Life is too short not to have a party. And a good one, at that.
Every year, Roger and Julia Russell have a holiday party that has grown in proportion and splendor. Dec. 7 will be their 10th annual celebration at the 1896 Baumeister Mansion, 124 Stone St. The elegant, three-storey home is the perfect setting for a festive party like this.
“It’s the 10th year, so we wanted it to be more spectacular,” Julia says.
She constantly thinks of decorating combinations and designs, so planning for the festivities begins early. It’s fun, and she loves all of it. This petite woman, full of energy and vibrance, radiates joy.
“I’ve always wanted to bring everybody together,” Julia says.
The first party started with a wine tasting for a small group. From there, it grew.
“If it’s not fun, it’s not a party,” she says.
“The theme is always a color-combination thing. Last year was white on silver, with a little bit of green. This year will be heavy in gold, white and red. Those vases that usually have red lilies will be explosive with gold balls,” she says.
Julia will modify existing arrangements, pull out the silver and add whatever touches of white, gold or red are needed.
“I’m celebrating life. The colors make me happy! Ten years is a milestone. I might bring in a little green. It’s a classic Christmas party, so there will be lots of poinsettias, but more spectacular! I want [guests] to be bedazzled totally.”
Julia has some experience in interior design, which helps her in her projects. She just keeps thinking about what she wants to do to design the annual extravaganza.
The formal dining room, with its white fireplace, will be extensively decorated in gold and red. The sunroom off the formal dining room is already decorated with flair.
A large part of decorating for the party will be the embellishment of the banister and staircase. The heavy gold and red will be accented by some touches of green, to make the colors pop. On the main floor, Julia will have huge poinsettias and orchids.
“It’s taking shape in my mind,” she says.
The kitchen will be decorated in gold and red, with lots of red bows hanging from the large chandelier. The 15-foot ceiling provides the perfect venue for cascading gold and red and white in any manner Julia decides.
The whole house is open to people, except for the pool room, for safety’s sake. “But there’s no red wine in the bedrooms, due to a previous accident,” she says.
Julia wants the home’s entrance to be welcoming, radiating traditional Christmas, and in her and Roger’s style. Julia loves carolers, nutcrackers and an assortment of welcoming wreaths.
“It will be very traditional. The house is traditional; I’m very traditional,” she says.
“My husband helps tremendously,” she says. “He’s my best friend, my right hand in all of this. Without him, I couldn’t do it. He has sacrificed a lot for me.”
The house spoke to Julia when she was house-hunting.
“This house is lovely. When I first saw it, it was saying to me, ‘Buy me, buy me,’” Julia says. “She’s a beautiful old lady; it’s the most beautiful house in town,” she says.
The home has an energy of lightness and joy — a friendly spirit, so to speak. Julia says there are more. One of the spirits in the mansion is thought to be that of Olga Baumeister, who lived there years ago.
“Some of the ladies will see a sort of fog and then a strong smell of roses,” Julia says. “It’s not my perfume. I’m allergic to perfume.
“It was not in my plan, to buy a mansion. But I love it so much, sometimes I just dance in here for sheer pleasure,” she says. “I go into other houses, and there’s always something frightening about them. This one was not frightening at all.”
The party is planned quite a way in advance — and Julia has known for a long time what she’s going to wear.
“I’m going to be lovely in gold,” Julia says, but she isn’t saying more. Her favorite colors are yellow, gold and other warm colors. “Also, green is one of my favorite colors,” she says.
The party will have about 250 to 300 guests — the numbers are down from some previous years.
“We are slowing it down a bit this year. It gets out of hand. We need to breathe, this year,” Julia says.
The party may be a tad more mellow and reflective than years gone by, but it’s still opulent by most measures.
And it’s still a lot of work. Julia begins her ribbon selection in September. After the planning, the actual embellishing of the home begins. Julia starts decorating at the beginning of October.
“It takes me a month,” she says. “There is a group of ladies, the Ladies of the Mansion, who help me. They all bring something to eat, to help me. Without that, it becomes too expensive.”
Guest bring their own wine; those who don’t drink alcohol can bring the drink of their choice. There will be entertainment.
“Last year, Mary Derby sang opera beautifully. That is a tremendous gift. I dabble in flamenco, so I change into a flamenco dress made for me in Spain,” Julia says. In this way, she honors her Spanish heritage.
Julia lives in a state of enthusiasm and excitement about what her life has to offer.
What is she so happy about? “I’m alive!” she says. It’s important to be thankful for the obvious.