes in the basement, with a bedroom suite and University of Oregon-themed game room that contains both ping-pong and pool tables. That room will host the Santa's Workshop auction.

Two other homes will be on the tour, including:

* a Colonial, 5,300-square-foot home in Los Altos Hills on nearly 2 acres. Don't miss the Mark Roberts Christmas Fairies in the entry, as well as the family collection of ivory, gold and silver ornaments -- and the bird accents throughout the home;

* a "Classic with a Twist" New England Colonial, single-level home with a guest house on more than an acre in Los Altos Hills. Notable is the artwork -- including Tor Archer's "Out of Nature" bronze -- heightened ceilings and natural light.

Besides the home tour, preview party and luncheons, the annual fundraiser hosted by the Saint Francis High School Women's Club will offer two drawings -- Joe Escobar Diamonds Showcase (tickets are $25 each or five for $100) and Santa's Workshop (five tickets for $20). Tickets are on sale through Dec. 3.

What: Christmas at Our House holiday home tour

When: Twilight Tour & Gala Preview Party, Thursday, Dec. 4, 4-10 p.m.; Home Tour & Christmas Boutique, Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Festive Winter Luncheon Buffet, Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Where: Three homes in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills; preview party and luncheon buffets at Saint William's Catholic Church Event Center, 611 S. El Monte Ave., Los Altos

Cost: Preview party $135; home tour $50; luncheon $30

Info: Call 650-968-1213 ext. 701 or go to Saint Francis High School

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

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