'Twas the week before Christmas, and Heather Strommen finally finished trimming her Deephaven home inside and out. She draped garlands of greenery and pine cones across the mantel and over mirrors. She filled the home's six window boxes with spruce tops entwined with multicolored lights. She swept out the guest cottage above the garage. Now all that's left to do is flood the side yard and turn it into a skating rink.
Heather isn't getting ready for Santa. Her extended family of siblings, parents, nieces and nephews are coming to Minnesota for their annual holiday visit. All 17 will gather at the Strommen home on Christmas Eve -- and then stay for the weekend.
"Our focus is spending time with family when they come to town," said Heather, who shares the home with her husband, Jay, and their four children. "I just want to make it festive."
The couple bought their 1960s Cape Cod-style home 12 years ago, and over time, transformed its dated interiors. They replaced worn carpet with hand-scraped maple floors and installed beadboard, wood paneling and other character-rich details. "We wanted it to feel like it always had been this way," said Heather.
Two years ago, they remodeled the kitchen, adding vintage-look painted cabinets, subway tile and black soapstone counters. It's where Heather's large Italian family prepares the Christmas Eve feast. Her brother Jon, a local musician, makes homemade Italian ravioli, bread and meatballs. "Everyone stands around the island to chit-chat," said Heather, "and helps roll the pasta."
Heather has even brought a bit of Italy to Minnesota. In the casual eating area off the kitchen, she designed a wall-to-wall pantry outfitted with three sliding glass doors. "It feels like an Italian grocery," she said.
While the couple were updating the home, Heather was collecting holiday decorations that reflected her English cottage sensibility -- lots of earthy embellishments and a muted color scheme of greens, browns and dusty rose.
"I like natural rustic elements that bring the outdoors in," she said, tucking sprigs of greens under silverware on the dining room table. She also inserts pine cones, dried hydrangea, pheasant feathers and more greens into faux wreaths and swags all over the house. "The fresh greens are fragrant, and the color is vibrant," she said.
For touches of holiday red, Heather fills silver bowls with cut roses mixed with bunches of evergreen. "I prefer roses over poinsettias. To me, they're more elegant and prettier -- and unexpected," she said.
The family heads out to buy the Christmas tree -- a real Fraser fir, of course -- the day after Thanksgiving. "We always pick one that's too tall and there's no room for the star," said Jay.
Heather describes their ornament collection as eclectic because it includes everything from her children's handmade baubles to fancy glass balls. She adorns the tree with ornaments that are meaningful to family members, such as hockey sticks, horses and ballerinas.
"It's really amazing that she does this year after year," said Jay. "Every day feels like Christmas when we walk into the house."
But for the Strommen family, the most treasured time is when Heather's Italian clan turns the festive home into a "campout" with stories and lots of laughs.
"I like to decorate because it creates a feeling of Christmas and being all together," said Heather. "People have said it's a happy house."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619