Debbie and Jim Sartain are expecting a houseful this Christmas. With five children and eight grandchildren — two of them born this year — coming from both north and south, the family is preparing for a big, traditional Christmas at home. And the whimsical, but elegant holiday decorations will set the stage for a magical time together.
“The atmosphere you create and the warm feeling it gives and the memories you make is what you pass on,” Debbie Sartain said. “We do love to entertain our friends, but decorating our home for Christmas is something we do for our own enjoyment and for our family.”
A lovely big red brick home set high on a hill and nestled in the oak trees of a well established section of Woodway, the Sartains have a home that is stately, but comfortable. It’s lovely, and at the same time, friendly and inviting. And during the holidays, it’s delightful to the eye.
And it all starts as early as possible. Sartain said she always decorates the week of Thanksgiving.
“The closer you get to the holidays, the more hectic life gets,” she said. “I just like to get it done early so that I can enjoy the season with my family.”
You can see Sartain’s whimsical side from the walk to the front door. Three big stuffed brown bears, a fixture on the front porch, will change from wearing Baylor and Midway football attire to their holiday best as they greet family and friends. Surrounding the big, beveled glass double doors, a grapevine wreath with huge colored balls and lights is a welcoming sight, leading to a breathtakingly fun entryway inside.
It’s hard to decide which fanciful holiday creature to approach first. Along the bannister to the curved staircase, circus monkeys dressed in sparkling, colorful, silky suits swing and dangle from every turn — even from the massive brass chandelier.
“I bought the monkeys a few years ago, and I just love them,” Sartain said. “I guess I thought, since the house is always such a circus, they would fit right in.”
Standing beneath the stairs, a life-sized Santa, handmade by Sartain’s mother, dons a suit made from Sartain’s daughter’s Hedonia Club ball gown and a faux fur coat that was part of her Tyler Rose Festival attire.
“I love that my mother fashioned every stitch of this Santa,” Sartain said. “It’s beautiful work, and it reminds me of her.”
Off the entryway, in a small and homey living room, the soft glow of candlelight and tiny street lamps twinkle in the bookshelves and from the tabletops. It’s the light from Sartain’s Dickens’ Village collection by Department 56. Each scene is carefully snuggled among miniature trees and wispy snow drifts, and it draws you in with every detail.
“I have been collecting the Dickens’ Village since the late ‘80s,” Sartain said. “It’s very sweet. I’d say I have about 40-50 pieces.”
The great room is where the Sartains love to cozy up to a crackling fire in the big Austin stone fireplace. A spacious, open bar with black granite countertops makes this room perfect for entertaining. A collection of Old World Santas sits surrounded by candles atop the mantle.
“This room is really warm and homey,” Sartain said. Even though it’s the formal living area, it’s not fussy, she added. It’s just plain comfy.
On the coffee table, an antique French scale is filled with big, colorful, blown-glass Christmas balls by Christopher Radko. And the tall family Christmas tree is aglow with Radko ornaments from every occasion the family has celebrated together.
“We’ve got them from the first day of school and the new millennium to weddings and even from 9/11,” Sartain said. “Jim was in New York on 9/11, so that date is very significant for us. A lot of our special moments can be traced in the ornaments of this tree.”
Off the great room is a billiard room where her son Tyler’s collection of German nutcrackers — mostly Steinbach —is on display. Tyler, a senior at Midway High School, is the last child still living at home.
“He’s been collecting these nutcrackers since he was born,” Sartain said. “They also represent different special occasions and trips our family has taken.”
Around the corner is the breakfast room, where the family gathers for informal meals and, of course, breakfast. On the breakfast room wall hang two angels hand-painted on thick wood, imported from South America, circa the late 1800s. A unique, deep green marble tabletop is set with one of the family’s favorite decorations: hand-painted ceramic dinner plates that tell the Christmas story.
“When the kids were all here, we would go around the table, and each person would read a verse until we had heard the whole story,” Sartain said.
This season, Sartain has a centerpiece of earthy flowers and winter vegetables, designed by Bloomingals Floral Boutique. Artichokes, peppers and kale, mixed with roses and coleus, will look as beautiful when dried as they do fresh, and the centerpiece will last beyond the season.
Playful elves sit on an ornate French buffet with a marble top, which Sartain said is perfect for serving meals.
“I love the marble tops because besides being beautiful, you just can’t mess them up,” she said. “They are great for kids.”
The Sartain’s dining room is an intimate room — not large — where family gathers together and toasts to good health and happiness.
In the TV room is Tyler’s Christmas tree, filled with football and college-themed ornaments.
“This room and this tree are all about Tyler,” Sartain said.
The formal dining room is full of divine treasures that represent the true meaning of Christmas. The 1870s French dining table seats eight and is made of intricately hand-carved tiger oak.
“This table once belonged to a close friend, which makes it very special to me,” Sartain said.
A stone nativity scene takes its place in the center of the table and is surrounded by rose bowls full of red roses and highlighted by lots of candles. A beautiful hand-carved wooden French cabinet complements the table perfectly.
In the bay window, a tree lit with white lights is adorned in crosses of all sorts and sizes.
Built-in cabinets house some of the Sartains most-treasured pieces, including a collection of German pressed glass. They brought back the colorful blown and etched glasses with 24-karat gold-encrusted rims following a trip to the Czech Republic. Various delicate pieces of Sabino and Lalique crystal, also in the cabinets, were given to Sartain by her mother.
The Sartain’s approach to the holidays reflects a kind of intimacy and warmth that can be found throughout the home, even after Christmas ends.