How do you decorate one of the most unique and largest homes in Abilene for Christmas?
That was the question posed by Phil and Jane Ferguson Guitar to their long-time interior designer, Doug Carpenter, of Carpenter Interiors Inc. in Buffalo Gap.
Jane said she wanted something “completely out of the box” and “tastefully over the edge.” Something that would complement the Guitar family home in Old Elmwood that Phil and Jane have slowly transformed into their dream house over the last few years.
The home was built in 1939 and belonged to Phil’s parents, Earl and Anita Grissom Guitar. In the mid-1990s, Phil and Jane began talking to famous Houston architect Preston Bolton about redesigning the home to suit their tastes.
Jane recalled Preston flying into Abilene to spend time in the home sipping wine and getting a feel for the space and for the couple who would occupy it. Both Jane and Phil are scions of local oil and ranching families and are long-time Western Heritage Classic volunteers, opera supporters and rescue animal champions.
Construction on their red-brick home with massive white exterior columns started in 2004 and although projects continue to this day, the bulk of the renovations have been completed.
Bolton, who died last year at age 91, loved the arts, just as the Guitars do, and his reputation as a designer of distinctive houses is evident in the elegant, dramatic spaces he created in Phil and Jane’s home.
The home expanded from about 4,000 feet to a staggering 12,000 square feet and is the largest inhabited home in Abilene, according to the Taylor County appraisal district. The house has 10 bathrooms, five bedrooms, three kitchens, a piano room, wine room, exercise room, costume room, bar and a home theater under construction.
There’s also a miniature replica of the home that serves as the dog house for the family’s eight Chihuahuas.
And then there’s Jane’s closet, so large that it could double as a small garage. It was a highlight for guests who toured the Guitar mansion during the 2009 Abilene Philharmonic holiday home tour.
Decorating a home so unique and large for Christmas was a challenge for the Guitars, who enjoy entertaining during the holidays, and Doug Carpenter, their interior designer. Though Jane loves the traditional red and green Christmas colors, she did not think they would not fit well with her home’s delicate, light colors and decor. The house’s walls are crisp white (Jane’s favorite color) with delicate French tracery, a dramatic contrast to the black Brazilian walnut wood floors.
The furnishings are mostly American and French and several items are family pieces, such as the Chippendale sofa from Phil’s maternal grandmother, his father’s pool table and the Tiffany light fixture. Chairs and sofas were covered in pastel pink and blue in various designs, including houndstooth and ostrich leather. Mirrors and other accents all have silver inlay.
The result is bright, elegant and timeless, and Jane wanted the home’s Christmas decorations to mirror that as well. As Jane and Doug considered designs, she would think about how they would look in 50 years – dated or still brand new?
Nearly four years ago, the duo finally hit upon an original idea they felt would be timeless – unique trees dripping with thousands of clear crystals.
“There’s nothing faddish about it,” Jane said.
Doug and Jane designed all the trees based on the Chinese red maple, an endangered species in China that does not look anything like a traditional fir. Doug and Jane’s designs are so novel they could not be purchased at any store. They hired a Tuscola craftsman to create the tree frames from steel that break down into sections. The frames had to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of so many tiny crystal beads.
When each tree is put together and outfitted with the crystals and ornaments, they weigh hundreds of pounds, Doug said.
He estimated there are 50,000 individual decorations on each tree. And each tree is covered in a quarter mile of crystal beading. After Christmas, each tree is unbeaded and the beads are carefully stored to keep the materials clean. From start to end, the project takes the Guitar household staff two weeks to complete working eight hours a day.
“This is an immense project each year,” Doug said.
Six crystal trees are scattered around the Guitar house. The crystal tree in the great room is 12 and a half feet tall. The trees are adorned with Czech-made, pale pink, handblown glass ornaments. Lighting under each tree adds sparkle.
Matching crystal garlands adorn mantels, light sconces and the main staircase.
“This house at Christmas is basically crystal,” Jane said.
Instead of a traditional tree skirt, large white silk rose balls are nestled at the base of each crystal tree.
Outside, a 6-foot crystal wreath hangs on the fireplace overlooking the pool and the Italian cypress trees on either side of it are lit with thousands of white lights. The lighting in the pool can be adjusted as well, and the effect of everything together is magnificent, Doug said.
“It’s the most incredible place you’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s like a fairy land.”
And if it happens to snow, it makes the whole scene mystical, he added.
The front door also is decked out in solid crystal.
“All of this becomes crystal, crystal, crystal,” Jane said.
Tiny crystal tree decorations adorn the dining table and tables in the entry hall.
But there’s more than crystal trees in the Guitar house at Christmas. There are also six white Christmas trees (store bought) placed in various rooms including the exercise room and Phil’s office.
A 15-foot-tall white tree is placed in a corner of Phil’s office, a stark contrast to the cherry wood walls. The tree is decorated with 600 balls of silver in different shapes.
The holiday decor and the house’s overall interior design fits the Guitars’ tastes exactly.
“Doug has done a wonderful job,” Jane said. “He and I gel together, and Phil as well.”