Spirit and splendor
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, December 200

Eldridge couple take holiday decorating to new heights

There's winter wonderland, and then there's Robert and Pat Lundquist's home at the holidays.

Think ceiling-brushing Christmas trees swathed in ornaments, alongside collections of crystal, snow globes, nativity scenes and toy trains. Then imagine all of it doubled, nay, tripled.

From shimmering strings of white lights draping the home's exterior and surrounding foliage to five themed Christmas trees on display inside, this Bellingham couple grabs the reindeer reins with both hands and doesn't let loose until the season has well passed.

"We love Christmas because it celebrates the birth of Christ," says Pat. "The holiday season is also about love, friendship and family. It's a time to remember and celebrate the joy of love and friendship of everyone who has been and is a part of our lives."

The couple had no idea they would one day live in this enchanting Eldridge home, set on an acre of rambling arbors and gardens. In a serendipitous twist, 35 years ago they rented a house nearby and came to know one of the original owners, a woman who had built it with her husband in 1940.

Robert and Pat helped the elderly widow in whatever ways she'd let them. One year, the couple surprised her with a Christmas tree.

"When we lived here, she was alone," says Robert, a longtime private piano, voice and composition teacher. "We brought the tree over and she said, 'This is wonderful. I just found out my son's family is coming to visit and I had no decorations.'

"She hung Christmas cards on the tree -- that's all she had. She was thrilled with it."

"We rented it for 19 years after she passed away," explains Pat, who works at Western Washington University. "And then we had a chance to buy it" in 1992. Now they fill the cedar-shingled two-story home to the brim with holiday decorations of their own.

Gingerbread house

Defined by Robert defines as "early 1900s common sense" style, the home shimmers when visitors approach after dark. "The white lights make it look like a gingerbread house topped with powdered sugar," he says.

The scent of simmering spiced cider greets guests as  they step inside the kitchen entry, where a tree trimmed in purple shines in the breakfast nook.

Further inside, the dining room's multi-hued family-themed tree teems with dolls, stuffed animals and ropes of brightly colored beads.

The living room holds two trees: a massive one decorated in silver and gold, mirrored by a smaller version that's equally dramatic.

Robert's favorite is the angel tree, placed by the front door. Downright diminutive compared to the others, it's draped in pearls and bedecked with angels and doves.

Though the couple used to cut down fresh trees, they made the move to artificial many years ago.

"For years we'd drive out Mount Baker Highway and cut down two 8-foot Christmas trees," says Pat. "But they would get so weighted down with the ornaments -- and you don't really see much tree anyway."

Indeed, each tree is covered in a thick blanket of baubles. "We're continually adding to them, because people give us more as gifts," says Pat.

Ornamental touches

After years of practice, the couple has tried-and-true tips for how best to place the myriad of decorations.

"Decorate from the center out," says Robert, "and then add little accents. We have touches of red all over this tree, so it brings in (other red details from) the room and it gives depth."

"You also have to start at the top and work your way down," says Pat. "Because the tree is wide enough that you can't really get to the top if you've decorated the bottom first. We get the top third done, and then we work in one section until we can't fit anything more in it."

They finish with what they call "picks," ornamental touches poked into the tree, such as butterflies, dragonflies, dolls and so on.

Preparations begin before Thanksgiving. They estimate it takes up to 25 man hours to decorate one tree, with three or four people working together.

Key to the celebration is having friends help. The couple has had as many as eight students helping with the large living room tree. "It began with the students asking if they could help us," says Pat. "Some [past] students who come home from college even call to see if they can come decorate."

At the end of the season, each ornament is carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stacked in 3-cubic-feet boxes. It can take up to 11 boxes to hold the ornaments for just one tree.

Married for 38 years, the couple share a Christmas wish: "Pat and I decided that if everybody put up even one string of lights, it would be wonderful. Sometimes when I see just a little string or a candle in a window, I go, 'That's the same spirit I've got.' That's all it takes."

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.


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