Candles light every window of Sarah Jane and Wayne Fusinatti's three-story Victorian with gingerbread trim in Bridgeton, N.J. Ornamental fruit and pine branches drape the transom above the door. Foil gift boxes tied with silver ribbons fill a wicker chair on the porch.
Inside, the mantels are festooned with greenery, and a platoon of colorful nutcrackers stands sentry on the staircase.
Twelve Christmas trees are decorated to match the rooms they adorn. Angels, silver stars, lacy hearts, and garlands of pearly beads for the tree in the formal parlor. A tree with miniature gift boxes and green-and-white checked ribbons to match the gingham-upholstered sofa and chairs in the family room.
Cranberry garlands and apples for the tree on the veranda, with a red-and-white gingham bow on top that matches tablecloths on a row of café tables. Nosegays of violets for a small tree in a guest bedroom with violet-strewn wallpaper.
Actually, Sarah Jane says, "there are 13 trees, if you count the one in the garden shed." She has decorated that tree with garden implements and lights that can be seen from the house.
Very Merry Christmas-ready, as befits a house that has been a stop on the annual early-December Bridgeton Holiday House Tour since 1987, three years after Sarah Jane and Wayne bought it.
The Victorian, built in 1858, had been vacant for several years when the Fusinattis purchased it.
Though not its first owners, the family of the Rev. Leonidas E. Coyle, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, occupied the house for most of its history. After Coyle, his wife, and eight children moved to Connecticut, they continued to summer in the New Jersey house and enjoyed the nearby lake.
When the last of the Coyle children died in 1972, the house was sold. A succession of owners allowed its condition to deteriorate.
Sarah Jane, who was a church secretary for more than 20 years, saw the old house as an outlet for her creativity.
"I'm a frustrated interior decorator," she says. "I did the painting and the wallpapering and made the curtains. Wayne did everything else."
Fortunately, her husband is an experienced renovator - he operated Wayne Fusinatti Home Improvements for many years. The couple, who have been married for 36 years, furnished the house with antiques from Lancaster County markets.
The first year the house was on the Bridgeton holiday tour, Wayne recalls, much work still needed to be done, and plastic sheeting covered drafty windows.
"People came back year after year to see the progress we made," he says.
For a new heating system, Wayne scavenged salvage yards for radiators appropriate to the period. He installed a first-floor powder room and converted a bedroom into a bathroom on the second floor. The claw-foot tub in the remodeled original bathroom came from his family's farm in Vineland, N.J.
By the time the Fusinattis bought the house, only a sink and a boarded-up fireplace were left of the kitchen Coyle had added. Wayne installed a Country Charm Co. wrought-iron stove and oven. They look antique but function like modern electric appliances. A dishwasher hides in a cabinet he crafted.
In the dining room, Sarah Jane sets the table with 10 plates in different patterns. The rose-pattern china on built-in shelves matches the wallpaper.
The couple dine and entertain informally in the glass-enclosed veranda Wayne built several years ago. The room looks out onto a pond he and a friend dug and a patio fashioned from foundations of an icehouse.
Before refrigeration, ice blocks were chopped out and hauled from the lake in winter. The Coyle children skated on the frozen lake and left behind two pairs of wooden skates, which are now displayed on pegs.
The Fusinattis have other Coyle family memorabilia, including a photo of the eight children taken from a lantern slide a local shop owner acquired.
Sarah Jane's seven grandchildren love her Christmas wonderland. No doubt, if the Coyle children could return, they too would love the resplendent old house.