Step Inside a Victorian Christmas Wonderland

Designer Beth duPont's Rowayton Victorian has been decked out for the holidays.Darien designer Beth duPont isn’t a fan of minimalism. A collector by nature, she believes in filling homes with beautiful—and interesting—things. “My home has always been about the stuff,” she says. “To me that defines your personal style. I love to scour and look for the perfect thing. If it were the gold rush, I’d still be in that stream.”

Two years ago, she cofounded a design studio and boutique, Denemede, with her friend, decorator Claire Robbins Miner. The partnership came about when duPont hired Miner to refresh her home in Rowayton. “I wanted an updated, energetic feel. I’m so traditional, and she gave me the confidence to go outside of my box.” The result: a fresh contemporary look that’s more midcentury Modern than Victorian. “The whole process was so much fun,” says duPont. “I said, ‘you’re such a good decorator and I’m so good at finding the furniture, why don’t we join up?’”

Not surprisingly the two women share a similar design philosophy. “We firmly believe in starting with the hard pieces in the room,” says duPont. “Then you fill in with furnishings and soft goods. We wish people would start collecting again. That’s how you create the warmth and the personality.”
When it comes to decorating for the holidays, she pulls out all the stops. Even the mirrors, paintings and statues are draped with antique glass garlands. “I decorate everything,” she says. “Any excuse to get my stuff out!”

DuPont traces her passion for the holidays back to her childhood and her mother, a visual merchandiser for department stores. “She could make chocolates on a porcelain plate look beautiful,” she recalls. “She always made a magical Christmas. There was great anticipation as a child. I just carried that along with my own family.”

Traditionally, duPont kicks off the festivities on Thanksgiving, when she starts pulling boxes from the basement of her Rowayton Victorian. “I’m always attracted to anything that’s old-fashioned and romantic,” she says. (In fact, she spent years buying and renovating old homes, before opening Good Food Good Things in Darien in 2003.) She has collected 1,000-plus ornaments over the years—some are family heirlooms, some are gifts from friends, many are from antiques shops. Each has a story and a memory attached. “They come flooding back when I take each one out,” she says. “They are like old friends."

The tree comes next. Before downsizing to her small Victorian, she routinely had a full-sized tree for every room in the house, as many as six in all. Now, she has just one in the family room—but it’s the biggest she can fit. “I shove it into the ceiling,” she says. “Then I just patch the ceiling when I take it down.”   

DuPont eschews trends. “I use the same decorations every year,” she notes. “The goal is finding new ways to display them.” For example, her collection of wooden and felt ornaments that used to hang on the family room tree, now adorn a huge garland draped along a beam in the kitchen.

The exception is the gingerbread house that graces the dining room table. “I start thinking about it the day after Christmas,” duPont says. Usually designed around an antique ornament, last year’s confection was pink and white to complement the new “lady of the house,” a portrait by artist Alexander Rutsch, which hangs in the dining room. This year’s theme? Chocolate. “Imagine, dark chocolate and milk chocolate and white icing. How chic.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 2015 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Home for the Holidays.