Santa better wipe his boots really well and maybe even suit up in a tux before he steps out of Gladys Young's chimney and into her pristine holiday wonderland. The festive decor in this Danville home -- which Young plans weeks head and puts up in a matter of days right after Thanksgiving -- is elegance itself.

Christmas is everywhere: St. Nick peeks out from the stairwell niche; greenery and lights swoop down the banister's curve; vintage model trains handed down from Young's dad make a sentimental journey through snow banks in a spare room; Christmas trees grace the foyer, the living room and even the master bedroom; and ceramic Santa mugs -- poised for hot cocoa -- dangle on hooks in the kitchen. In each bathroom, visitors will find towels embroidered with Teddy bears riding on sleighs, or greenery and poinsettias curling around the tub. No room has been ignored.

The entry foyer of Gladys Young’s home in Danville is decorated for the holidays on  Nov. 28, 2012.
The entry foyer of Gladys Young's home in Danville is decorated for the holidays on Nov. 28, 2012. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

All this might suggest that the two-story house where Young and her family have lived for about nine years is more jam-packed with Christmas clutter than a holiday fruitcake burgeoning with dried apricots.

Just the opposite.

"We're not clutterers," Young says, while giving us a "peek-inside" preview of her home, which is scheduled to be part of Saturday's holiday home tour presented by the Danville-Alamo-Walnut Creek chapter of the American Association of University Women. "I like to spread things out," she says. "That way, it makes each piece a focal point, instead of getting lost in the shuffle."


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Young is fortunate to have ample room to display items she's collected over many years. Some came from her worldwide travels as a flight attendant in the '60s and '70s, including the ornate golden sleigh from a layover in Bangkok. Some ornaments were gifts from friends, and others are very simple items found in post-holiday sales at Orchard Supply Hardware or the Tuesday Morning discount stores.

The key, she says, is how, not what.

"Some of these pieces were very inexpensive. Lots of the greenery and pine cones came from craft stores. It's how you display them that makes them stand out," she notes, leading guests to the master bedroom and a tree decorated in an "A Christmas Carol" theme. Here, a full-size tree stands in the sitting-room area with adorable Barbie-size Dickens-character ornaments scattered among the branches.

"You don't have to have a lot of the same kind of ornaments to do a theme," she says. "I only have nine of these, but I didn't want them to get lost with everything else on the tree downstairs, so I gave them a place of their own, and filled in with pine cones and glittery apple ornaments."

To complete the motif, she moved a winter-scene painting from another part of the house and hung it on an adjacent wall, then set up a wooden music stand next to the tree with an illustrated version of "A Christmas Carol" sitting open.

Her displays are really a series of vignettes. Nutcrackers from Germany sit in simple clusters of two and three in the media room. Figures of a golden Nativity scene grace the mantel in the living room -- they appear to be heavy pieces of cast bronze, yet they're delicate papier-mache, Young explains, picking one up as though it were a feather. "I got them on a half-price sale when I was going to school in Mexico City. They were only $10, but they look much more substantial."

A German ornament with a wax head hangs on the Christmas tree in the foyer of Gladys Young’s Danville home on Nov. 28, 2012.
A German ornament with a wax head hangs on the Christmas tree in the foyer of Gladys Young's Danville home on Nov. 28, 2012. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

The most sentimental display for Young is "the train room," where her father's vintage Lionel locomotives run around a large platform, puttering past miniature ski chalets and pancake houses. To complete the theme, she has used an edition of "The Polar Express," presented on a stand on a nearby table.

"My dad was an electrician for the Pennsylvania Railroad, so he naturally collected the train sets," she says, attributing her love of Christmas -- and Christmas decorating -- to him. "When I was growing up in Philadelphia, he was the one who decorated the house. My mother wasn't that interested in it. Dad would put up all the lights outside. So I definitely get that from him."

Other than enlisting help for the "two-person job" of adorning the staircase, Young does all the decorating herself. It's a methodical process. Weeks before the holidays, she gets out hundreds of photos from Christmases past, spreads them on top of the grand piano and goes over what she liked and didn't like. Then she starts placing items, taking them down, putting them up again and rearranging until they're just right. It's her version of making a list and checking it twice, thrice and beyond.

"It takes me so long to play around with things," she says. "Some people can see how to do it right away. I can't."

Don't worry, Gladys, Santa will never know.

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, Follow her at Twitter.com/giveemhill.

easy holiday decorating TIPS

Gladys Young, of Danville, decorates her home with dozens of festive items, yet the result is simplicity and elegance, not clutter. She offers some tips to streamline the process:
1. Simplify by coming up with a theme. On a tree, for instance, "You don't have to have a lot of the same kind of ornaments to do a theme," she says. It takes only a handful of similar items supplemented with simple pine cones or other ornaments.
2. Use everyday household items in different ways. "I'll move things from other parts of the house for displays," Young says. This year, she moved paintings to complement a themed tree and she set up a table lamp in a guest bathroom for gentle lighting.
3. Keep out the clutter. Make each piece a focal point.
4. Hide cords. Wrap them around banisters or place greenery over them.
5. Take advantage of post-holiday sales. "Some of the best things I've gotten have been half-price."

-- Angela Hill