Prepare for the Holidays With Inspiration from Lifestyle Guru Mar Jennings

A Mother Nature-inspired holiday design comes home to roost in Westport.
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The living room Odette sofette is from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; the fireplace stone is from Gault; and on the coffee table, Jennings’ favorite ornament takes pride of place. “Old, cracked and loved, this wonderful ornament dates back to the late ’70s,” he says. “No matter what the design theme is, I can always find a place for it.” Photograph by Amy Vischio.

Situated on a cozy little street in Westport, Rosebrook Gardens is a special place any time of year. “I’m simply the steward,” says homeowner and lifestyle expert Mar Jennings, who bought the house from the builder 25 years ago and right away began making it into a home. From enhancing the curb appeal with gardens and landscaping, to adding coffered ceilings in the dining room and building out a massive stone fireplace hearth in the living room, he has added so many special details that infuse it with an old-world charm and casual elegance that’s welcoming, warm and comforting all year round.

During the holidays, though, things go from special to magical. “For me, the holiday season takes casual luxury and gives it a couple cocktails,” says Jennings. “It’s a time to really embrace the sparkle, embrace the light, and embrace each other.”

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Jennings and his Schnauzer, Daisy, are ready to welcome guests for the holidays. Photograph by Amy Vischio.

It’s no surprise that America’s top lifestyle expert has no trouble throwing his arms around the season with signature panache. “Each year I challenge myself to really elaborate on and fine-tune my festive Mar-ry Christmas designs,” he says. He’s noodling on the theme and design well ahead of time, but finalizes things right after Thanksgiving. Then he spends a good week unpacking, tweaking and refining as he helps Rosebrook Gardens get gussied up for the season. The decorations are always up by the first weekend in December, and they’re down by the first week in January. “It is a rule that I live by,” says Jennings. “I’m no fan of seeing a holiday wreath on someone’s door on Valentine’s Day.”

Each year, his design is anchored by key pieces, curated over years of holiday seasons: The fireplace mantel is always a spectacular focal point. Wintry greenery like spruce, pinecones and branches abound, and twinkle lights are threaded through everything. His favorite ornament from childhood, a reminder of holiday seasons’ past, is always displayed somewhere prominently.

But the theme changes annually. Jennings builds on his base with pieces that reflect something significant from his last turn around the sun. In 2021, when many holiday revelers were forced to spend the season roosting at home (or with others in their pandemic pod), it was all about nesting. The design took shape in the form of a whimsical Mother Nature–inspired mix of birds, branches, twine, subtle lighting and even a few nests hidden around the home. “I wanted it to be really natural and organic,” says Jennings, “where Mother Nature moves in for the holidays.” Decorations also can pop up in unexpected places, adding to the whimsy. Visitors may come upon a wreath hung on a sconce or a surprise vignette scattered throughout entertaining spaces.

Over the years, one element has had a notable evolution: Jennings has made a move to faux greenery inside the house. Years ago, “I would never even consider using faux indoors,” he explains. But these days, “it’s such good quality that you don’t know the difference,” and there’s no worry about things drying out or dropping a mess of needles everywhere. The exterior, however, is always real.

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Jennings loves to delight visitors with vignettes, like this one using pieces from Millie Rae’s. Photograph by Amy Vischio; Interior Styling by Anna Molvick.

Things really get festive when the house is full of people. “For me, the holidays are about spending time with the people you love,” says Jennings. And there’s nothing he enjoys more than playing holiday host. Every Thursday evening during the month of December, he invites a small, lucky group of dinner guests to enjoy the decor up close, as well as a roaring fire, wonderful food, and carols sung by a Yuletide choir dressed in period clothes.

“Rosebrook Gardens is a place that is all about celebration and appreciation,” says its happy homeowner. During the holidays, “the joy of the season is really vibrating from the walls. This house is a place that provides great comfort not just for me, but for those who visit as well.” Togetherness, carols by a cozy fire, and some sparkle? That’s holiday magic, indeed.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Nesting Instinct.