The 14-foot-tall flocked Christmas tree in the living room is packed full of more than 300 gold and silver ornaments and wrapped in yards and yards of gold pleated ribbon and silver textured ribbon. Because there is no mantel, the garland is attached to the wavy tile fireplace with tiny Command hooks. Photos by Sara Essex Bradley

This holiday home has its owners dreaming of a (black and) white Christmas

No matter the plot of your favorite Hallmark Christmas movie, there are certain elements that are almost always in place: The leading man likely drives a 1950s-model pickup truck—preferably red. There is probably a case of mistaken identity or a little seasonal subterfuge. And there’s surely a tempting job offer that requires the main character to leave her sleepy hometown and her single-dad love interest just before Christmas day. [Spoiler alert: Don’t worry, she’ll be back before the cocoa gets cold!] One other thing is certain: Practically every square inch of the protagonist’s home is covered in traditional Christmas trimmings, from the holly berry-studded garland over the bathroom mirror to the mistletoe in the kitchen doorway and the twinkle lights that shine in the bedroom all night long.

For holiday decorator Melissa Laney, these snow-filled stories create a backdrop for her intricate work that starts way before Thanksgiving each year. She and her mother Jan, who often helps out with her decorating projects, keep one eye on the TV as they fluff fir branches and paint ornaments. But the tried-and-true traditions of the season’s beloved movies don’t necessarily make their way into Melissa’s designs—especially not in a house like Brooke and Doug Bickley’s.

Brooke and Doug Bickley with daughter Bella Jay and son Boston in the home’s salon, which features a large-scale painting by Saliha Staib. The marble coffee table is topped by a silvery scene of conical trees, a sparkling deer, and clear acrylic stars, while throw pillows on the curvaceous couches continue the winter mood with metallic fabrics and faux fur.

The Bickley home, you see, is not exactly pulled straight out of a Hallmark movie, with everything familiar and classic. The feel of this University Club neighborhood abode is modern and monochromatic, its black and white motif interrupted only by glam pops of gold in most of the rooms. So when Melissa works her magic here, she does it with a fresh and forward-thinking style that’s worlds away from what you might find in some TV town called Evergreen or Angel Falls. But look closely, and you’ll see that there are still plenty of carefully placed sentimental touches that make this season meaningful for the Bickley family.

“I love working with someone who’s all about what I call ‘nontraditional traditional,’” Melissa explains. “This house has its traditional spots, but it’s so ultra-modern that you can’t exactly bring in big Santas or vibrant colors. It really challenges me as a decorator, and it’s exciting.”

Brooke and Melissa have known each other since both were members of Tri Sigma sorority at Northwestern State University, and that longtime friendship formed the foundation for an easy working relationship when Melissa first took on the Bickleys’ holiday decorating project four years ago. The family had just built this home with a construction and design team including residential designer Michael Hogstrom of Onsite Design, contractor John McDowell and interior designer Kenneth Brown, and they wanted their Christmas décor to suit the stark style of the house itself. Enter Melissa, who embraced the edgy-but-elegant vibe as she picked out the perfect accents for each tall-ceilinged space.

Reflecting the clean lines of the home’s exterior, the seasonal touches surrounding the front doors to the courtyard are simple but still shine. Gold stars on the doors and groupings of narrow lit trees give a hint of what’s inside.

“The first year, we discussed the overall style and design I was hoping to achieve, and she came up with extraordinary ideas and color palettes that would be cohesive with the look and feel of our home,” Brooke says. “Every year, she builds on the Christmas aesthetic. I like to incorporate new trends each year, and Melissa is always exceptional at making this happen.”

The holiday drama—not to be confused with the kind created by Hallmark—starts at the front doors, which lead to a courtyard before guests enter the house itself. When Brooke first sent photos of the home’s façade to Melissa, the decorator knew immediately she had to take a different approach than the typical garlands and ribboned wreaths. “I told her it was too clean-lined to go all out,” Melissa recalls. “We decided to go with simple stars, and I think they really bring the inside out by giving guests a little preview before they enter.”

The home’s bold interior style creates an immediate wow factor in the foyer, where chalk-striped black wallpaper serves as sultry scenery upon which a medley of metals shines. Here, Melissa painted black and gold ball ornaments to hang on the heavily flocked tree, which she accented with striped black and gold ribbon. “I absolutely love those handpainted ornaments,” Brooke says. “They perfectly match the colors and style of our foyer.”

Black wallpaper in the foyer inspired the sophisticated hues of the holiday décor in this space. Handpainted black and gold ball ornaments are complemented by black and gold glittered ribbon on the flocked tree, and the Sputnik chandelier serves as an oversized ornament all its own.

The palette lightens up considerably as visitors make their way into the sun-filled salon, with its 33-foot ceiling and wall of tall windows. Melissa encouraged the Bickleys to incorporate an extra-tall tree here, so a 12-foot faux fir specimen is tucked into a corner behind one of a pair of curved sofas. The tree makes the most of all that natural light, with its thousands of strands of tinsel serving as a surprising throwback detail in the otherwise modern setting. “I had been dreaming about tinsel, and then Brooke asked about tinsel, and I knew exactly what we needed to do with this tree,” Melissa says. “My mom walked in as we were working on it, and she said, ‘Let me show you how to place it.’ She showed us how to layer the tinsel up each branch. It was a learning experience and a great way to connect—and it was the perfect way to bring some childhood traditions into a contemporary house.”

Classic ball ornaments are the stars of the show in the living room—but in a larger-than-life manner. In addition to the oversized metallic orbs hanging on the Christmas tree itself, Melissa placed even bigger ball ornaments on the floor below. The look is perfectly posh, but Melissa warns with a laugh, “It was a real challenge to get those balls to stay put on the floor without rolling around.”

Despite its glamorous details, this living room is a place where the Bickleys’ 14-year-old daughter Bella Jay and 10-year-old son Boston can kick back with their friends on the sectional sofa, and where the family entertains throughout the season. “We love hosting family and friends during the holidays,” Brooke says. “We love making our home a place to connect with others and create memories that will last a lifetime. There’s nothing better than food and fellowship with friends and family.”

Restrained and refined are the holiday buzzwords in this view of the living room. Draped garland, gold trees, and glass candleholders come together on the square coffee table, and the views of the lake and golf course out back are uninterrupted.

The family’s calendar this time of year is filled with traditional holiday outings. Bella Jay performed in the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker – A Tale From the Bayou for three years, and the show is still a must-see for the family. They also head down to New Orleans each December to attend the Roosevelt Hotel’s Teddy Bear Tea and see the lights of City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks. Come Christmas Eve, it’s time to slow down just a little and gather with family to drink homemade hot chocolate before heading out on a Christmas caroling hayride, and to attend the Christmas service at Healing Place Church. “The magic of Christmas is not in the presents but in His presence,” Brooke says.

Back home, the family reaches for a set of special books that are always displayed on the coffee table during the holidays. “Our family loves books,” Brooke says. “We have a Norman Rockwell Christmas book from our children’s great-grandparents, and Santa Calls by author and illustrator William Joyce, who is from my hometown and personalized it for me.”

All that activity, and yet no mention of Hallmark movies? No wonder, when this family is writing its own story year by year. Plot twist: It’s perfectly unique and all their own. Not a red truck in sight!

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