photographs by Mark Petko
Christmas is a big deal in the White household. Living in what is commonly known as “the gingerbread cottage” on White Oak Road, John and Ashley White and their sons John and Jack spend a lot of time preparing for the season. It starts with finding the biggest tree they can, usually one 14 to 15 feet tall, to fill the generous living room of what was probably once a log house in the country.
They have their favorite Christmas tree vendor on Six Forks Road, who knows to put his largest Frasier fir on reserve and who also helps deliver the massive tree through the double French doors in the dining room since it won’t make the turn through the front. Once the tree is in place, the task of decorating begins.
The boys string the lights on the tree, using a long pole to reach the highest branches. Homemade ornaments mix with the more elaborate ones. There are always plenty of candy canes to serve as treats for passers-by – nearly all are gone by Christmas morning. Placing the angel on the top requires standing on the substantial stone mantle of the fireplace. It is a privilege now shared by John and Jack, who take turns each year.
This will be the Whites’ fifth Christmas in the gingerbread cottage. And this Christmas tree tradition is one that has been cultivated by living in such an incomparable home.
Ashley has always had an affinity for the order and classical details of Georgian-style homes. So when this 1928 house came on the market, she was reluctant to consider it. However, one visit with her family left no room for debate. “The boys thought we could live like the Swiss Family Robinson. I took a little bit longer to convince.”
While the log walls and hiding places galore do seem to beckon adventure, Ashley wondered how she was going to hang paintings on a curved wall. But eventually, she considered that the elements that made the house so unorthodox would also make it a memorable place for her family.
“What could be more boy?” she says of the house. So she embraced the challenge and turned to designer Cynthia Schoonover in Greensboro to help lighten the place up and create an English country feel. Mother-in-law Polly White also helped. “She has the most beautiful home and exquisite taste,” Ashley says.
Fabrics were selected to bring in the colors of nature. Tans, golds, burnished reds, and greens from Ashley’s love for plants and orchids create a soothing, cozy environment. The warm white walls lend an airiness and create continuity between rooms. The rich wood of English and French antiques adds depth and sophistication.
It is an environment that is ripe for lingering. And one that seems perfectly suited to shaping lasting memories, no matter the season.