Old soul – The history-laden spirit of the James family’s home comes alive at Christmastime

Click here for a slideshow of the home’s interior.

One of Mia James’ most-prized holiday treasures is something she says others might consider trash: a well-worn “Merry Christmas” banner made of glittered cut-out letters on thin ribbon.

“The silver glitter has a really cool burnished, uneven patina after many years,” Mia says of the decoration that hangs prominently in the entryway of her family’s Ingleside Drive home. “I think most people would have tossed them out by now … but I hope they last forever.”

That simple hand-cut greeting could serve as a symbol of Mia’s sense of style and her approach to creating a beautiful home, both at Christmas and all year long. While the house itself is only eight years old, there is a sense of tradition and honoring the past that permeates every room. Instead of discarding what is old, Mia and her husband, Jeff, and 17-year-old daughter, Catherine, have created a home that embraces history while still feeling fresh and up-to-date.

The James family originally bought this property with the intention of renovating the existing home, but when it literally began to collapse, they realized they would have to start from scratch. It was an unfamiliar idea for Mia, who had made a livelihood of rehabilitating older homes in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood for several years before moving to Baton Rouge.

“I had never, ever considered living in a new home,” she says. “In pre-Katrina Lakeview, new construction was rare, and I absolutely loved the weird floor plans and extra spaces you’d end up with during a renovation. I could not imagine living in a new, perfectly laid-out, efficiently spaced home, but we were forced to build.”

Once it was apparent that new construction on Ingleside would be necessary, the couple took the opportunity to create a place that would perfectly suit their modern lifestyle—while at the same time liberally borrowing from the past.

“I loved a historical home on the Mandeville lakefront that had a similar roofline, a big front porch and four sets of identical French doors across the front,” Mia says. So the Jameses partnered with architect Billie Brian to interpret their vision and incorporate those classic architectural features into the new house.

When the family finally moved in, they brought with them a host of cherished furnishings and accessories that made the place feel instantly warm and welcoming. “So much of what is in our home now has been with us for a long time,” Mia says. “Of course, it’s been added to over the years, but the casual, comfortable style has been a constant.”

Along with all of the cozy living spaces indoors, the family was also able to include in the new house plenty of outdoor seating, dining and entertaining areas—something that they never could have considered in one of their older New Orleans homes. “Billie introduced me to the idea of the outdoor room,” Mia says. “No one really had that feature in New Orleans; there wasn’t enough room, and all available lot space was generally dedicated to the heated and cooled portion of the house. But we had the space here in Baton Rouge and were so excited to be able to incorporate an outdoor room.”

Those expansive outdoor spaces come in handy this time of year, when the Jameses welcome friends and family to parties big and small. Holiday visitors are greeted by an eclectic array of understated decorations—no Clark Griswold light displays here—that elegantly reflect the homeowners’ casual style.

Many of the Christmastime trimmings come in the form of collections, some amassed entirely by accident. Throughout the house, for example, there are some 25 miniature Christmas trees in materials ranging from driftwood and feathers to tinsel and pipe cleaners. And mercury-glass ball ornaments offer an old-world glow not only on the 11-foot-tall main Christmas tree but also heaped in bowls, scattered on tabletops and even filling glass lamp bases.

A 4-foot “family” Christmas tree is perched on the coffee table in the sunroom, where it displays one of Mia’s most beloved ornaments: a pair of tiny ruby slippers ŕ la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. “Catherine wore glittered red Mary Janes for years, in graduating sizes,” says Mia. “That ornament reminds me of how excited Catherine was to see ‘her shoes’ hanging on the tree. And I actually bronzed a pair of her slippers and used them as a lamp base in her bedroom.”

Mia, Jeff and Catherine make plenty of time for togetherness and special traditions during the holidays—baking cookies, hanging lights and even wrapping presents.

“My daughter told me that her friends think it’s weird that every tag on the gifts under the tree says ‘from Dancer, the Grinch, Frosty, Ralphie,’ and others like that,” says Mia. “I try to cover every Christmas character that I can recall. In my childhood, a friend’s mom did that and I loved it, so I started doing it for Cat when she was a baby. She added, however, that she loves the tags and plans to do it for her own family when she has children!”

On Christmas Eve each year, old meets new once again as the family sits down in front of a classic holiday movie and creates a new holiday craft project to add to their yuletide décor. Their handiworks have included a glass ball tree, snow globes, and a wreath of starfish that ties into Mia’s love of seashells.

The house may be young, but already there are so many fond family memories that fill its rooms. And for Mia, the magic of the season takes hold the moment she enters the driveway.

“I love the way our house feels at Christmastime, and I love the way it looks at night when I drive up to it,” Mia says. “I will never tire of that. The outside decorations have not changed at all since the first year we were here; they’re very simple, just greens and a few lights. But I really feel the house just glows, and I cherish that.”