Homes Photo Credit: Janis Nicolay

Photos: Inside a Nutcracker-Inspired Holiday Home

A classic holiday ballet sets the stage for a not-so-traditional Christmas design theme in this west-side Vancouver home, part of the annual Homes for the Holidays fundraiser.

When Emma Kelly and Francesca Albertazzi of Rudy Winston Design came on board to decorate this house as part of the annual Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays tour last year, the theme became obvious almost immediately. “We latched on to the concept of The Nutcracker based on a couple of things,” says Albertazzi. “The homeowner had a few vintage nutcrackers in her personal collection, and one of her daughters was pursuing a professional career in ballet. We really loved that—both Emma and I were in ballet for a long time, and we thought, let’s use that as a concept for the decoration of the house.”

On the front door, an unusual arrangement from Full Bloom Studio features peacock feathers.

When the homeowners renovated the living room, they’d directed the design team that they wanted to make sure they could still put a Christmas tree in the bay window. Cue the sofas that separate, allowing for the tree to take a place of honour.

The pair was already very familiar with the heritage home on Vancouver’s west side, having renovated a large part of it over the past two years—a fact that came quickly into play as they set the holiday scene in the living room. “In designing the original space, the homeowner wanted to make sure that whatever sofa we chose would move or separate, so she could place a Christmas tree in the traditional spot by the bay window,” says Albertazzi. That forethought worked its magic when it came time to holiday up the living room: the sofa splits into three pieces, which slide to the sides of the room to make the evergreen the showstopper. It’s a space that, for this holiday tour, would evoke the “party scene” in The Nutcracker ballet. “Only Francesca and I would likely know that,” laughs Kelly, “but it’s the scene when the tree really comes alive and grows, and it’s all piled with presents. We wanted to echo the feeling of celebration and enthusiasm and expectations—everyone is excited.” Faux cocktails on the table contribute to that grand Christmas party feeling, along with the gorgeous floral arrangements from Full Bloom Studio on the mantel. “We didn’t want it to feel too traditionally Christmas in terms of colour scheme,” says Kelly. “There’s almost no red, but there are lots of navy and gold accents.”

In the dining room, the table is set for the grand party of the night, complete with sparkling cut glass and evergreen accents.
The kitchen had plenty of sparkle—the marble mosaic backplash reflects light beautifully—so the team added just a few traditional accents, like a mini-tree on the countertop.
The living and dining rooms were set to evoke the “party scene” in The Nutcracker: champagne and coupes, place settings with a simple navy ribbon and a sprig of evergreen, and plenty of gorgeous florals.

In the adjoining dining room and kitchen, the table is set for the party to arrive, with plenty of cut glass to add sparkle, and the scene in turn reflects the design of the kitchen, itself full of shine with its marble mosaic backsplash and oversized windows. Each table setting holds a simple sprig of evergreen wrapped in a navy ribbon, and a floral arrangement in the nearby window has tremendous presence thanks to its unusual vase: a pewter trophy.

Little decorative details, like treats from Butter Baked Goods and a nutcracker ornament set a very festive scene.

Near the front of the home, the main-floor office is transformed into the suite of Uncle Drosselmeyer, creating a more masculine space. “If he were a room, this is what he’d look like,” laughs Kelly. Along with whisky glasses and rum balls on the side table, there are cheeky nods to his character’s transformation into an owl in the ballet, tiny owl ornaments adorn the tabletop trees.

In the office near the front of the house, the designers created a more traditional, masculine vibe with rum balls and whisky on the table, along with a nod to the ballet: a nutcracker, and owls on the tabletop trees.
The colour palette in the office is also more traditionally Christmas, with reds and greens and accents of tartan.

The most literal nod to the ballet is in the children’s rooms upstairs: in one, the trees are adorned with felt characters from the ballet; in another, a ballerina tutu and pointe shoes are laid out on the bed. “We made her bedroom very feminine, with twinkly lights and a flocked tree,” says Kelly. “In the second half of The Nutcracker, Clara plans to get whisked away to the Land of Sweets, and that was the feeling we had here—that sense of magic, like the sugar plum fairy’s dance.”

The storytelling throughout the space is reflective of the way the design team works when it’s not holiday time as well, and visitors can see this in the renovation of the original home—it’s a historic home, but it’s been updated for modern times and a modern family. “We both really feel that a strong concept is the key to any project,” says Kelly. “That’s really what leads to all the decisions you make.”

In the girls’ bedrooms upstairs, the theme of The Nutcracker ballet is quite literal: a tutu and pointe shoes are laid out on one daughter’s bed, with a vintage nutcracker beside it (see below photo).

The design team chose a more muted holiday colour palette, as seen in this soft pastel floral arrangement from Full Bloom Studio. Characters from the ballet—as felt mice—adorn a tree.

This year’s Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays Tour takes place November 25 and 26. For more info, visit

To see more homes that have been decorated for the holidays, subscribe to the WL newsletter!


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