The holidays are a time to create memories filled with love and laughter. It is the time of year to express unique traditions that will be long remembered by family and friends.
Aside from the fun of planning special holiday menus, some of us treasure the process of collecting Christmas decorations each year, regardless of how many family heirlooms we already have in our beloved holiday containers. I am always on the lookout for intriguing new decorations to add to my collection, but I must confess I have never actually made a single one. My hat goes off to those who possess the patience and talent to create their own unique decorations every year.
Bryan Drude is a natural when it comes to creating festive holiday trim while setting the tone for his annual Christmas party that draws a large crowd each year. He resides in the historic Carrollton area of uptown New Orleans with his twin brother, Brad Drude, a collector of antiques. I recently visited their home and inquired about their holiday traditions.
“My best advice is to decorate early. Don’t wait to do it until mid-December,” Bryan advises. “As for decorating the Christmas tree, our father taught us to use the large ornaments on the bottom, graduating to the small ones on the top. We use a combination of old family heirlooms with ornaments we have accumulated over the years,” he says. “I like to use gold and silver ornaments. I think it makes a nice holiday statement.”
Bryan gets into the holiday decorating mode several weeks before the annual Christmas party. He creates beautiful bows, garlands, centerpieces, wreaths, and other decorative flourishes while planning the menu for the annual holiday feast, which includes his famous crawfish and jumbo lump crabmeat dip served in a gleaming silver chafing dish. “People always gather around it,” he admits.
Noted architect Thomas Sully designed the Drudes’ stately Edwardian residence in 1905. A prolific New Orleans architect in the early 1900s, Sully designed many large residences on upper St. Charles Avenue such as the Picard House and various landmark public buildings throughout Louisiana. “Sully built four houses in a row in our South Carrollton neighborhood,” Bryan points out. “He also built the Columns Hotel, the archway on Audubon Place, and the Thomas Sully guest house on Prytania Street.”
Award-winning interior designer Charles Kunz conceptualized the interior, from the color themes and window treatments to the antique furnishings and accents throughout the spacious two-story residence with five fireplaces and four bedrooms. Kunz has served as the interior designer for numerous prominent historic residences, as well as the beautifully renovated New Orleans Opera Guild home, a project that was dear to his heart.
The Drude brothers purchased their home, and renovated the historic residence over a period of one year with the help of Kunz. The objective was to restore the home to its former grandeur with a respect for its history and architecture.
“We replaced all the light fixtures in the house with authentic period pieces, including the Maria Theresa chandeliers my brother Brad acquired at an auction,” Bryan points out.
In the Drudes’ living room and dining room, the twin hand-carved carrera marble mantels are original to the home. “The mantels actually predate the house,” says Bryan. “Thomas Sully was known to acquire old things for the houses he built.”
Residing above each of the two mantels is a pair of mid 18th-century mirrors that came from a French Quarter mansion. “It’s very hard to find matching mirrors from this period,” Bryan adds. During the holidays, the mantels are adorned with antique girandoles cradling tapered candles and decorations that Bryan assembled. The four- and five-tiered candelabras sparkle in the candlelight with their crystal prisms. “The girandoles are typical of what you’d find in the antebellum homes.” Bryan says. Old Paris mantel vases filled with holly berries enhance the festive tableau.
During the renovation process, all the walls and floors of the home were refinished. “We had a wall taken down in the back to open up the house, because you couldn’t see the backyard. We installed French doors and created a den.” The backyard was landscaped, a fountain was installed, brick was added around the pool, and a two-story structure was built that matches the house.
“The den was originally the dining room when we bought the house. What we are using as the dining room was originally a music room,” Bryan points out.
The den opens onto a handsomely renovated kitchen. “We put the kitchen ceiling back to its original height, replaced the drab flooring with marble tiles, and added cherry cabinets. It is updated, but still traditional,” he adds.
For the front parlor, Kunz utilized a gold color theme as a backdrop, and designed opulent gold dupioni silk draperies that complement a pair of circa 1800s music chairs that he upholstered in gold velvet. “The chairs are paired with the piano,” says Bryan, as he directs me to the 1880s Weber rosewood grand piano that graces the parlor. A late 1800s Edison Diamond Tip phonograph resides nearby. “You crank it; we play it for parties. People love it—the old vaudeville songs,” Bryan notes.
Kunz selected a stunning Rococo sofa, circa mid-1800s, in a teal-colored silk for the parlor. The rich color adds a regal element near bay windows adorned with gold silk draperies. “The sofa is very deep so that women would be able to sit on it with their big dresses,” Bryan adds. An 1840s Meeks table centers the elegant room.
“We have another Meeks table in the dining room,” he says. “It has a petticoat mirror on the bottom. It was designed this way so women could adjust their petticoats.”
In the dining room, Kunz selected a soft cream color for the walls and designed elegant silk damask draperies. During the holidays, the dining table is decorated with a pair of five-tiered sterling silver candelabras that complement a set of silver goblets acquired in Spain. The gold-rimmed dinnerware purchased at an auction. “The Reed and Barton sterling flatware pattern was determined by my grandmother, who started our mother’s hope chest,” Bryan notes of the table settings. A 1920s china cabinet in the dining room is filled with his grandmother’s Haviland china.
“In the den, we keep the decorations and furnishings a bit more simple since we live in here so much,” Bryan says. This year, he made a beautiful lighted wreath festooned with ribbons and handmade bows to place above the wooden fireplace mantel. “Every year, I always stack the stairs with poinsettias in the entry hall,” Bryan notes. The stately entrance foyer is furnished with a mahogany grandfather clock, circa 1900, and a Renaissance Revival center hall table topped with more poinsettias for added color.
From the dining room’s gleaming crystal and silver to the festive decorations and sparkling tree in the parlor, the Drude home is trimmed and ready for the holidays. Bryan concludes, “It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy doing it. Everyone loves our Christmas parties.”