Pacific Northwest | December 7, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 7, home
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Out Of Asia
Rural, Refined
Chic Snug
Complexity In Simplicity
Vintage Christmas
Seeing The Light

Winter Home Design 2003

Vintage Holiday: A couple creates a small world of imported wonders
The dining table is set with red-edged chargers and gold-and-white china. The French chestnut sideboard, circa 1860, is filled with English china. Suspended by a chain from the ceiling is a Christmas ball that Laura Newcomb made with greenery, candles and apples — a traditional decoration she found illustrated in an English magazine.
Walk into the charming cottage of Laura Newcomb and Chris Kappler and you'll feel as if you're stepping back into another time, maybe even another place. Hardly anything inside seems to have been made past 1920, and that fits the house well. Built in 1918, it is the northernmost of three nearly identical bungalows in a row on Queen Anne Hill.

Newcomb, a nurse at Harborview Medical Center, bought the house in 1987, even though "it was tiny and in really bad shape." Fifteen years later, it's still tiny, but she and Kappler have resolved to live comfortably with its limitations. They have spent years repairing, adding moldings that no longer existed and filling the house with an eclectic mix of furnishings and accessories that were easy to come by because Kappler is always going on shopping expeditions. He's been in the antique business since 1982.
Chris Kappler displays some of his vintage and antique English toys at the base of the tree.
His business, Antique Importers on Yesler Way, has allowed him to travel to Europe and import furniture from Belgium and Denmark. But most of his stock, and clearly his personal preference, is English furniture. At times, the house on Queen Anne has become a holding place for things destined to show up in the shop. Other times, pieces meant for the shop have come home to rest instead. As the buyer, Kappler is in that enviable position of having first dibs on things, and he admits, "I keep it if I like it."

Newcomb says, "Sometimes we trade things. I go down and look and, if I see something I like, I have him bring it home." Furniture ranges from simple 1850s Revival chairs to heavily carved Victorian woodwork to upholstered seating from the 1920s.
Santa sits on a rocker with vintage wooden skis behind him. The stained-glass art nouveau window is typical of those found in Chris Kappler's Pioneer Square shop.
With only 960 square feet, one bedroom and an enclosed porch off the kitchen, the diminutive house has challenged its owners to think small as they bring in new things. That's part of the reason why holiday ornaments are a natural fit and hold so much appeal to the couple.

Their Christmas collecting began a dozen years ago with one light bulb. Then came vintage postcards, then more and more "stuff." Most of it was made in Germany for the English and American markets. Their Christmas tree is decorated with German glass ornaments, icicles and "scrap," handmade ornaments using printed cut-outs to which tinsel and colored papers were added. Many of these were done at the turn of the century. Laid out at the foot of the tree is an assortment of late-Victorian children's toys, mostly English. Several favorites are a painted rocking horse manufactured in Boston and an Uncle Wiggly doll that takes his hat off when you wiggle him.
Chris Kappler and Laura Newcomb have just a small bungalow on Queen Anne Hill, but they love collecting antiques and decorating for the holidays.
Besides the large tree, there's a miniature one sitting on top of a bookcase. Made of dyed feathers, the tree is from a specialty genre made by German craftsmen. At the base of this tree Newcomb displays a few miniature town buildings from a late-19th-century set. "We have the whole village but we don't have the space for all of it. There are trees, people and carriages."

While the house is certainly festive for Christmas, the couple loves to decorate for all the holidays. They keep early-20th-century holiday cards and ornaments in an overhead cabinet in the kitchen, each drawer devoted to a different celebration: New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Fourth of July and Halloween. The larger accessories are stored in boxes in the basement. Newcomb and Kappler are unapologetic: "We do holidays. We love to collect holiday stuff."
 Photo  Handmade ornaments called "scrap" are mostly from the turn of the century. Below, 1920s-era German glass ornaments hang from the tree.
Clearly it is not going to stop. Kappler shows off a turn-of-the-century pop-up Nativity scene he found at a local antique store recently. It has a tracery of red stained-glass windows as its backdrop. The cardboard set has seen better days and needs a bit of repair, but Kappler is up to the task. Such fragile treasures don't come along that often.

With all their decorations, you'd think there would be parties throughout the season, particularly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But this couple, perhaps because of their delight in things English, celebrates that country's traditional Boxing Day instead. They take some of their Christmas postcards, make color copies for invitations, and have people in on Dec. 26.

But you don't have to be invited inside to know that this couple loves the holiday. Santa is slumped comfortably in a rocker on the front porch, taking a well-earned rest after his toy-delivering marathon. A set of old wooden skis is perched behind him. Newcomb bought the Santa suit and took the time to stuff it and make the head. Kappler bought the skis in northern Idaho. "We've had a Santa for 12 to 14 years," Newcomb says. "This is our second. Someone stole the first one."

Lawrence Kreisman is program director for Historic Seattle. He is author of "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County." Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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