For the past two decades, the decorators’ homes tour has been an integral component of the Scottish Christmas Walk. This year was no exception. Despite the wintry weather, tourists got an opportunity to see “decking the halls” on a truly grand scale.
One of the homes on this year’s tour was 815 Prince Street. Teresa and Skip Groupe bought the house just over a year ago and have become an important part of Alexandria ever since.
The house was built in the latter half of the 19th century. “We were told that it was built in the 1880s, but I have found records of its existence going back as far as the 1860s,” Teresa Groupe said.
The last tenant before the Groupes was a doctor’s office. “Even though the home was abandoned for about 20 years, they found appointment books and other equipment that had just been abandoned when they were re-doing the house,” Teresa said.
The home was renovated by Barry Murphy. The Groupes are the first tenants since Murphy completed his work. “The thing that we love about the house is that Barry was true to the style of the house but understood the importance of modern conveniences,” Teresa said.
The kitchen, for example, is large and filled with modern conveniences and modern wiring. When closet doors are opened, interior lights come on. All of the bathrooms are modern and contain tubs and separate showers. There are skylights and windows that give the home an open feeling. Both upper levels have balconies that provide a view of Prince Street.
“When we moved in, we made a commitment to furnishing the house using Alexandria merchants,” Teresa said. “We have bought our furniture, our oriental carpets, our art work and our window treatments at Alexandria shops.”
THAT'S HOW SHE met John Brown of J. Brown & Company, the designer who “decked” the halls of Teresa’s home for this year’s home tour. “Working with the Groupe’s has been a joy,” Brown said. “They were so accommodating and never minded my coming to decorate when it was convenient for me.”
Brown began decorating the house the week before Thanksgiving and was putting on the finishing touches the evening before the home tour. “My vision was to have a grand flora bunda with lots of fruit and flower,” Brown said.
This theme began at the front door. Brown designed two large hedges of fruit for either side of the door. These included lemons, pears, apples and assorted greens. Around the door, Brown placed assorted greens with artichokes and eucalyptus.
There were two 10-foot trees, one in the front parlor and the other in the grand foyer. The parlor tree was decorated with hand-blown balls from Germany, in red and gold. The tree in the foyer contained more gold ornaments.
“Teresa has such excellent pieces that it was easy to decorate using them,” Brown said.
The dining room table was set for dinner with a Faberge ornament at each place setting. There were gaily wrapped parcels done in hand-stamped paper on the sideboard and greens and fruit in abundance.
“Throughout the house, we used a mixture of artificial and real greenery,” Brown said. “It works very well.”
WHILE BROWN brought most of the decorations from his store at 1119 King Street, he did use some of Teresa’s ornaments. “My mother gave me gold ornaments over the years and we did use those,” Teresa said. “I love this. I certainly never could do anything nearly this elaborate on my own but I have learned a lot from John as he has been decorating.”
Brown donates his time in support of The Campagna Center and has participated in the homes tour for 20 years. He could not calculate the number of hours that he spent decorating.
“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to participate because I’ve never done anything like this before,” Teresa said. “However, because John was the decorator and because I am a member of the Circle of Friends of The Campagna Center, I agreed. I’m glad that I did.”
All of the proceeds from the homes tour go to benefit the programs of The Campagna Center.