Period pieces are hard to find, but Christmas collectibles are more available. This is because so many ornaments were created and passed on to children and grandchildren, they invariably turn up at antique shows and malls. This couple has fragile glass ornaments in their original boxes, candles that have never been burned, and ceramic, resin...
KEN NELSON and Jessica Greenway are known for their love of Arts and Crafts furniture designers, especially Gustav Stickley, the man they affectionately call “Gus” and whose work they have judiciously collected for more than a decade.
Jessica’s attraction to tooled-leather purses has led to another impressive collection, one that is featured in a recent publication by Daniel Lees, “Artistic Leather of the Arts and Crafts Era.”
The offshoot of the couple’s browsing has also been a household of holiday decorations that are displayed on four trees and on any and every mantle, bookcase and sideboard available.
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“The Arts and Crafts period pieces we collect are hard to find,” they say. “You can look and never find anything. But Christmas stuff is an easier thing to collect. You stumble upon these treasures in the process.” Because so many Christmas ornaments were created and passed on to children and grandchildren, they invariably turn up at antique shows and malls.
Greenway adds, “You start appreciating each little thing and the fact that it’s survived in such good condition.” She points to fragile glass ornaments in their original boxes, candles that have never been burned, and ceramic, resin and papier maché santas and reindeers. Forty to 50 years ago, people brought out these decorations every year, safeguarded them and valued them just as she does today.
For Greenway, the passion for holiday decorating began when she was single and started to make her own tradition. “I loved holidays, and my goal was to make it really fun. It’s a lot of work, yes, and it’s not nearly as much fun putting it away as it is taking it out, but it’s really fun to decorate — and each year it’s slightly different.”
Observing Greenway over the years as she unpacks boxes filled with Christmas ornaments, Nelson recognizes that for her, the fun has much to do with the rediscovery of things she’d forgotten about. She spends days “rediscovering.”
Their previous Kirkland house had an upstairs and a downstairs tree. This house, built in 2000, is easily able to accommodate three full-size trees plus a smaller one. Greenway says, “This house has a big hallway landing space that begs for a tree.” Clearly, it didn’t have to beg very long.
Early on the couple bought live trees, some of which had to be returned to the lot because what seemed perfect outside was inevitably too tall for the room. But they long ago moved to artificial trees because they like to keep them up for a long time. They remember when live trees started to dry out, limbs slumped and ornaments rolled off the ends and broke.
They also draw the line at using vintage Christmas-tree lights, though they do display them in their original boxes. Nelson notes, “They get very hot — almost too hot to touch — in an instant; the lighting, wire, bulbs and plug. They were definitely incendiary, and they must have caused lots of fires.”
Apart from decorating the house, the two love the gift-giving tradition. They pay attention to it all year long, think about what others would like, and are on the lookout whenever they shop. “I love to wrap the stuff,” Greenway says, and she has a huge collection of wrapping papers and ribbons awaiting the right gift for the right person.
While Greenway comments on how much work it takes and how much storage space is required (“We are almost maxed out on that”), she still dreams of “one more thing I really want — a silver aluminum tree from the ’50s and ’60s.”
You can never have too many trees.
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.” Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.