A classic holiday ballet sets the stage for a not-so-traditional Christmas design theme in this west-side Vancouver home, part of the annual Homes for the Holidays fundraiser.

When Emma Kelly and Francesca Albertazzi of Rudy Winston Design came on board to decorate this house as part of the annual Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays tour last year, the theme became obvious almost immediately. “We latched on to the concept of The Nutcracker based on a couple of things,” says Albertazzi. “The homeowner had a few vintage nutcrackers in her personal collection, and one of her daughters was pursuing a professional career in ballet. We really loved that—both Emma and I were in ballet for a long time, and we thought, let’s use that as a concept for the decoration of the house.”

The pair was already very familiar with the heritage home on Vancouver’s west side, having renovated a large part of it over the past two years—a fact that came quickly into play as they set the holiday scene in the living room. “In designing the original space, the homeowner wanted to make sure that whatever sofa we chose would move or separate, so she could place a Christmas tree in the traditional spot by the bay window,” says Albertazzi. That forethought worked its magic when it came time to holiday up the living room: the sofa splits into three pieces, which slide to the sides of the room to make the evergreen the showstopper. It’s a space that, for this holiday tour, would evoke the “party scene” in The Nutcracker ballet. “Only Francesca and I would likely know that,” laughs Kelly, “but it’s the scene when the tree really comes alive and grows, and it’s all piled with presents. We wanted to echo the feeling of celebration and enthusiasm and expectations—everyone is excited.” Faux cocktails on the table contribute to that grand Christmas party feeling, along with the gorgeous floral arrangements from Full Bloom Studio on the mantel. “We didn’t want it to feel too traditionally Christmas in terms of colour scheme,” says Kelly. “There’s almost no red, but there are lots of navy and gold accents.”

In the adjoining dining room and kitchen, the table is set for the party to arrive, with plenty of cut glass to add sparkle, and the scene in turn reflects the design of the kitchen, itself full of shine with its marble mosaic backsplash and oversized windows. Each table setting holds a simple sprig of evergreen wrapped in a navy ribbon, and a floral arrangement in the nearby window has tremendous presence thanks to its unusual vase: a pewter trophy.

Near the front of the home, the main-floor office is transformed into the suite of Uncle Drosselmeyer, creating a more masculine space. “If he were a room, this is what he’d look like,” laughs Kelly. Along with whisky glasses and rum balls on the side table, there are cheeky nods to his character’s transformation into an owl in the ballet, tiny owl ornaments adorn the tabletop trees.

The most literal nod to the ballet is in the children’s rooms upstairs: in one, the trees are adorned with felt characters from the ballet; in another, a ballerina tutu and pointe shoes are laid out on the bed. “We made her bedroom very feminine, with twinkly lights and a flocked tree,” says Kelly. “In the second half of The Nutcracker, Clara plans to get whisked away to the Land of Sweets, and that was the feeling we had here—that sense of magic, like the sugar plum fairy’s dance.”

The storytelling throughout the space is reflective of the way the design team works when it’s not holiday time as well, and visitors can see this in the renovation of the original home—it’s a historic home, but it’s been updated for modern times and a modern family. “We both really feel that a strong concept is the key to any project,” says Kelly. “That’s really what leads to all the decisions you make.”

This year’s Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays Tour takes place November 25 and 26. For more info, visit kidshelpphone.ca/homes-for-the-holidays.

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