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Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Nutcrackers galore and more at this home for the holidays

By Rebecca Teagarden
Pacific NW staff writer

IT'S LIKE the Million Nutcracker March over at Sally Paxton's house in Bellevue.

OK, maybe not a million, but not far from it, either. The little guys are on the napkins, the tablecloth, the dinner plates, on serving platters, glasses and napkin holders, too. Under trees and on trees, outside the front door, inside the front door. Even on the soap dispenser. It's like a mustache-and-top-hat festival.

They're nearly everywhere. But in the few places they are not, you will find forests, forests I tell you, of Murano glass trees. A multicolored assortment is packed onto the big glass coffee table in the living room. The orange ones line a window sill in the family room. Blue in the office. Gold across the piano. Red in the dining room. Paxton guesses she's got 160 in all.

"It's become more and more over the years," she says of the whole deal. "My mother used to do it, but to a different degree, and now she and my sister in Long Beach both do it. So over Thanksgiving I was there decorating her tree."

At her own home, which she shares with two very good sports, husband Ray and 16-year-old son Cole, Paxton begins wrapping gifts in early November — something she loves to do. It is her art, and there is an entire room upstairs devoted to it: ends tucked neatly, bows just so, special touches on each. All of Cole's Santa pictures hang from the walls. He is smiling in each one.

By the second week of November, Paxton removes the regular décor. Then it's time to haul out the 40 or so bins of Christmas and call in her "elf," Julie, the neighbor.

Then Paxton and Julie, who says her house looks nothing like this during the holidays, really go at it.

"I see maybe it's an obsession or an addiction, but it's healthier than drinking," she says, being wry.

On the gee-whiz tour of her home, Paxton says "oh yeah, um-huh" with each discovery. She knows. But the woman truly has a knack for decorating. Friends commission wreaths, tell her she should go pro. She has.

It's not just about nutcrackers here. Themes change. "I love snowmen," Paxton says. "It was before Cole was born, I wanted to do a snowman tree."

And it just sort of, ah-hem, snowballed from there. Gingerbread, dots and stripes, more. Paxton uses Shutterfly online to create a book for each of her Christmas masterworks.

"I like to think it's excessive but tasteful, rather than, 'Let's throw up everything we've ever owned,' " she says. And, true enough, there are blank spaces to be found in the 4,200-square-foot home.

She stops at the dining-room table set for an afternoon tea. It is a prairie of nutcrackers.

"Table setting is my very favorite thing," Paxton says. "I'm passionate about dishes. The Christmas dishes are just the tip of the iceberg."

There are snowmen, Santas, gingerbread, peppermint candy, nutcrackers (previously mentioned) and the Spode Christmas trees (but she has no tree theme, and these are not often used).

"I have about 25 sets of dishes. I try not to count."

Lately, Paxton keeps her holiday themes on a two-year rotation. It's easier that way. "You learn. You get into a groove," she says.

Paxton trots down to the garage to show off a new find from Molbak's. A white tree with red and white balls for the trunk. Perfect for a black and white, red accents, theme.

Next year.

Rebecca Teagarden writes about design and architecture for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.


BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
On the doors to the master suite are wreaths decorated in shopping bags for her, coffee for him. Friends loved Sally Paxton's wreaths so much she went into business.




BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Small forests of Murano glass trees are spread throughout the home. A multicolored assortment sits packed tight on the big glass coffee table in the living room. Paxton figures she's got about 160 in all.




BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A 5-foot-tall giant nutcracker stands at attention in the entrance of the Paxton home. Sally Paxton's mother bought it at an after-Christmas sale at Nordstrom years ago, and each year she receives a new nutcracker from her husband and son on her birthday, Dec. 9.




BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A mounted nutcracker rocks out in the family room. Above him on the window sill are more Murano glass trees, these in shades of green.




BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
"Table setting is my very favorite thing," Paxton says. "I'm passionate about dishes. The Christmas dishes are just the tip of the iceberg." She has about 25 sets of dishes. She also has sets of snowmen, Santas, gingerbread, peppermint candy, Swedish, nutcrackers, used here, and the Spode Christmas trees.




BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Generally, Paxton keeps her holiday themes on a two-year rotation. "It's easier that way. You learn. You get into a groove," she says. "My favorite is whatever I'm doing this year. I'm kinda finicky. I think how can it ever be better than this? And then, it is!"




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