Celebrating the Holidays at Rebecca Ellsley's Little Cabin in the Woods

'Twas 14 Years ago when Designer Rebecca Ellsley bought a run-down log home in the Old Hill section of Westport. “It was in terrible condition,” she recalls. “The roof leaked—you could see daylight between all the logs.” Though it might have seemed like a huge undertaking for a 30-year-old, Ellsley was up to the task. She grew up in a European-style hunting lodge her mother, Beverly, the founder of Beverly Ellsley Designs, had restored in the mid ’70s. “I love log homes,” she says. “It was a big nut to take, but who else was going to save it?”

Ellsley named the 1,400-square-foot structure Moose Lodge in honor of what she thought was a blonde moose head hanging over the fireplace. It was, in fact, a caribou, prompting her mother to suggest she change the name to Caribou Cabin. But Ellsley was committed to the moose theme. “Before I closed on the house, I saw a cookie jar with the word moose on it,” she says. “I knew it was a sign.” She bought the jar, which sits on a counter in her kitchen.

A love of log homes and interior design isn’t the only thing Rebecca shares with her mother. She inherited Beverly’s passion for home restoration, entertaining for a crowd and decorating for the holidays. Every year, soon after Thanksgiving, Ellsley takes delivery of a 13-foot tree that holds pride of place in her great room, which was part of the original log home. And out come the boxes of ornaments. “There is nothing very religious on my tree,” she notes. “All of my ornaments have faces. And they are big—four to six inches at least.” Among her favorites: the Naked Emperor and Hiking Bear, both of which she bought at a Westport crafts show. The designer layers on multiple strands of lights-—anywhere from 30 to 40 strings—plus feather boas and garlands. “I do a lot of natural decorations,” she explains. “It fits with the rustic setting.”

It takes her about six or so hours to trim the tree to her satisfaction. “I have friends over to drink wine and talk to me,” Ellsley says. “But I do all the work. I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” For her first Moose Lodge Christmas in 2004, “We bought a tree so big, I had to cut an arch through the boughs in order to get through the room. I told myself, I’m going to measure from now on.” That was also the holiday she slept in her newly renovated master bedroom for the first time. The room has its own fireplace—one of five in the house—that Ellsley treats with a simple garland of greens and gold ribbon. “The rooms downstairs are the ones that everyone sees,” she explains. “I decorate my bedroom for me. It’s
my own little treasure.”

In the vaulted great room, an old-fashioned snowshoe and a vintage instrument dressed with greens and a teddy bear flank the moose head, and are among several decorations that stay up year round. “When you have a log cabin, you can get away with that,” she says. The mantel is treated with fake snow, birch logs, candles and oversized pinecones, “the bigger, the better,” she notes. A white owl is a nod to the real ones that inhabit the woods at the nearby nature center. The holiday theme carries through to the dining room, where the camp-style tables are set with vintage Fitz & Floyd St. Nicholas dishes, red-wine glasses etched with bears and a handstitched tablecloth. A glittery Santa greets visitors in the entry foyer. Pots of paperwhites and amaryllis add holiday flair throughout. 

“I usually throw several parties during the season,” Ellsley says. “We do Christmas Eve at my mom’s house and Boxing Day here. Christmas has always been about family and friends. We have an open-door policy: The more the merrier.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 issue of Connecticut & Gardens with the headline: The Little Cabin in the Woods.