Washington Township grew out of Gloucester County's apple orchards and farm fields - yielding, like so many South Jersey communities, a bounty of subdivisions and shopping centers.
Is it the quaint little place that comes to mind when you hear the words holiday house tour? What if it isn't?
For more than two decades, the WedgWood Women's Club has proudly flung open the doors of this town's private residences for an annual Christmas tour. Its 21st edition takes place Monday, with about 2,000 visitors expected to stop at six dwellings decked out in fine seasonal style. (Also featured are the Gloucester County Community Church and the reconstructed Old Stone Village.)
"This has become a major event here, and it grows each year," says Susan Zeller, president of the women's club, formed in 1967 with about 17 members. "Today, there are over 100 active members, and the annual Christmas tour is one of our leading fund-raising projects. We're proud that the proceeds from the tour go towards scholarships for women returning to school."
Hosts for the 2008 tour were chosen almost a year ago. The holiday-decorating themes evolved from their particular interests and the styles of the homes. Here is a preview of four stops.
Elegant and formal. David and Rose Riggins Glica's Christmas decor clearly reflects Rose's career as an interior designer.
"I knew last year that this year's look would have an emphasis on fabric to make a statement," says Rose Glica, whose design firm, Inside Outlook, is located in Sewell (she uses the name Rose Riggins professionally). The couple's living room makes the case with an artful blend of textiles and textures.
Two 8-foot Christmas trees flank the fireplace, whose mantel is swathed with swags of ivory silk. Hanging crystals on the swags catch the light.
Christmas balls are stacked in tall vases and other vessels collected, Glica says, at specialty shops and discount stores. "If I like it, I buy it. Inexpensive accessories can be just as wonderful as pricey ones."
It helps to select a basic color scheme early in the holiday-decorating process, she says. Glica's is dominated by bronze, copper and gold, picked up in the throw pillows and stairway swags. (For these swags, she used leftover drapery fabric festooned with bows.) A corner desk with Bob Mackie-designed lamps is decorated with candlesticks in varying heights, for a kind of three-dimensional collage.
The dining room glows with the same copper, bronze and gold tones in the china, the table runner, and the fabric napkins. Containers of shiny gold and copper Christmas balls are striking centerpieces, and a mirrored breakfront holds Christmas angels and other ornaments.
The mood is one of splendid indulgence. "I love Christmas, and my theory is that the colors and the accessories make or break the look," Glica says. "I don't believe in rules at holiday time - I just go for wonderful things that make me feel joyful!"
Green, thrifty and crafty. At the house of Melanie and John Colfer, which sits high on a hill overlooking several acres of woodland, poinsettias outline the front door, exterior columns are wrapped in evergreens, and wreaths adorn every window. Even the windowsills of a step-down conversation area in the great room are bordered in greens and miniature Christmas ornaments.
Of the several Christmas trees on the sleek first floor, Melanie Colfer's favorite is the one dressed in the ornaments she kept from childhood, now fortified by "donations" from her own kids. Two gingerbread men crafted from plain brown grocery bags are lovely reminders of two of her four children's earnest kindergarten projects.
An artist at heart, Colfer also creates a yearly woodland area near the front hall, with branches, logs, pinecones and assorted berries. "Everything in this area is straight from nature," she says, "and that's what makes it special."
An inveterate discount and bargain shopper, Colfer found a giant bespectacled Father Christmas at a warehouse club. He greets visitors near yet another tree, this one more traditional and bedecked with angels and silver and gold balls.
John helped with the heavy lifting, while Melanie found the time to paint holiday-themed pictures (toy soldiers, Christmas trees) for the great room's walls, and to design two young carolers, dressed in Christmas finery, for the front door.
"I find that if you make it yourself and scout for bargains, decorating your home doesn't have to cost a fortune," she says.
"Last year, I went around and collected the artificial greens people had discarded." This year, those greens have become beautiful garlands around the walls of the Colfer home: "It's recycling of the most sensible sort."
Yuletide a la Walt. It's a Disney world at the home of Katrina and Anthony Elia. Even the shrubs painstakingly shaped into figures such as Mary Poppins and illuminated by rotating color washes don't prepare a visitor for the fantasyland inside the couple's 12-year-old Colonial.
"We discovered that we both loved Disney when we first met," says Katrina Elia. They honeymooned in Hawaii, but managed a side trip to Disneyland in California.
"That was better than Hawaii!" Anthony says.
These two chemists and their son, Anthony Jr., 16, live in a mini-version of the famous theme parks. And at Christmas, the fun expands exponentially.
There are trees with a talking Mickey Mouse, red and green Disney-themed fingertip towels, and Mickey Mouse silverware and Disney china on the table. Mickey and Minnie, Pooh and Tigger climb the poinsettia-laden stairs.
To add to the merriment at the Elia home, Washington Township High School's Tremolo String Quartet will be performing Christmas music during the tour's evening hours.
Winter wonderland. You can see the home of Cheryl and Mike Buono from a block away. Mike, a landscaper, has created a light show in the front and back yards that attracts hundreds of gapers every year - and presumably more because of this year's WedgWood holiday tour.
"When I was a kid, my father would take us to see a 'Christmas house' that was all lit up and seemed magical to me," he says. "So I decided that when I had a house and a family, I'd do that, too."
Displays of everything from Santa's helicopter landing to snowmen and storybook characters illuminate the night. A detailed creche (with the Three Wise Men) is also part of the remarkable tableau, which continues out back with inflatable holiday-themed characters and icons.
Inside, the Buonos display hundreds of ornaments - on shelves, in nooks and crannies, and hanging from the branches of several Christmas trees. Cheryl and Mike's favorite is the all-white tree with abundant Precious Moments ornaments collected over the years.
There are still Christmas miracles: Daughter Alexis, 11, knows better, but even little Zachary, 22 months, doesn't disturb a single element of the first-floor decor. He just looks in awe and wonder at the holiday world around him.
"And that's all the reward I need," says Buono. "That's Christmas for me!"
The WedgWood Women's Club's Christmas House Tour in Washington Township is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 on tour day (and sold at each home). They are available now at most local businesses in Washington Township, or by calling 856-227-5426.
Lunch, dinner and a dessert buffet are available at the Wedgwood Country Club, 200 Hurffville Rd., during daytime tour hours (not included in tour price).