Home For the Holidays

Written by Suzanne Conway
Photos by Steve Babin

The house sits on an acre of land in the picturesque Lake Forest subdivision. The property is a certified national waystation for monarchs. It boasts a swan-stocked lake that radiates at sunset. This magical backdrop makes a splendid spot for a wedding. And a wedding they had – or two to be exact (plus plenty of other events) in the three short years that they have owned the home. They have hosted many fundraisers to benefit the community. Some of the charities and nonprofits that they hold dear are the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Boys and Girls Club, Greengate School, Manna House, Downtown Rescue Mission and Habitat for Humanity.

While most people their age are downsizing, the Leo’s decided to do the opposite. They bought the home to become a destination for their entire family. They have children and grandchildren out of state and they wanted to create a serene respite for them to enjoy and rejuvenate from the hectic world. A place to be still, enjoy being together while taking in the incredible nature all around. It is this quietness that Nicole says is the defining character of the home.

Christmas tree

They are, piece by piece, making into a place that is uniquely their own. Their inspiration comes from their favorite travels, interests and personal sentiments. One of their favorite destinations is Italy.

After their last visit, they painted the exterior brick of the home with an Italian lime-wash. Their kitchen boasts a beautifully restored handmade 1963 Italian Donoratico rowing shell. A century-old grapevine adorns the living room.

Christmas is a special time for family and tradition at the Leo’s. Drawing guests in, the balustrade is festooned with greenery and twinkling lights, intertwined with glittering elements of the outdoors: berries, pinecones and poinsettias.

Just beyond the staircase, a glimpse of Nicole’s favorite tradition can be found: that of the Christmas tree. She explained, “It’s an ancient custom said to exalt the value of life, as in winter, what is evergreen becomes a sign of undying life, that reminds Christians of the tree of life in Genesis 2:9.”

The living room tree repeats the theme with a majestic poinsettia and magnolia topper, with layers of golden tones with brass instrument ornaments along with traditional mercury glass. A billowing drape of magnolia leaf garland adorns the mantle.

In preparation for a family Christmas, a tree in a sweet pink bedroom, covered in dazzling dream-like confections stands next to a dollhouse, between the twin beds just waiting for those special guests with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.


Nicole fondly recalls helping her mother with decorations during her childhood and with baking homemade cookies, candies, pies, and unique handmade gifts. Hot chocolate and Christmas caroling are cherished family memories for her as well. She learned a valuable lesson from her mother who taught her that the emphasis of Christmas should be on giving – and that even when you have nothing monetarily to give, you can still give your help. A perfect sentiment to remember this holiday season.

Christmas tree
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