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ORNAMENT-laden trees, Santas and snowmen, wreaths and garland galore are pretty much what you'd expect from a home decked for the holidays. But how about a holiday palm tree? Framed wrapping paper? Or a spruced up old birch log?

The three homes chosen for our third annual Holiday Homes Tour excelled at the traditional but awed us with unique flourishes.

A few collectibles

In 45 years of marriage, Joe and Diane Chrzan of Danville have amassed 25 to 30 boxes of holiday decorations. It takes Diane almost all of November to decorate the two-story house, bathrooms included.

Sixteen and a half hours are devoted to her greatest labor of love, a 10-foot tall tree adorned in more than 1,000 ornaments — those account for 10 boxes — ranging from Inge Glass to a Hallmark jukebox that plays six Christmas carols.

A Department 56 North Pole Village blankets the entire mantle, hearth and a nearby wagon and table in the family room.

"Each piece has one letter that spells out North Pole," Diane explains. "Obviously, we had to spell out the whole thing and it kept going from there."

"Until," Joe says, "we finally ran out of room."

Ditto the Dickens Village, which lines a shelf that wraps around half of an upstairs bedroom.


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The tiny mice of Wee Forest Folk fill a curio cabinet and tabletop glass case. Three dozen Possible Dream Santa figures sit and stand on an upstairs counter.

But while the big name collections are impressive in scope, the more one-of-a-kind elements make a lasting impression.

A palm tree shows off an extensive assortment of Hawaiian-themed ornaments and leis that serve as garland. In place of a traditional tree skirt, the Chrzan's opted to use a grass hula skirt that Joe picked up on a business trip.

And among Diane's favorites is a silver heart wreath made of antique jewelry pieces.

Classy vignettes

Nooks and crannies pop up throughout the Dublin home of Sofia and Bob Striffler. And Sofia knows just how to embellish them.

On a built-in corner kitchen nook, an Old World Santa is flanked by a candle lantern and sitting cloth doll in a red holiday dress. Above them, a chalk board adorned with a holiday greenery declares: "December — All hearts come home for Christmas."

A tipped wicker basket filled with red, gold and white poinsettia flowers sits on a corner cutout in the entryway, gold ribbon spiraling over the edge and down the wall.

Red and white dominate a deep garden window where a standing snowman accompanies a snowflake-decorated hurricane candle holder, candy cane-filled jar and a holiday plate.

On the hearth is a red bucket with berry branches and pine cones that adorn a birch log — cut more than a decade ago from a tree at the Strifflers' former Connecticut home.

Sofia's background as an interior decorator shines in each vignette, lending her home a classic yet classy holiday feel.

Although all the displays have their own charm, Sofia ties them together with a common element. The same burgundy and gold wire ribbon lends a formal elegance to the living room and dining room. It wraps around the garland on the banister, weaves through the branches of a 9½ foot tree, forms bows on the back of each dining room chair, and even borders the entryway table where her husband places his Department 56 Christmas in the City Village.

"Fifty yards of Costco ribbon at $7.99," Sofia says with a laugh. "You can't go wrong."

Elegant touches

Subtle decorating touches around her Danville home speak to the years Marilou Belo spent accessorizing model homes.

Red and gold balls accent pine cone-filled baskets. Poinsettia pillows sit on the sofa. Red and white striped candles add color to wall sconces. She even finds a way to draw a guest's eye away from her husband's big screen television to the giant red and gold ornaments that hang from the ceiling above.

What sets apart Belo's home is her ability to "recycle" past decorations and turn them into something new.

"I'm famous for jerry-rigging," Belo says. "With certain things, I've either added to them or pulled them apart completely."

She has wrapped white lights around an artificial pine wreath inset with another wreath of red and gold balls, making them one seamless focal point for the living room.

A headband with antlers, red ball ornament for a nose and bow around the base has turned a ficus topiary into a reindeer.

Perhaps the most inspired piece is the family room's holiday-themed print — actually red-and-white "Ho ho ho" wrapping paper inside a frame with glass.

When it comes to holiday decorations, Belo doesn't throw anything away. The kids' tree in her family room is proof of that. On it are all the ornaments her children made growing up, along with ornaments they were given as gifts.

Reach Ann Tatko-Peterson at atatko@bayareanewsgroup.com

More Photos
See a slide show of photos from our third annual Holiday Homes Tour at ContraCosta
Times.com/homeandgarden or InsideBayArea.com/
homeandgarden.