If you’re looking for inspiration for unique decorations and gracious entertaining this holiday season, a visit to Belmont, the home Corinne Melchers shared with her husband, painter Gari Melchers, should be on your list.
Christmas is a particularly beautiful time to visit Belmont, an estate that includes the house, gardens and trails, Melchers’ studio, a gift shop and the Stafford County Visitor Center.
“The house never looks so beautiful as it does this time of year,” says Curator Joanna Catron.
Corinne Melchers was an artist in her own right, and Belmont was perhaps her greatest canvas. Year-round, she tended the gardens, adorned the home and prepared a welcome for a steady stream of visitors from near and far.
Her traditions—giving preserves from her garden and homemade baked goods as gifts, using natural materials to create distinctive decorations—will resonate with today’s Pinterest and DIY culture.
The staff at Belmont draw on the writings and collections Melchers left in her house as they deck the halls each holiday season.
Belmont’s Christmas decorations, the work of Catron and Fredericksburg-area designer Ken Kroko, shed more light on Corinne Melchers’ gracious, generous approach to Christmas.
“She was very conscious of the natural world, and bringing it in in a responsible way,” Catron said.
A gilded garland of magnolia and other leaves and fruits makes a strong statement on the dark marble mantle pieces in the home’s living room, where it’s easy to imagine the couple throwing a stylish New Year’s Eve party accompanied by the Marine Corps Band.
The sun porch—an addition the Melchers made to the eighteenth-century home to help connect the indoors with nature—houses amaryllis and other bulbs, reflecting the time the Melchers spent living in Holland early in their marriage.
The library, a cozy room where the couple would entertain close friends, includes a charming 1920s-inspired Christmas tree with twinkling lights and icicle garland. Catron and Kroko hand-made ornaments that reflect the Victorian style popular during this decade.
Corinne Melchers’ generosity is also on exhibit. A table in the library displays the kinds of gifts she would have given employees, friends and others in the community. The Melchers were known to gift the turkeys they raised at Belmont, and Melchers’ homemade preserves of fruits grown on the estate, along with the cakes she busily baked at the holidays, were also popular offerings.
This year, two families came to Belmont with gifts Melchers had given a relative years ago. Those gifts—a silver birth cup given in 1937 and a baby’s sweater set from J.C. Penney’s given in 1921—are displayed with the Melchers’ own wrapping and cards, and are emblematic of her remembrance of neighbors throughout the community.
Copies of Mrs. Melchers’ diary reveal how busy she stayed during the holidays—a season that was much shorter than the modern month of Christmas, Catron notes, with much shopping and wrapping taking place on Christmas Eve. Melchers wrote of delivering gifts, helping with community events and welcoming people to her home.
“She knew she was blessed with good fortune and good health, and so she returned all those blessings within the community,” Catron said.
Plan a visit to Belmont this holiday season. The home is open for tours from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays, and will be closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31.
Save time to stroll the grounds and visit the gift shop, which is packed with art- and history-related books and decorative items inspired by the Melchers’ style.
You can also pick up a copy of “Selected Works of Gari Melchers: From the Collection of Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio,” a new book the museum has published to provide a sampling of the artist’s works in one volume. It's a great gift idea for art-lovers on your list.