It’s cozy, over the top and perfectly holly jolly
By Cynthia Adams • Photographs by Amy Freeman
Grumps and Grinches beware. To enter Katrina and Nat Hayes’ College Hill bungalow is to have a holiday conversion experience — as in peace and joy simultaneously coursing through your veins like some bubbling, burbling Christmas ornament.
And as if you needed a warning, “Forever Christmas Eve” is mounted — year-round — above the front door. By early November, every room in this 1905-built, historic home shimmers and glimmers with a Christmas spirit passed on to the Hayeses by both of their families.
“At Christmas time it’s very festive,” Katrina says. “It’s a happy house!”
Katrina’s mother, Mickey Guilford, planted the seed in her. “My mom’s favorite holiday is Christmas,” she says. “My birthday’s in December and hers is in November, so we combine it all!” Her mom — who owns 121 collectible Santa Clauses — has four trees. Katrina decorates seven. “Eight, if you count the tiny one in the bathroom,” she adds.
Nat brought his own collection of Christmas trees when they got married in 2017, along with several boxes of ornaments his mother passed on to him. “We’re surrounded by family,” Katrina says happily. And by Christmases past and present.
The preparations, which take a week to complete, began last year on November 1. “Nat brings the boxes in from storage,” says Katrina, “and I always make sure I have everything up and Christmas-ized by Thanksgiving.” That’s when family members exchange ornaments. Long before Christmas morning when they open gifts, Katrina and Nat will have dined each day for two months using Christmas cocktail glasses and two sets of Christmas china — one formal and one everyday. “It’s a joyful time,” Katrina sighs.
But it’s not all about them: “We had 60-plus people at our ‘Christmas on Tate’ event in 2019,” says Katrina. The couple asks guests to contribute food for the Spartan pantry, which assists families in the area. “There’s a lot of hunger and homelessness,” she says. This year, given the constraints of a pandemic, their gathering will be smaller, outside and mask-required.
The couple purchased the Tate Street charmer in July of 2016. Though it had been restored, “The people who owned it didn’t do much,” says Katrina.
Still, she says, “When we were looking at the house from outside, I turned to my husband and said, ‘I love this house.’” Nat countered, “You have to see it all before you fall in love.” But when she stepped inside, Katrina said she had to have it. “My husband said, ‘You don’t even know!’ But I did.”
The couple had searched for a year, touring historic homes. They wanted to be near downtown. They wanted character. They wanted soul, Katrina says.
The house had original floors upstairs and new flooring downstairs, a wide front porch and even a back porch. Original fireplaces and modern conveniences, including a renovated kitchen, were certainly a plus. And the master bedroom had a stained-glass eyebrow window featuring a yellow rose, illuminated with a pull-down light. That window slayed Katrina.
“Everything we looked at that was historic had short ceilings (due to attics converted into second floors) and no central air conditioning. Just window units,” she laments. The sellers were retired and ready to move on. One day Katrina got a call: “The sellers said new price! After many houses, I thought, I was done,” Katrina adds.
Fittingly, for a Christmas house, the house had its own sort of rebirth. According to Mike Cowhig, a city planner who works with historic neighborhoods and oversees the Historic Preservation Commission, the bungalow was brought back from the brink. “It was one of the houses the city bought in the 1980s as part of the redevelopment program and was restored then,” Cowhig says. At the time, College Hill became Greensboro’s first historic district. “It was supposedly featured in Better Homes and Gardens back in the day.” It checked all the boxes, Katrina says.
On Christmas morning, four stockings get filled and hung with care by every fireplace, for family and pets alike, including their two dogs, Bo and Perki.
Katrina, who with her mom’s help bedecked her State Street skin care salon with diaphanous bows, also collects shoes, jewelry and all things leopard. (There will be a touch of leopard on her Christmas stockings this year.)
The couple’s favorite room is the “bar room” where they enjoy cocktails. They creatively reuse brightly colored Crown Royal felt bags as gift bags beneath the bar room tree. Many of them came from Katrina’s late father, Gil Guilford, who collected them over a lifetime. A portrait of Nat’s grandfather, who became chairman and president of Carolina Steel, presides over the room’s corner fireplace. “He’s Nathanael Hayes Sr.,” says Katrina. “Nat (his namesake) is the third.”
Nat, a certified professional accountant, has a Carolina sports-theme tree in a second-floor study Katrina calls a “man cave.” There he displays a beer can collection begun when he was a kid. “He would pick them up while mowing yards.” Nat fashioned shelving from barn wood retrieved from his family’s farm in Summerfield.
The Hayes’ most treasured tree, though, is in the main room. “The big tree has all our ‘memories’ on it — and I love the leopard touches.” While the rule used to be no lights turned on till after Thanksgiving, Katrina has decided to challenge that in 2020.
We could use a bit of extra light and cheer, she decided.
In her book, Joyful, designer and blogger Ingrid Fetell Lee wrote that there is “a quiet hope that the world contains a bit of magic.”
Surely that applies to Tate Street.
And with more than a little hope, the lights will go on early. OH
Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry with an embarrassing number of Christmas trees.