'A bit of everything'
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, December 2007

Art, Disney and antiques mingle in an Eldridge 'mini museum'

Given its history-laden location, Jeff and Penny Hinkel’s Eldridge home easily conjures up holiday scenes of the past. One can imagine a horse and buggy clattering past the house and snow blanketing the rustic bridges over winding water channels in nearby Walnut Street Park (now Elizabeth Park).

Built in 1901, the 4,000 square foot Stick Victorian home is a stunner with its traditional multi-color paint scheme, decorative wooden planks (called "stick work"), and symmetrical front porch and second-floor balcony.


Seemingly every inch of interior surface holds some treasure with sentimental significance, and the walls are hung with colorful art. "I do all the decorating," explains Penny, "but Jeff does all the artwork."


The Twelve Days of Christmas play out in the entry with carved ornaments entangled among the greenery wrapping the banister. A rich purple wall is the backdrop to a stunning staircase made of bird's eye maple — the same woodwork seen throughout the home's deep crown moldings and baseboards. Penny's childhood stocking, made by her mother, rests on a trunk below the staircase, next to a store-bought stocking for Jeff.


Artistic talent

Married since 1969, the couple has lived in the historic home since 1987. Jeff, 68, works in the acquisitions department at Western Washington University's library, while Penny, 60, who now calls herself a "professional volunteer," provided day care for many years.


The couple moved to Bellingham in 1980 when their three children Clark, Jason and Hannah ranged in age from 3 to 10. Jason and Hannah now work in the film industry, on movies such as "Ocean's Eleven" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Clark has worked as an "imagineer" for Disney and now is a model builder and graphic designer.


Penny's father was a lithographer who worked with Walt Disney, so Disney touches sparkle throughout the home.


"The whole family is artistic," says Penny. "Jeff and I don't make our living with art, but they do. It skipped a generation."


Because the kids are often spread across the globe on various film projects, Christmas these days is generally a quiet affair for Penny and Jeff. "I'm ready for a break at Christmas," says Penny, who keeps busy with work in politics and with her church. "This year the kids are going to have us come out sometime after the holidays."


French doors open from the foyer onto a whirlwind of holiday décor in the front sitting room. Fetched every year from Bakerview Nursery, the tall, narrow tree rests between the front living room and the smaller sitting area behind, where five stockings hang from the massive Chuckanut sandstone fireplace. 


“In the past, we’ve had trees that are twice as wide and you could hardly get around them,” says Jeff. “We had it in the front window one year, but then it was so dark in here.”


“I realized if we brought it back this far [into the room], you can see the whole tree,” says Penny.


Decorating the tree takes several sessions. “We hang a couple things up, take some pictures, and then go away and come back another day,” says Jeff. Ribbons and strings of beads wend through the tree's branches. Purple and gold ribbons, among several other colors, play off the home's wall colors.


The couple receives ornaments as gifts from friends and also find them while traveling. "Everything has a story," says Penny. "I like the history of things."

Ornaments also hang from ornate bird cages in different rooms: One is topped with a myriad of tiny fairy statues that look ready to take flight; another is covered in glass ornaments.

Tall glass cases in both rooms are filled with intricate dolls and stuffed toys, adding to the Christmas feel. Small Santa statuettes and other holiday baubles rest among the folds of the dolls' dresses.


Christmas keepsakes

No space in the home goes unadorned. "We like texture and color and unusual things," says Penny. A hutch in the dining room holds glassware, a silver tea set and other collections. The top rim props up charming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs dolls.


Many ornaments and the nativity stay on display all year long. Penny and Jeff say it's because there's no room for them elsewhere, but it's obvious that the couple also enjoys having there treasures available year-round. "We don't like to hide them away," Jeff admits.


The grand dining room table is home every year to a large Santa perched in his reindeer-led sleigh. Miniature snow shoes and skis tumble out of his pack. The delightful oversize piece lives atop an armoire in the master bedroom during the rest of the year.


Christmas items mingle easily with family keepsakes. "I call this a mini-museum or a folk museum," says Penny, "because there's a little bit of everything."


The extensive collecting began when Penny's grandmother gave the couple 12 place settings of her Bavarian china and an antique cabinet as a wedding gift. "That's how we got into antiques in the first place — because we needed a place to put the china. From the day we were married, it's never stopped."


"We've taken this big house and turned it into a cottage," Penny say, looking around at her cherished objects. "My dad always said anything that comes into my house never leaves because I always find a place for it somewhere."

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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