Melodies & Memories

An Iowa couple strike a harmonizing chord of style during the season they love most.

Above Image | In the elegant dining room, a beaded chandelier and shiny nailheads that follow the shapely silhouettes of Lillian August dining chairs naturally enhance the Christmas sparkle. The table is bedecked in a collection of clear glass trees that form the centerpiece as well as metallic placemats and dinnerware, all from Juliska.

Music has always been a focal point in the life of Cindy Wells, so it's only natural that the Iowa home she shares with husband Alan is filled with an ambience that's just as much “hear” as it is “see,” especially at holiday time.

Before she was old enough to utter any decipherable words, Cindy was absorbing tunes played by her mother, who taught piano lessons in the family home for 49 years. While some holiday dreamers envision sugarplums when December arrives, Cindy's Christmas fantasy puts on a show of dancing musical notes.

“Music has always filled my home in one way or another,” Cindy says. “I grew up with a baby grand piano and an organ. I danced professionally from techniques of jazz to ballet. Some people bring special pieces of furniture from house to house. For us, the one element we move that transcends each location is music.”

Even though the sounds of song provide a mood of yuletide joy and merriment in their home, Cindy and Alan wanted to welcome guests with a visual treat too. They regularly host friends, family, travel partners, and church groups at the expansive house, situated on a wooded lot in a suburb just outside of Des Moines. The couple turned to Diane Young, who had worked with them on previous houses and had become a personal friend as well as their go-to designer. For this home, Young's objective was to create a neutral environment that was gracious and didn't interfere with the richness and depth of nature that initially drew the couple to the property.

“The peacefulness of neutral colors allows the interiors to complement the complexion of what's going on outside, whether its current state is the white of snow, the fiery colors that autumn lends, or the rich, luscious greens of summer,” Young says.

For the neutral base for her palette, Young chose a warm, taupey gray inspired by a finish that she and Cindy discovered on a piece of furniture during a buying trip. Knowing the home would be filled with cabinetry—not just in the kitchen but elsewhere too—the designer and homeowner opted to apply the finish everywhere, maintaining consistency in the open floor plan.

Come Christmas, the quiet and versatile color scheme proves an ideal backdrop for seasonal greens, trees, and, of course, a spirited burst of holiday red. Lighted white trees sit atop the imposing carved fireplace mantel while swags of silver garlands hang just below. Although not holiday specific, a curved white linen sofa embellished with dressmaker details that include French piping, buttons, and box pleats might bring to mind the frills on a formal Christmas party gown. The sofa takes its place in one of the two conversation areas next to a Steinway grand piano, where Cindy is happy to play favorite holiday tunes for her family and friends.

Despite its primarily gray palette, the house isn't devoid of color. But the designer applied it judiciously. “Using color is all about intensity,” Young says. In the dining room, where a pair of sepia-colored panels depicting scenes of Italy dominate a wall, Young chose pale aqua to trumpet Christmas on the table's centerpiece and on ornaments that hang from a flocked tree. At the other end of the house, the sunroom sports purple accents year-round, but in a restrained fashion. Ornaments and wreaths enhance the decor at holiday time.

Cindy and Alan originally hail from Illinois, but have called Iowa home for nearly 25 years. They reached out to the third Midwest “I” state—Indiana—for one key element that added historic charm. Old beams pulled from a barn in Indiana now outline the vaulted beadboard ceilings in the adjoining kitchen and family room. For Christmas, the beams as well as a circular iron lighting fixture that illuminates the family room are lined with garlands of pine sprigs.

With a fresh and current design in place and decorations that fit it perfectly, it's hard to imagine that the Wellses would ever want to change any of it. Even if they do, an important constant will always remain—Cindy's music.

“Music is the universal language, and it binds people,” says Cindy. “The tempo, arrangement, and lyrics draw emotion, and at Christmas, that emotion is joy. There's nothing that brings the season to me more.”

Interior designer: Diane Young