A tribute to John Morris
by Brenda Miller, Designer of Interior Spaces
It’s the time of the year when the sights and sounds of the season surround us. The chill in the air, the sound of holiday music, and the glistening of colorful lights. This is the time of the year that brings me back to childhood memories of love and joy.
As a designer, this time of the year brings me a busy schedule – it’s time to decorate for clients. For me it’s more than transforming homes and businesses into the “Magic of the Season,” it’s creating friendships, lasting memories and making people smile.
The holiday season allows my creative juices to flow. Over the years I have staged and decorated many homes. In life we all have favorites; I want to share one of my favorite homes with you.
It may be because of the beautiful winding staircase, the tastefully decorated rooms with high ceilings, the abundance of Christmas décor or the opportunity to decorate FIVE mantles. In truth, it is none of those reasons – it’s my favorite home to decorate because of the homeowners. Their love of the holiday season is evident by the stack of the over 40 tubs of decorations ready for me to display throughout their home, and the excitement expressed when I enter the home each day to decorate.
This majestic home of Greek revival style is located just outside of the Stonewall Industrial Park standing on several acres – the home of John and Cheryl Morris. For many years, I have known and become dear friends with John and Cheryl along with their dog Daisy and the two cats, Sweet Pea and Darlin’.
Their home, known as Glengary, is rich with history. Originally built in 1831, Cheryl’s father, Douglas O. Grimm, acquired the home March 1956. During the Civil War, the basement was used as a hospital. In the 1900s, her father added the two story “L” frame. Later in the 1970-1990s, the garage, storage room and sun porch were built.
The home is over 5,000 square feet and is three stories if you include the attic. As you drive up the driveway toward the home, you cannot miss the beautiful columns out front. Her father had the columns added with an element of surprise. Each column houses a telephone pole which adds to the stability of each one. (Her father had good friends in the telephone company.) There are many wonderful memories in the home and I and the pleasure of talking to Cheryl about the history and traditions still celebrated today.
Her father loved cedar trees. For as long as she can remember, there was always a cedar tree in the home for Christmas. One year, he brought in a 16′ tree that reached as high as the third floor attic. They often selected and cut their own cedar trees. For the past several years, the cedar tree has been placed in the foyer. As I decorate the staircase, I love working in the foyer so I can enjoy that fresh cedar smell. I didn’t decorate the cedar tree. That was John’s job. Cheryl remembers how particular her father was in the placement of each ornament on the tree. In fact, he would place icicle ornaments one at a time to be sure they were placed perfectly. John had to be taught how to decorate it correctly.
As I organize my thoughts going through tub after tub of decorations, I realize the rich history held within each one. The oldest ornament, a glass ball, hung on her father’s first Christmas tree. One of Cheryl’s favorite decorations is a collection of angels she started with her aunt Virginia Barr. Many were purchased at the old Colonial Arts and Crafts store in downtown Winchester.
Cheryl also favors her huge collection of Santas and snowmen, some of which were purchased by John each year as a gift to Cheryl.
Over the years, the family has hosted the Christmas dinner in the gorgeous dinner room. The china that is used was purchased by her aunt. The dining room is a wonderful space to showcase my creativity with their wonderful decorations.
One of John’s favorite rooms for me to decorate was the den. The den is a cozy room that includes a fireplace. The knotty pine covered walls add to the overall warm feeling of the room. The pine boards came from the old Lee Jackson Motel. John liked to sit back and relax and watch TV. This room I often decorated with the snowmen – creating the atmosphere of a Christmas winter wonderland. These were decorations that could be kept up until late January – decorations that John could sit and enjoy.
You see, it was important to me to make that room extra special for John. John was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010. Last year, John was not feeling well as I decorated the home. He wasn’t his joyful and happy self, but as I began to bring decorations in the den, his smile appeared. Cheryl had told me that she didn’t want as much décor that year because of John’s health. As I decorated the space under his watchful eye, I knew I was doing what he liked best. Hearing him in the background saying, “I just don’t know how you do it? You create such beauty.” Smiling, I continued decorating.
As I moved from room to room, John would often follow behind to see my creations. I knew I was doing ok when he left the rooms smiling.
As I share these memories, I am smiling but with tears in my eyes at the same time. John left us in March of this year. He was unable to beat his battle with lung cancer. We had planned to open the house to the public this year for a Holiday Home tour with proceeds benefiting Blue Ridge Hospice per John’s request. Under the circumstances, we have decided to wait until possibly next year.
As a tribute to John Morris, I share with you the Christmas décor from last year. I hope you enjoy the house tour through the images among these pages – and John, know that I share them with pride and a smile.