At the Harwood home, more is more
By Cynthia Adams • Photographs By Amy Freeman
Before the first hint of the holiday season — and yes, even before Thanksgiving — collector and antique reseller Brooke Harwood’s condo begins shimmering and shining for what will be a protracted and festive season, with trinkets and valuables she has acquired over 30 years. Soon, the space transforms, as if a fairy godmother waved a magic wand, indulging a child’s most whimsical winter fantasies.
Perhaps you recall meeting Harwood inside her French-inspired condo in the pages of this magazine in July 2016. But you’ve never seen her home like this.
Eight trees — two full-sized and six tabletops, all festooned with sparkles, twinkling lights, baubles and plumes — consume the 1,300-square-foot space. The tallest sweep the ceiling.
With visions of sugarplums, decorative cakes — and even potato-chip cookies — dancing in her head, Harwood fluffs her nest. She pulls boxes of vintage treasures from storage. These include ornaments, toys, signage, plumage in all colors, crèches and tabletop ceramic trees, her favorites? White and studded with aqua. (“I have so many ceramic trees — maybe one hundred.”) Snugly they nestle among eclectic accents, artwork, porcelains and furniture.
“I have a full attic,” she notes, “and it is filled with Christmas decorations.” She jokes. Is her unbridled passion: hoarding or collecting?
Harwood has a special weakness for Asian-inspired art (chinoiserie in design-speak) and knows from years of reselling vintage and antique pieces that the quirky is equally prized. Often, there is an initial color theme — or themes. Remember, she reminds me, “I love aqua.”
Harwood’s exuberant holiday décor is completely unrestrained and a showcase for her eclectic Christmas collectibles, mostly tinged with silver and gold, sparkle, shine and chic. Once sprung out of attic storage, it matters little if a chosen object is valuable or not; she isn’t pretending to do anything so much as to dazzle and have a wink-wink-nod-nod bit of fun, indulging her love of color, twinkle and panache.
Her style channels Iris Apfel, the NYC design maven who famously said, “more is more and less is a bore.” Like Apfel, Harwood also resists packing up the sparkly bits until after the New Year has dawned, but it isn’t practical to resist. (Apfel, however, keeps her holiday décor up year-round in her Palm Beach condo.)
A frenzy of annual effort is inversely timed with a longstanding Harwood family tradition. Her decorating kicks off in mid-November as college football winds down.
“I always have people over for the last weekend of college football for turkey chili and have all my Christmas up by then.”
When she’s done, kitschy collectibles mix and mingle with finery, keeping the décor light and jolly.
Antique pickers like Harwood with an eye for the quirky, exceptional and valuable, understand the deft mix of high- and low-style.
In the end, Harwood’s home radiates like a kaleidoscope (“I love those vintage color wheels!”).
Some rooms are kept mostly traditional, like the den, where she decorated a tree in red-and-green (with pops of blue accents.) Other trees feature nontraditional colors, especially jolts of pink and aqua. Aqua? As mentioned, it’s a personal favorite — and what a cheerful and unexpected holiday touch. Gourmet cakes by DeeDee Williams are freewheeling, too, and Harwood cannot stop at merely one. “They are just so visual and fun!” she says.
Vintage collectibles, however, usually dominate: Signage and toys and religious figures find a place on every shelf, table and nook, spilling outside to the porch and balcony.
“How did the Christmas vintage collecting happen?” Harwood wonders aloud. She surveys the living room, where silver trays are topped with antique figurines and a corner cupboard is filled with antique toys.
“Well, the love of vintage carolers, the japanned things I collect, for instance? I got that from my grandmother.”
Sentimental favorites always make the cut. Her grandmother’s collection of Christmas decorations and ceramic trees are dear to her.
Make no mistake, she does not focus on Christmas décor exclusively. Harwood prizes Herend china, porcelain figurines, antique boxes (she owns more than 100), artwork of every ilk, antique papier mâché pieces and widely varied curiosities.
She is driven to search out finds, all part of “the thrill of the hunt.”
