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Dressed for the Holidays: Exemplary Christmas décor at a showcase property in St. Michaels

Nov 07, 2016 04:07PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Take a cue from an Eastern Shore home that blends Cape Cod architecture and Old World holiday charm

By Carol Sorgen // Photography by Stephen Buchanan

Lieutenant Colonel Walter Parsons and his wife Mary Ann moved 21 times during the Colonel’s career as an Army engineer. They made new homes for themselves and their family throughout the United States, as well as in Germany. But, now retired from his civil engineering company, the couple has settled into a home they have no intention of leaving.

Longtime sailors, the Parsons had been coming to St. Michaels since 1976. Five years ago they decided the time was right for them to leave their Northern Virginia home and move full-time to a property “where we could see the boats coming and going,” Mary Ann says.

They chose the 1985 Cape Cod home for its one-third acre property situated on Harrison Cove off the Miles River, its views to St. Michaels Harbor, and its short walking distance to downtown St. Michaels. The property was originally part of the 1683 50-acre Bentley Hay Grant.

The Parsons liked the style of the home but made some improvements over the next few years, including a new kitchen, Brazilian Ipe hardwood deck with contemporary aluminum and stainless steel railing, three bathroom renovations, addition of a cast-iron wood-burning fireplace, and master bedroom gas fireplace.

The couple’s daughter, Susanne Fyffe, principal of a northern Virginia landscape architecture firm, also provided her parents with a master plan for the garden that incorporated a front entrance swale filled with water-loving and flowering plant material including a native Heritage birch tree. The new brick walkway, stoop, and railings are framed with lush boxwoods, hydrangeas, deutzia, and perennials.

Shrub borders along the edge of the property combine layers of evergreen screening, flowering hydrangeas, viburnum, and shade-loving perennials, while the two waterside gardens have low native plants including grasses, drift roses, and a thriving blackberry bush.

Though the home, with its traditional 18th-century style furnishings—a combination of antiques and reproductions—is picture perfect year-round, it is particularly camera-ready during the holiday season, as it was last year when it was featured on the Christmas in St. Michaels Home Tour.

Just inside the front door is the couple’s collection of Royal Crown Derby bone china paperweights, which the Parsons display year-round in a deaccessioned cabinet from Anderson House in Washington, D.C., Headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati (which promotes public interest in the American Revolution), of which Colonel Parsons is a member.

But, from just after Thanksgiving to the first week in January, the Christmas decorations take over, beginning with the family’s prized possession, a Hummel nativity scene purchased in 1960 in Berchtesgarden, Germany. The Christmas tree takes center stage in the bay window, laden with ornaments collected since the couple first married. Every year a new ornament has been added to the tree, inscribed with the date and where the family was living at the time.
A colorful Christopher Radko gingerbread house cookie jar in the sun room is filled with treats for visiting grandchildren—and anyone else fortunate enough to be invited to the Parsons’ over the holidays. Christmas dinner is served on Lenox Holiday Dinnerware under a glittering crystal chandelier, with a floral centerpiece cascading from a London Silver Vault epergne.

Virtually every outdoor space is decorated with fresh greens, many supplied by two good friends, and the interiors with treasured collections of angels and Byers Choice Carolers. “They’re all over the place!” Mary Ann says, laughing, but adds that she’s not collecting much anymore. “I’m trying to get rid of things now!”

While the holidays bring a special touch to the couple’s home, living in St. Michaels year-round is a joy. “We just love it,” says Mary Ann. Safe to say, their moving days are over.


Christmas in St. Michaels

Along with the holiday Tour of Homes, the annual weekend-long Christmas in St. Michaels (plus a couple preview events) resumes December 9th–11th throughout the town of St. Michaels. There are many attractions scheduled, including:


Gingerbread House Preview Cocktail Party at the Women’s Club of St. Michaels. Be among the first to view the gingerbread creations entered into the competition. 5–7 p.m. $50.


Holiday Gala at The Oaks Waterfront Inn. 6:30–11 p.m. $150.


Marketplace & Sweet Shoppe at Granite Lodge on St. Mary’s Square. Festive holiday decorations, gifts wrapped and ready to give, gourmet food items, artisan-crafted items.


Gingerbread House Competition & Display at the Women’s Club of St. Michaels. Tour all entries and vote for your favorite from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.


Breakfast with Santa at Town Dock Restaurant. 9–10 a.m. $10 per child.


Holiday Breakfast at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. 7:30–11:30 a.m. Tickets at the door.


Old Fashioned Eastern Shore Christmas Dinner at Union United Methodist Church Parish Hall. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. $18 per person.


Talbot Street Parade along Talbot Street from Perry Cabin south to Seymour Avenue. 10:30 a.m.


Santa’s Wonderland at St. Michaels School Campus on Seymour Avenue. After parade

until 2:30 p.m. $2 per child.


Tour of Homes throughout Historic St. Michaels and nearby countryside. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. (Sat.) and 11 a.m.–4 p.m. (Sun.). $25/advance, $30/day of.


Holiday Music at locations throughout town.

For complete details about Christmas in St. Michaels weekend and ancillary events, visit