Gail Ladd has been turning the family's Westminster farm into a Christmas wonderland for as far back as her children can remember.
But Christmas at Banbury Cross (named when Gail kept horses on the property) has never meant bright lights and gaudy ornaments. Gail takes a much softer touch with her holiday palette, relying instead on the best elements of both nature and the season. Live greens, real fruit, multiple Nativity sets and Christmas trees of all sizes are staples of her holiday decor.
And while the tradition once was for the benefit of her daughters, Elizabeth, 23, and Mary Gale, 33; Gail has been pleasantly surprised to find in Elizabeth -- who lives at home -- an eager decorating partner.
The women renovated and redecorated much of the 30-year-old home this summer. And together they tackled the Christmas decorating duties.
Though they have a basic plan in mind -- thanks to years of holiday practice -- Gail and Elizabeth have been known to debate the most minuscule of decisions, down to exactly where and how to hang a single ornament on a tree.
"We are so immensely picky," Elizabeth said, laughing. During the decorating process, "Dad hides," she said.
"Well, he tries to stay out of the way," Gail said. "Unless we're baking."
She and Larry bought the 25-acre farm 30 years ago. The couple moved from an apartment in Glen Burnie to a smaller home -- now a rental property they own -- that sits at the top of the farm lane. They lived there while their rambling brick dream home with the black mansard-style roof was being built.
The farm is tucked at the back of a winding lane lined with pine trees. Boy Scouts planted the 4,000 pine trees years ago as part of an Arbor Day Foundation project, Gail said.
Gail raises AKC-registered German shepherds, and visitors who use the less-formal kitchen entrance are usually greeted by one of the dogs, resting in the runs built outside.
An agility course filled with what looks like odd-shaped playground equipment is in the lower end of the yard. The canine obstacle course is used in dog shows to test the animals' skill and intelligence.
Photographs of Gail's prize-winning dogs -- including her beloved Mikado, who earned international acclaim -- decorate the rustic family room. A wood stove warms the room.
A large wood beam taken out of a barn in Ohio (where Larry is from) serves as the mantel. A 3-by-4-foot wood plaque on the wall bearing the number "1888" was taken from the peak in the same barn when the building was dismantled.
The first of the family's three, full-size Christmas trees is displayed here. All three trees are artificial -- Gail's only break with tradition. "They don't drop needles everywhere and they're not a fire hazard," she explained. "It also helps because we start decorating so early."
She and Elizabeth began decorating two weeks before Thanksgiving this year. Besides bringing forth the full-size trees, the Ladds display 10 more decorated Christmas trees of varying materials and sizes and more wreaths than can be counted.
Not to mention the yards of pine garland dotted with fresh apples, oranges and lemons. Or the swags of boxwood and ewe, trimmed off shrubs in the yard and artfully arranged.
The cozy sun room is tucked between the family room and the living room. It overlooks the brick path leading to the front door as well as the rest of the Ladds' property and nearby fields. For the holidays, a large decorated tree is tucked in a corner.
But the focal point of room is always the large dollhouse that takes up the entire back wall. Gail's late mother made the house and much of the furniture in the 12 rooms. She based the decor on the Ladds' home -- a twist that continues to delight Gail and Elizabeth. It includes a decorated Christmas tree, of course.
The living room -- freshened with new paint and drapes this summer -- is a formal setting in ivory with aquamarine and mauve accents. The ornate King Louis XVI glove table belonged to Gail's grandparents, who had a home on North Charles Street in Baltimore so formally appointed that it was the subject of a newspaper story many years ago.
The Christmas tree is a study in burgundy ribbon and mirrored and glass ornaments. A Lladro Nativity set that Gail's mother brought back from Spain sits on the mantel. The fireplace is filled with potted white and pink poinsettias, since the Ladds rarely use it. A glass display case in the far corner holds some of the china and glass Santa figurines Gail has collected and been given.
The living room opens into the dining room, which continues the more formal color scheme with an aquamarine chair molding. The table centerpiece is a long swag of greens and fruit. Gail uses all of her formal china as well as her Stieff silver for the holiday.
Mary Gale and her 5-year-old daughter, Kimberly, come for Christmas dinner as does Gail's father, John Schilling.
Gail especially enjoys cooking the meal in her crisp white kitchen. She and Elizabeth did a happy farewell to the original harvest gold appliances three years ago.
The center island was updated with a six-burner gas stove -- something Gail had been wishing for since periodic electric outages left the family unable to cook. Antique aluminum candy and gingerbread molds -- some of them family heirlooms -- decorate the walls. The plates that usually decorate the plate rail have been replaced by pine roping decorated with small flashing lights.
Gail and Elizabeth said that, while their holiday spirit might seem excessive to some, they just can't help themselves. In fact, the only limit they set is not tackling the second floor of their home. (There are four bedrooms, a den and two full baths upstairs).
"It's always so depressing to take the Christmas decorations down," Elizabeth said wistfully.
Pub Date: 12/20/98