How Bunny Williams Transforms Her Connecticut Barn Into a Bonafide Winter Wonderland

·2 min read
Photo credit: MAX KIM-BEE
Photo credit: MAX KIM-BEE

“I think you especially love Christmas if your childhood memories are good ones,” says Virginia-born designer Bunny Williams. On that score, she was fortunate: Her childhood home in Charlottesville always featured magnolia branches and a freshly cut tree, and her mother spent weeks making wreaths for the church bazaar. “I adored watching her decorate,” she says.

In Williams’s own space—the much-documented farmhouse in Falls Village, Connecticut that she shares with her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli—she carries on the same traditions. The holiday festivities take place primarily in the barn, where the 30-foot ceilings accommodate a dramatically tall tree. “The most exciting part is bringing out all the things I've collected over the decades,” she says,“and the memories that go with them.”

Photo credit: Max Kim-Bee
Photo credit: Max Kim-Bee

Among her treasures are ornaments acquired during the couple’s travels to Italy and Mexico and the beloved crèche pieces she arranges on the limestone-topped console in the conservatory, where the Christmas feast is served. The crèche was inspired by the Neapolitan Baroque version on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The faces of the figures are so magical,” she says. “The pathos in them is amazing.” Her own display takes three days to compose and is augmented with bits of moss and branches arranged to look like trees.

More greenery culled from the property bedecks the mantel and the dining room table; the staircase is adorned with a lush garland which features swags accentuated by a collection of hand-carved wooden bells. Everywhere, including the guest bedrooms, there are pomanders and “things that smell good,” such as the amaryllis and paperwhites she starts forcing just after Thanksgiving.

Best of all, there’s a full house of friends and family to enjoy the bounty. “We make a point of including people who don’t have family at the holidays,” Williams says. “It makes things much more jolly.” The table holds as many as 18 for a sit-down lunch that doesn’t begin until mid-afternoon. First, there is the early-morning opening of presents accompanied by coffee and a single yummy bite—perhaps a blueberry muffin or a bacon-wrapped sweetbread. Rosselli, an avid cook, is in charge of the lunch menu, which generally involves a bird of some kind, a squash casserole, baked oysters, and an apple crisp made with fruit from the couple’s trees. Afterward, they might watch a movie and make late-night turkey sandwiches.

Photo credit: Max Kim-Bee
Photo credit: Max Kim-Bee

Though she is devoted to all the rituals that mark the day, for Williams, the key is to keep inventing fresh ones. “It’s fun to do something you haven’t done before,” she says. But what matters most, just as when she was a child, is the joyful spirit of the holidays. “I have always looked forward to Christmas as a special time.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of VERANDA. Interior design by Bunny Williams and John Rosselli; produced by Carolyn Englefield; written by Julia Reed; photography by Max Kim-Bee

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