Homeowners create a Christmas tree wonderland

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Celine Wilson of Upper St. Clair looks like an ambassador for Christmas. Sitting in her family room with husband Bill, she wears a wreath vest over a bright red sweater, and both of them have smiles that would light up the North Pole.

This time of year, the real stars of their Upper St. Clair home are 11 full-size artificial trees, and they're not the only ones. Rose Romboski of Cranberry has had as many as 15 Christmas trees but has "only" 10 this year. Others do fewer trees but go for size, like the 15-foot Concolor fir that David Pecharka of Moon decorates each year. Each tree tells a story of the season.

The Wilsons

Celine and Bill Wilson started mega-decorating about 20 years ago when they moved into their current home.

"It began when I was a child," she said.

"I can remember being at home -- my dad was so patient --he would bring three or four trees home, one at a time, because we kept rejecting them. So he just started bringing three or four trees home all at once and then we made a decision. I always did the village. My brother set up the train."

Now, Mr. Wilson is the patient one. After the holiday, the fully decorated trees are wrapped and put into storage.

"The hard part is getting them up and down the steps," he said.

Mrs. Wilson said most men would have said, "Would you stop?" But it's quite evident that he delights in the wonderland they've created as he fills in parts of the story.

"Everybody comes in and says that they just can't believe it," she said proudly.

The trees are a beautiful sight to behold. Every room has a tree that befits the traditional decor of their home. In the entry hall, a spiral topiary-style tree is festooned with red and gold tapestry ribbon, glazed fruit and more. Packaged gifts in red paper and gold foil ribbon surround a classic Santa who is busily checking his pocket watch for the countdown to the big day. Lush swags of dried fruit and ribbon adorn the staircase.

Mrs. Wilson explained that each tree offers a hint of what's to come in the next room. On her carefully planned tour, the next stop is the family room, whose tree has a woodland theme. Burgundy poinsettias, mini-birdhouses, charming birds, bird nests and tapestry ribbon fill the branches. The creche takes center stage beneath the boughs and an old-fashioned sleigh sits close by, filled with presents. A grand oak mantel is swagged with more ribbon, pine cones and stockings while the fireplace burns brightly within. Even the artwork on the wall is changed out, with holiday scenes of sleighs and Santas.

In the kitchen, a burgundy-and-teal theme has more birdhouses, and the pencil tree in the dining room was designed to accent the Waterford crystal -- it has white hydrangeas, gold ornaments and musical angels. A tree skirt of delicate white lace illuminated by white lights swaths the bottom.

Every bedroom has a tree, including a darling Victorian-themed "hat tree" in her daughter's old bedroom. Decorated in shades of mauve and gold, the tiny hats balance amid berries and ribbon. A stately white-flocked tree in the master bedroom has hundreds of lush dried berries and red balls that play well off the dark-hued walls.

The Wilsons also have more than 100 Saturday Evening Post Santa figurines. She's not sure exactly how many. "I lost track," she conceded.

She and her husband spread their holiday cheer as entertaining takes center stage in December.

"Our first party was on Dec. 2, and we've had three more since."

After 47 years of marriage, they are pros. They host cocktail parties, dinner parties and, of course, festive parties accompany the football games. Guests include neighbors, friends, family and even a whole dental office staff.

"We decided to have them all for lunch," Mrs. Wilson said. "We have been hosting Christmas for a long time."

Cranberry Christmas

Rose Romboski had a hard time deciding what photos to send in from her many years of holiday trees.

"I love the Christmas holiday and over the years have collected hundreds of ornaments," she said.

She has a theme tree for almost every room in the house. The living room tree is the only live tree and is decorated with snowflakes, ribbon and other keepsake ornaments. A fluffy angel stands guard on top.

Unlike the Wilsons, Mrs. Romboski decorates her trees from scratch every year.

"We start the day after Thanksgiving. This is our fourth Christmas doing this."

She said her husband brings down all of the boxes and she goes to it. He travels for work and gets to come home to a special tree-lighting night -- because he is the "muscle behind the operation."

The trees' themes run the gamut -- from cooking utensils in the kitchen to vintage papier-mache birdhouses and Old World birds, from Father Christmas to sports (one for the Steelers and one for golf), from snowmen to divas in the master bath. There's even a tree in the mudroom dedicated to their yellow Labrador retriever, with dog biscuits for ornaments.

Mrs. Romboski shares her home with friends and family and was featured on the Cranberry Women's House Tour last Sunday.

"The house has a magical feel," she said. "It's just so much fun. "

Fun (and big)

Some trees are just for fun. Marie Scholz, 88, of McDonald has a tree that she keeps up all year. It is decorated with McDonald's toys from happy meals. The famous golden arches are the tree topper.

Over in Millvale, Hedy Grossman does a different theme each year.

"This year, I decided to do movie themes," she wrote. "It consists of the 'Twilight' saga, 'Indiana Jones' and 'Star Wars.' " Yoda sits front and center in his rotund glory.

Nancy Bucey's tree was designed by well-wishers who sent ornaments in celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary. The surprise was unveiled on a family cruise.

"Our children had contacted many of our lifelong friends requesting that each send an ornament for our tree that would be symbolic in some way of our friendship. Each night, we opened several of these packages and put them on our tree.

"One was a tiny lobster trap in memory of a trip with friends to Maine. Another was a watering can from friends that shared our love of gardening," she wrote. "We unwrapped a sailboat from friends who took us sailing and a tiny motor scooter on which we gave friends rides."

Architect David Pecharka of Moon has a different way to pay homage to the holiday -- he just gets one really, really giant tree, a Concolor fir from a friend in Beaver County.

"When I was growing up and drawing my dream house, it was designed around the room with the Christmas tree," he wrote.

"When we added the great room onto our house, I made sure to build the space large enough to hold a tree of this size and double doors at the entry to get it in. You must have your priorities."

Mr. Pecharka uses just the top 15 feet of a larger tree and keeps it well watered. He said it stays fresh until February. This year's tree takes the prize.

"It is the biggest ever ... 15 feet tall and over 12 feet wide at the base. It must be over 200 pounds.

"When my friend Don and I got home with it, we needed my daughter and three of her friends to lift it. It took 200 lights and all of our ornaments. The cats love it and sleep under it. It will have to come out in pieces. I didn't know what I was thinking."

on the web

For more photos, visit post-gazette.com.

Rosa Colucci: rcolucci@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1661. First Published December 17, 2011 5:00 AM


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