BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor firstname.lastname@example.org
When Julie Hudson was approached to volunteer her residence for the annual holiday tour of houses known as Chez Noel, she had the chez -- or home -- part covered: 3,900 square feet of airy, beautiful space, decorated in a charming French-country style.
It was the noel part that worried her.
23rd annual Chez Noel
What: Self-guided tour of three homes decorated for the holiday season, plus shopping opportunities
When: Dec. 7 and 8; homes open for touring at 10 a.m.; shopping at the Assistance League's Bargain Box thrift store and holiday boutique starts at 9:30 a.m.
Where: The homes' addresses come with the purchase of a ticket; the Bargain Box is located at 1924 Q St.
Cost: $35; a snack is provided by Starbucks
Tour restrictions: No high heels, cameras, cell phones or children under 12. Wheelchair access is not provided.
"It's a lot of home for just two people and two dogs," said the empty-nester. "I did have to go and get more (holiday decorations).
"My mom, bless her, she brought over a lot of her stuff. She really does Christmas extravagantly."
Though Mom's mantel -- and foyer and living room and kitchen and bedrooms -- might be a little holiday-lite this year, she can console herself with the knowledge that the decorations are being put to good use with Chez Noel, coordinated by the Assistance League of Bakersfield for a program that provides clothing and other necessities to disadvantaged children.
"Chez Noel is the league's major fundraiser for Operation School Bell, which gives 3,000 children from our county schools new clothes each year," said Molly Clifton, who is handling publicity for the home tour, which runs the weekend of Dec. 7 and 8.
A map of the three homes on the tour comes with the purchase of the $35 ticket. Participants are invited to make a day of it by doing a little shopping at the league's Holiday Vendor Boutique and the Bargain Box store before or after driving to the homes, which open at 10 a.m.
Clifton said two of the houses are in the Riverlakes area, one having a "warm Tuscan influence with a beautifully designed garden." The other boasts an "Old World design kitchen ceiling reminiscent of the rustic ceilings of Europe," she said.
The third residence -- in the Talladega neighborhood in the northwest -- is the home of Julie and Danny Hudson, whose work as a tile contractor is on stunning display throughout.
On a warm Monday afternoon, Mrs. Hudson -- a modest, soft-spoken mother and grandmother -- led a reporter, photographer, two members of the Assistance League and her adorable but wary Jack Russell terriers on a tour of the stunning home she and her husband built in 2008.
"We lived off Stockdale Highway in a tract home when we moved here," said Mrs. Hudson, 49. "Two of the (three) boys still lived with us at the time, but now it's just us and the dogs."
Just beyond the front gate, poinsettia arrangements in a pair of giant ceramic cowboy boots frame the entry, a welcome that hints at Mrs. Hudson's talent for blending elegant accents with the more rustic/upscale country aesthetic found throughout her home.
The door opens into a placid courtyard, bathed in light and greenery, which Mrs. Hudson calls the heart of her home. Surrounding the courtyard are a compact outdoor kitchen and entrances to the main home and game room. Sitting invitingly in the center is a sparkling "vanishing-edge" pool, so placid that it looks more like a reflection pond than a place where rowdy grandkids splash around, though Mrs. Hudson said the pool is the main gathering spot for the family over the summer.
The main house
The Hudsons have included many of the amenities found in most custom homes: vaulted ceilings, open floor plan, spacious rooms, an envy-inducing kitchen. But what stands out as visitors meander through are the rich textures -- on floors, counters and walls -- that infuse the place with warmth and distinction. A rustic wood floor runs through most of the main living space, and red brick provides the flooring for the guest powder room. Extensive cabinetry -- in a variety of woods, finishes and paint colors -- adds interest, as does the unique pillow-like ivory tile with dark accents in the kitchen and the honed granite charcoal countertops.
Mrs. Hudson and her mother -- "a Christmas hoarder," her daughter said with a laugh -- have displayed an array of whimsical holiday decorations that go well with the informal feel of the house: glass containers filled with peppermints and ornaments, families of snowmen, a nativity, a trio of wooden reindeer and other holiday tchotchkes. Perhaps the most personal display was a folk art collection of 12 Santas that were carved and painted by hand, a gift to Mrs. Hudson's mother from an old friend.
The living room mantel -- adorned with garlands, ornaments, lights, gifts, candy canes and felt Christmas trees -- was arranged by Mindy Nichols, who has provided design ideas and inspiration to Mrs. Hudson in the past.
The guest bathroom, though small, is a refined space with blue and white wallpaper, a beautiful chandelier dripping crystal-like Christmas ornaments and a vanity that's been refashioned -- with marble and a sink -- from an antique dresser that used to belong to Mrs. Hudson's mother-in-law.
"Being in construction, my husband sees all the good ideas out there," Mrs. Hudson said.
An even more impressive example of the couple's knack for giving new life to old things is found just off the bathroom in the master bedroom. A distressed but elegant cabinet -- so large it would feel cramped in most rooms -- is the focal point.
"This man was selling antiques on the side of the road five to 10 years ago, off Stockdale and Allen," Mrs. Hudson recalled. "I knew I wanted to have it -- it was probably no more than $500. We had our truck and just took it with us.
"My husband put granite on the top and we use it as a coffee bar."
Elsewhere in the room are a black and white toile snow couple -- which Mrs. Hudson proudly pointed out were hers, not Mom's. Beyond the gold-ornamented Christmas tree, the other standout decoration hangs in a frame over the bed, a sweet piece of advice that Mrs. Hudson admitted with a smile she and her husband don't always follow:
"Always kiss me goodnight."
The game room
The most playful expression of the couple's laidback personality is in the 900-square-foot game room, a suite off the main house that includes a bathroom, small kitchen and family area used mostly as a retreat for Mr. Hudson.
The holiday decorations are whimsical and fun, like the three-foot bear holding tight to a miniature Christmas tree, and the folksy centerpiece on the dining table: a display that features a pair of cowboy boots that belong to Mrs. Hudson's father.
But it's the game room Christmas tree that captures the true spirit of the family. A cowboy hat is used as the topper, and strings of lights that resemble shotgun shells -- which Mrs. Hudson's mother picked up in Durango, Colo. -- celebrate the family's love of hunting. There are more decorative boots and cowboy Santas dangling from the branches, and the showstopper is the toy train that circles the base of the tree, the same locomotive that has been part of Mrs. Hudson's family traditions since she was a child.
"The train is still put out for the grandkids every year," she said.
Decorating their home so early is allowing the Hudsons to take a breather before the start of the holiday whirlwind, but the best part of the process was that it brought Mrs. Hudson and her mother together for three days of intensive holiday prep.
"That was fun," Mrs. Hudson said. "We did a lot of laughing and screaming and used everything Mom brought. She went home in an empty car."
Mom might have a harder time getting the treasures back, if Mr. Hudson has his way.
"My husband loves all of this," Mrs. Hudson said. "My mom said, 'OK, I'll sell you some of this stuff.' And he said, 'Just take it out of our inheritance!'"