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Open House
By Tammy Minn - Inland Empire Magazine, December 2005

Pick a theme for holiday decorating, then carry it out with your heart.

Ruth Chafin stands in the garage of her San Bernardino home and surveys stacks of boxes labeled with all things Christmas. She pulls out the one marked "Santas" and opens it. Inside, carefully wrapped hand-carved wooden St. Nicks await their place in her home, anchors for Chafin's decorating scheme, but also symbols of love.

Carved by her stepfather, Dewey Harman , 85, of Calimesa, the custom Santas have become family favorites. For about 13 years, Harman has whittled the Santas as gifts for the family, adding paint and glaze, which is no small task for someone with Parkinson's disease, notes Chafin, an interior designer and licensed general contractor who owns Interior Network in Loma Linda . She says his efforts make the results that much more special to the family.

Harman began carving when Chafin's mother, Donna , gave him a set of Exacto knives shortly after they were married about 20 years ago.

"He took up wood carving and has traveled the world taking classes from experts," Chafin says.

He's learned well. Each carving is unique in its facial expression and coloration. The Santas vary in size. Large ones are for the grown children and smaller versions are for the numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Besides cherishing the Santas for their sentimental value, Chafin also uses them as the basis for her holiday decorating. Not only do they provide a theme, they serve as sources of continuity in her home's open floor plan.

"For example, the Christmas tree in the family room is decorated in casual Santa ornaments, while the living room tree, which is more formal, is done in crystal Santas," Chafin says.

In addition, she hangs framed antique Santa prints during the season. In the dining room, she chose Spode 's Christmas tree pattern and uses Santa napkin rings to round out the look.

"There is a consistency, even if the materials are different," she notes.

As a designer, Chafin likes the idea of building holiday decor around a theme, but cautions that she doesn't encourage "a calculated thing. Christmas is what you feel in your heart and wanting to make your home warm and inviting." Choosing a theme can help achieve that by providing a solid point to build around.

"Having a them helps you avoid impulse purchases and keeps you from being inundated with odds and ends that might be cute, but that you just don't have a place for Christmas decorations start to appear so early in the fall that, if you aren't careful, you might pick up some cute snowmen and some cute reindeer and before you know it, you have this very fragmented set of accessories that don't flow together," she says.

To avoid that, carry a list and be patient. If you've recently moved into a new home or done a major remodel, it might take a season or two to establish a holiday look that complements your home. Chafin suggests starting with the big pieces, then adding details as you find them.

"If you try to unfold this fabulous Christmas all at once, it can be overwhelming, both timewise and financially," She says.

Start with a tree that fits the room. Many newer homes have vaulted ceilings that can accommodate a large tree. Then make sure that big tree has the appropriate number of lights so it's well-balanced.

"Consider the color of the tree, too. There are many shades of green, and they may not all go with the palette in your home. If you want an artificial tree, a designer can show you catalogs that go beyond what you'll find in most of the stores," she says.

Overall, Chafin says, the idea of holiday decorating is to set the mood for a reunion of family and friends.

"All hearts come home for Christmas," she says. Creating a welcoming nest for them is a gift in itself.


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