At the Roanoke County home of Mark and Elizabeth Bower, Christmas is more than a special occasion; it is an abiding passion so strong that they’ll decorate the entire home twice this year.
Holidays – like family togetherness – are paramount at the home of Mark and Elizabeth Bower, but what happens in their Roanoke County home at Christmas surpasses all other occasions.
One year, there were 16 trees. Even the walk-in closet gets decorated.
Betting that holiday touches added in this home would provide a wealth of ideas for others, we asked the family if they would be willing to decorate a room or two for a pre-holiday feature.
Elizabeth, a former president of the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, did much better than that. With the help of Mark, group vice president-export, metallurgical & industrial coal marketing at Norfolk Southern, and their teen-age daughters, Helen and Griffin, she did the entire house.
“I love Christmas,” Elizabeth says. “Every room has a different theme.”
Garlands dance around bathroom vanity lights, Father Christmas sits over a wine bottle.
The house – six bedrooms, five baths and two family rooms on three levels – becomes a showroom of special “finds,” family items along with an extensive art collection. Some items come out only for the season, others are on permanent display.
And throughout the house are pieces with stories behind them, starting with the massive golden stag resting on the dining table in the great room. Mark spotted it on a table at a social gathering in 1987 and eventually was able to buy it.
The greater-than-life-size cherub head statue displayed on a pedestal in a corner of the dining room also has a history.
The dining room always gets a major Christmas display, often with the help of floral designer Billy Shepard, but the cherub remains year-round. Mark wanted the statue; Elizabeth bought it for him, but only tolerates it, and the daughters use it as a source of humor, often leaving a piece of fruit or a nut in its prominent lips.
Perhaps the most special holiday display is the wooden Christmas tree built by Elizabeth’s father and part of her growing-up holidays. Her mother would decorate it with pine branches. The tree folds up for easy storage.
This season, the tree will be an elegant centerpiece in the his-and-hers office.
Holiday trimmings at the Bowers’ home begin outdoors with a lighted live tree in the front yard and garlands on the rails of the front balcony where the view is to the mountains. The house does not have a front and back door, just two front doors. Near the back entrance, whimsical metal deer wearing red ribbons greet visitors. The view from here shows off the variety of roof lines that give the house’s modern architecture an Oriental touch.
Inside the wide entrance, a two-level foyer provides a perfect environment for displays. On permanent view is a small version of Betty Branch’s “Dancer” sculpture that is part of the permanent display at the Taubman Museum of Art. Poinsettias march up each side of the steps to the next level. The displays, plus the warm finish on the stairs and railing are an invitation to come in and feel welcome.
Despite the expansiveness of the house – where the Bowers have entertained as many as 250 people – the atmosphere is intimate and comfortable in its recognition of family. On the children’s level, the sitting area that divides the girls’ suites includes a display of family quilts, which get used when the girls have slumber parties.
“Sometimes you come down here and see girls curled up in quilts all over the place,” Mark Bower says.
Each Christmas, this room houses the girls’ tree, which includes Barbie Doll ornaments.
“Tradition is important to us,” says Elizabeth.
Once photographs were taken for The Roanoker, the family took down the decorations and placed them in their labeled storage boxes. Closer to the holiday, the displays will go up again, many featuring live greens. The process of decorating takes about a week, and each year it’s a bit different.
“I make it up every year,” Elizabeth says.