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Three dolled-up homes invite all to admire

"I've always loved Christ-mas," says one host. And it's evident.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published November 30, 2007



Lynne Despain starts decorating her family home for Christmas when most people are still buying Halloween candy.

It's a particular joy, she says, to fill the rooms with trees and angels, Santas and nutcrackers, nativity scenes and twinkling garlands of evergreen, especially when she gets to share it with people she loves.

This year, the big two-story house where Despain and her husband, Allen, have lived for 20 years is so decked out for the holidays, it's like stepping into the famous Walnut Room at Macy's in Chicago.

"I've always loved Christmas," says Lynne, who power shops at the after-Christmas sales to find many decorations, including a tree in the master bedroom that seems to drip shimmering crystal beads, like a New Year's Eve ball gown.

Next week, the Despains will open their home to the public for the 15th annual Brandon Service League Home Tour. The tour, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 8, features three homes, each custom decorated for the holidays. Proceeds go to the league's community charitable projects.

The event has become so popular in recent years that the organization is limiting the number of tickets this year to 800.

Plenty are still available, said tour chairwoman Candy Jackson. She met Lynne through First Baptist Church of Brandon and first saw her unique Christmas decorating last year. The Despains were in the middle of a renovation and unable to participate in the 2006 tour, but Jackson approached them again this fall.

Lynne was nonplussed about the idea of hundreds of visitors and volunteers traipsing through her house and lingering over cider and homemade cookies on her porch - which, by the way, will glow with white lights and outdoor displays, courtesy of Allen, who always decorates the outside of the house.

"Oh, it's just stuff, not anything valuable. The most important thing to me is my family," Lynne explained as she gave a visitor a tour of the house before Thanksgiving.

Lynne, who grew up in Titusville her father was an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center, is Southern, hospitable and friendly in a genuine, Reba McEntire kind of way. She credits friends who helped decorate, including Roma Starkey, a well-known professional organizer who created the year-round shelving display of miniature Pullman trains that once belonged to Lynne's grandfather.

The piece de resistance is the leviathan family tree that sits smack in the middle of the den dripping with heirloom ornaments and candy canes.

But even better are the smaller, more detailed trees, including one decorated in tiny cooking utensils that hangs upside down over the kitchen table.

"If you can't find the miniature ornaments, you can just use small things you have around the kitchen," explains Lynne, who, in addition to miniature whisks and flour sifters she bought online, used her own kitchen stuff, including sponges she cut in the shape of stars.

In a downstairs powder room, she designed another upside- down tree - this one a wall tree - and covered it with exquisite antique brooches, many of which belonged to her mother.

A tree in her office upstairs (she's retired from a professional desktop publishing career) sports a cache of Noah's Ark ornaments she has collected over the years.

She's also a whiz with stuff that otherwise might go unnoticed: She framed about two dozen family Santa pictures in individual bright red frames she bought at a dollar store.

"I tell everyone in the family that all I want is a new Santa picture of them each year," she says.

She ties soft holiday bows around her sofa pillows and creates tableaus using everyday things, like a silver tea tray heaped with silver ornaments.

Trees fill nearly every room of the house and spotlight a range of themes, including color-coordinated, highly decorative trees like those Lynne has admired in department stores over the years.

The decorations are interspersed among family heirlooms, including a carved 1800s organ and a doll-sized wooden chair that belonged to Lynne as a little girl.

The tour's popularity may have something to do with the quality of decorating that goes into the houses selected.

"I think the tour gives people ideas about how to decorate for the holidays. It also helps them get in the mood for Christmas," Jackson says.

"We have three generations of visitors coming on the tour: Mothers who brought their daughters; now those daughters are bringing their daughters."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at



Brandon Service League Home Tour

The tour includes three homes, each decorated for the holidays.

When:10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 8.

For information: Call Candy Jackson at 624-3453.

Tickets are limited, cost $12 and are available through league members or at the Green Boutique, 1032 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico; Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, 2080 Badlands Drive, Brandon; David Andrew Hair Studio & Spa, 725 Lithia-Pinecrest Road, Brandon; the Law Offices of B. Lee Elam, 101 E Lumsden Road, Brandon; and South Shore Group Real Estate, 16637 Fish Hawk Blvd., Suite 103, Lithia.


[Last modified November 29, 2007, 07:53:10]

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