Here Comes Santa Clause

Jolly Old St. Nicholas is the star of the holiday scene in this newly built home.

By Melissa Mauzy

Photography by Anne Matheis


Laurie Rao has been collecting holiday décor since she first married her husband Rick more than 25 years ago. So when the couple downsized last year and built a new home to fit their new empty-nester lifestyle, her holiday adornments were definitely a consideration during the design and build process.

After looking at homes in the area and scouring Houzz, Pinterest and shelter publications, it was a trip to Watercolor, FL, that set the couple’s vision in motion for an open-concept floor plan with a transitional style. “All of our other homes were closed off and separated into individual rooms,” Laurie explains. “We thought the openness would be a good flow and concept for our new lifestyle.”

The couple worked with builder Dennis Auping of R.G. Apel Development to construct their new residence. In addition to all hardwood floors, Laurie and Rick wanted a cleaner and simpler look. “Less stuff everywhere,” Laurie laughs. “Our older home was more of a Tuscan feel, and I had stuff on every cabinet, so we wanted clean lines with less clutter.”

Auping achieved the cleaner look with moldings that are a simple and elegant design so they don’t overpower the spaces. In the dining room, detailed wainscot paneling on the walls and the tray ceiling add architectural interest. The main living spaces of the home are open to one another, but Auping used large arched openings to define the individual spaces. For a more transitional look, Laurie focused on a scheme of gray tones with green/blue accents.

While her new home is now transitional in style, Laurie still prefers a traditional look when it comes to her holiday décor. Her Christmas collection has found new life in her new home, and Laurie had fun reimagining her display for their first Christmas there. “When we started the building process, I was thinking about my Christmas decorations and where I’d need outlets,” she says.

Santa is the star of much of her holiday ornamentation. Laurie has been collecting Santas since she and Rick moved into their first home 24 years ago. She buys them anywhere and everywhere as long as they fit her more traditional look. In recent years, she has enjoyed adding Santas with animals for a more natural look. A newly added favorite is found in the family room on the sofa table. Hand-crafted by local artisan Linda Cowell of O’Fallon, MO, Santa is riding a giraffe.

The elegant fireplace is adorned with a garland mantel featuring Mark Roberts fairies that Laurie began collecting 15 years ago. The family room built-ins are the perfect place to display her snow village collection. “My mom started my snow village when I first got married, and my children still insist they go up every year,” Laurie laughs. Estimating that she has between 15 to 18 houses and businesses in the village, the display is her most favorite because of the strong connection it has to her mom.

When designing the home, Laurie didn’t want the traditional built-in bookcases and shelves. After struggling to come up with the right design, she called upon friend Bob Burmeister of Marc Christian Fine Cabinetry to help. The simple, clean line of the extended mantel coupled with the base storage cabinetry was an easy solution to allow for storage without the clutter of nick knacks filling the space.

Adjacent the fireplace wall and bridging the gap between the family room and dining room, Laurie’s tree is filled with Christopher Radko ornaments that she has loved forever. “Since they were born, I buy my children each one every year to open on Christmas Eve,” she says. The delicate ornaments bring bright pops of color to her greenery that is swagged in a simple, silver trim.

The dining room is where Laurie has always showcased her nutcracker collection. They are the perfect guards for the elaborate snow-topped gingerbread houses she has displayed on her buffet. Looking up to the tray ceiling, the chandelier is encircled with holiday greenery dripping with more Christopher Radko nutcracker Santas.

Santa makes another appearance in the kitchen sitting on the mantel over the cooktop. With ample natural light filling the space, the large island is the perfect spot for holiday family gatherings. The holiday season wouldn’t be the same in the Rao household without a batch of Laurie’s homemade gingerbread men taking their place on the kitchen island. She says she has to make them every year and ship them to her kids or the holidays wouldn’t be the same.

Laurie’s holiday wonderland has made a happy home in her newly built residence. “I love pulling out the holiday décor and decorating each year,” she says. “Even though they are adults, my children would be devastated if I didn’t decorate every holiday season.” With classic Christmas colors, plenty of Santa and loads of holiday cheer, the Rao family is ready for Jolly Old St. Nick to make his appearance this year.



Builder: R.G. Spel Development

Cabinetry: Fox Creek Furniture & Woodworks

Tile: O'Fallon Decorating

Granite: Metro Marble & Granite

Lighting: Metro Lighting