Even as a college student, Harwood scoured for treasures. (She still uses a desk she bought for $100 as a UNC-Chapel Hill coed. For Christmas, the desk features a vintage crèche.)
Following graduation from Carolina, Harwood entered the corporate world in Columbia, South Carolina.
In early 2000, she returned to Greensboro, where parents, Rocky and Brenda Harwood, live in Starmount Forest. She “left her corporate self behind” and went to work for Anne Carlson at Carlson Antiques. Here she educated herself further.
Harwood now considers it the highest compliment when praised for her buying skills, “for her eye.”
In 2002, she moved into Kings Arms in New Irving Park. For a short while, her grandmother also kept a home in the quaintly brick-walled community with its own French crest.
Former resident Harvey Lineberry wrote about businessman and congressman Eugene “Gene” Johnston building the French-inspired units (designed by A.D. Woodruff Jr.) in 1965 as luxury apartments, which were later converted to condos. The Kings Arms project was Johnston’s first real estate endeavor.
The design may have been a nod to Montbéliard, Greensboro’s sister city in France.
According to Guilford College’s Guilfordian, President Eisenhower created the sister cities program in 1956. In addition to Montbéliard, Greensboro has two others: Buiucani in Moldova, and Yingkou in China. Montbéliard happened to be home to the Lorillard family, who owned Lorillard Tobacco in Greensboro.
Although Harwood agrees that the interior design at Kings Arms should probably bear this French influence in mind, she is not constricted by that idea.
Her style is far more freewheeling.
She often drives as far as Charleston for auctions and estate sales, and Christmas is always in her thoughts, even in the heat of summer, while on the hunt in the Low Country. If she spies it and loves it, then Harwood snags it. “Vintage Christmas things are very hot,” she says. “Even things like vintage calendars.”
Toys, pastel and metallic ornaments, vintage Santas and signage, porcelain créches and figurines all go into her black SUV. Some are destined for resale. Others? She’ll make room in the condo.
Her collecting enthusiasm never dims, even after many years. Harwood still requests a Herend porcelain every Christmas.
“I’m bad,” she grimaces, pausing to open — what else? — a crisp French Chenin Blanc to toast the holidays. “I’m still addicted.”
But the porcelains do seem right at home.
Brooke Harwood Christmas Décor and Entertaining Tips
Harwood allows décor to spill out from the indoors to the outdoors balcony, which is fully furnished with vintage iron furniture, foo dogs, Chinese stools and lamps. Toy mice are poised in a gazebo. (The mice were once displayed in the now defunct Thalhimer’s Department Store in downtown Greensboro.)
“Group vintage Christmas figurines together on large silver or faux bamboo trays.”
“Entertain with a vintage twist, too! Serve eggnog — the real deal — not imitations!”
“Serve trays of old-school cookies and treats. Think pecan tassies, cheese straws and potato-chip cookies with a Christmas twist!”
“Stock coolers of sodas and beers in red and green cans — ginger ale, Coca Cola, hard cider in green bottles, Budweiser, etc.”
“I’ve used local baker DeeDee Williams at My Sweet Little Bake Shop for Christmas cakes, and placed them throughout the house for parties. One favorite of mine is on the balcony outside, a cheery penguin cake! I placed four cakes in various rooms — some topped with Christmas trees, and another is a candy cane tree.”
“Vintage ceramic Christmas trees can be grouped together on a sideboard in a dining room or console table in a foyer, which really adds a ‘wow’ factor to a room. I particularly look for ones that are unique colors and ones of different sizes.”
“Antique and vintage toys are great to decorate under the tree with. And don’t save Christmas presents for under the tree. Stacks of presents on chairs, or in corners or on shelves around the house add color and interest.”
“Vintage advent calendars make great conversation pieces.
My favorites are handcrafted felt ones, and wooden ones
with little drawers.”
“If you must go artificial, like me, I do love an artificial flocked tree! But nothing says vintage like a white or even pink tabletop tree from the ’50s or ’60s. And vintage color wheels are a must.