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Sailing in on Christmas Day

The ships have come in for a Moorestown couple who built a tradition of his love of boats, her love of angels.

Ellen and Brian Gagnon in their rec room which has nautical-themed decorations and a tree with boat ornaments. ( April Saul / Staff Photographer )
Ellen and Brian Gagnon in their rec room which has nautical-themed decorations and a tree with boat ornaments. ( April Saul / Staff Photographer )Read more

She was a landlubber, rooted on terra firma.

He was a sailing man, a lover of classic boats.

When Ellen and Brian Gagnon wed 10 years ago (remarriages for both), they began to create Christmas traditions in their elegant two-story, 1986-vintage Colonial in Moorestown.

And, inexorably, boats slipped into the picture-perfect holiday environment that Ellen, particularly, loves to arrange.

Which is how it came to pass that one room of their home has become Boating Central, complete with reminders of Brian Gagnon's passion for things nautical.

As a second-time-around president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, Brian, 65, is never far removed from the pastime he has enjoyed since his boyhood days living in Upstate New York on the St. Lawrence River.

"I grew up around boats, did a lot of fishing, and worked at a marina. So this has been with me for a long time," he explains.

The national organization to which he is devoted celebrates the heritage of boating, promoting the preservation and restoration of historic, antique, and classic boats.

And to prove their own loyalty to that heritage, Ellen and Brian even have a "boat tree" in their family room at Christmas, adorned from top to bottom with boat-themed ornaments and illuminated by blue lights.

Represented are canoes, runabouts, sailboats, cabin cruisers, even a pontoon. Instead of tinsel, actual "line" (rope) is looped around the tree.

"I managed to find some new ornaments this week," says Ellen Gagnon, 63, who has joined in her husband's nautical adventures. "I had to learn a whole new vocabulary, but I've managed. And I don't mind that boats have taken over some of our space at home."

Also making an appearance in the family room is evidence of the couple's second home, a cottage at Lake Hopatcong. A decorative life preserver emblazoned with the town's name and the couple's name is decked out with Christmas greenery.

Walls in the family room are adorned with Brian Gagnon's many awards for Best of Show in his favorite competitive category, "Classic," which covers the years between 1943 and 1975.

The owner of 10 such boats over the years, he is particularly fond of a Chris-Craft Runabout, a 1950 model of which is enshrined in a prominent case in the room, its mahogany gleaming.

A lampshade made of Chesapeake Bay nautical charts is another reminder that in this home, thoughts of the sea and sailing are never distant.

Brian's current boat, the Ventnor, vintage 1946, was acquired in Lancaster and needs the TLC he loves to deliver. He appreciates fine wood, as executive vice president of Global Industries, a national commercial furniture company with U.S. headquarters in Marlton.

In the formal living room, with its handsome leather Queen Anne-style sofa, love seat and chairs, stands an Angel Tree - testimony to Ellen's love of things beautiful and meaningful. It is bedecked with all manner of angels. They come from various countries and cultures, some of them executed in lacy, softly glowing finishes, others more substantial.

Ellen's Internet company,, is a source of many of the angel ornaments. An animated angel stands next to the tree, ready to move her little arms and head daintily.

Animation is one of the themes of the Gagnons' Christmas decor, which begins filling the home in early December.

A little Santa in the family room recites "The Night Before Christmas." A stuffed dog nearby, reminiscent of the couple's own cocker spaniel, sings "Winter Wonderland." And wreaths, snowmen, Santas sitting in a sleigh, and other Christmas emblems are everywhere.

"I adore Christmas and love to share it with our family," says Ellen. Even the earrings she wore recently were made of Christmas bells.

Most of the year, the Gagnons' home, and garage, also put the spotlight on Brian's other passions: four Corvettes, whose model years range from 1967 to 2004, and antique tube radios.

Some of the elderly radios - a reminder, perhaps, of his undergraduate engineering degree - live in glass-door barrister cases.

Others - including a radio concealed inside a small bronze horse that looks like an objet d'art - inhabit an upstairs guest room that's all florals and pinks.

But for now, it's yuletide that's center stage here.

By the entry door stands a Santa figure with a slate that counts off the days until Christmas.

Clearly, for the Gagnons, it can't come soon enough.


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