Tour a Midtown Home Decked for the Holidays

A historic two-story gem in midtown Mobile gets the lavish holiday treatment with stunning traditional decoration dreamed up by an owner with a flair for design, and she shares that festive creativity with clients and friends, too.

Julianne McBay stands in the doorway of her 146-year-old home. A cedar garland with red berries from Zimlich’s Patio and Garden makes a statement above the entryway. A wreath of the same materials hangs on her front door. Photos by Summer Ennis Ansley

She had to have it. When Julianne McBay spotted the white historic home with Greek Revival and Gothic style on Ann Street online in 2010, she fell in love. It was no surprise really, as Julianne has always had an affinity for white houses with black shutters and an American flag flying out front. The double porches also made her swoon. Inside the doors, her favorite features were the tall ceilings and six fireplaces. 

She and husband Ronnie made an offer, but they didn’t get the house of her dreams. Heartbroken, Julianne moved on to another home in the neighborhood. But then in 2012, the house went back on the market. “I walked by it every day and convinced Ronnie I would never ask for another house,” Julianne remembers. “I called the owner, Debra Kraus, in New York out of the blue. It was very inappropriate.” Julianne convinced Debra to take her offer, and she had fresh pine straw put down before the closing to spruce up the facade. She continued to walk by every day until it was hers.

“My Mama and Daddy have a plantation shutter business, Lewis Supply,” shares Julianne. “Daddy made the swing from shutters and used a maritime rope to hang it.” She brought a holiday look to the swing with plaid pillows. In the background you can spot the twin home next door to the McBays.

Julianne credits her mother, Becky Lewis, for embedding her with a deep appreciation for all things home and garden. “My mom is the quintessential Southern decorator,” says Julianne. “I’ve been looking at houses and talking about houses and loving houses since I was toddling.”

It all began with a fluffing of fresh pine straw, but then Julianne began filling the home with treasured antiques, vintage rugs and original pieces of art. She describes her style as traditional with modern art or “spicy preppy.” Her love of antiques and commitment to bring period appropriate pieces into the old home is now blended with unexpected art. She’s not afraid to add color and pattern to traditional, historic style. 

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A portrait of Molly Mac by Fay Bridges Hyatt hangs above the mantel in the dining room. The blue and white drapes are from Cotton Capers. Julianne found the secretary and ginger jars at Yellow House Antiques. The Imari plate between the jars is from Design House. Bennett Griffith helped Julianne style the vignette. The orchid centerpiece was created with plants from Zimlich’s Patio and Garden. Julianne scored the silver chandelier at an Atchison Home warehouse sale.

“I’ve collected antiques since I was 18,” says Julianne. “I bought the English chest when I was 19 or 20.” She worked extra jobs for her English antiques, art and rugs. Most are from Yellow House Antiques in Mobile or antiques stores near her hometown back in Georgia. 

She collects art from Gallery Orange in New Orleans and Amber Ivey here in Mobile. “My goal was to collect things to pass on to my kids Molly Mac, Emile and William,” says Julianne. “I hope they see these things and know I was collecting for them.”

While Julianne has an eye for decorating, she is never afraid to call on the professionals. She asked local designer Bennett Griffith to help pull together the look. 

Julianne found the tree on sale at Lowe’s. She adds garland to fill the holes and 1,600 lights to bring it to life. On the tree you will find decorations and ornaments she has purchased over the years and also all of her kids’ handmade decorations. “It’s definitely a history of our family,” she says. The silver bells and trees nestled at the bottom are from Zimlich’s Patio and Garden. A painting by Gigi Mills from Gallery Orange hangs above a chest on legs from Yellow House Antiques.

“Bennett helped me see new arrangements for my collections,” says Julianne. “I know what I like, but a set of fresh eyes is helpful.” She firmly believes in hiring someone you trust to help you realize and work towards your goals. “Bam Bam Lawncare helps me make my landscape what I imagined,” she adds. “The owners, Erika and Ben Martinez, are like family.”

Given Julianne’s penchant for decorating, it was inevitable that she would begin helping others. Sherry Melton and Molly Dickson at Zimlich’s Patio and Garden Center gave Julianne her first referrals for holiday decorating. “They are super talented and always help me throughout the season,” says Julianne, who buys most of her holiday decor from Zimlich’s. She confesses she has a “Christmas closet” filled with twigs and trimmings that make their way into floral arrangements year after year. 

The same cedar garland and berries used on the porch are continued up the McBays’ staircase. Traditional red and green complement her historic home. “I bought all the red berries at Zimlich’s Patio and Garden last year,” Julianne says, “and I was excited to use them throughout the house this season. I didn’t use lights because the berries alone did the trick.”

Julianne’s inspiration often bubbles up after she sees the home of her clients. After she gets a feel for the style, the ideas start flowing and she always begins with what excites her the most. “Once I start going, it has a life of its own! It’s very spontaneous,” she admits. “I never have a plan.”  

“This is a lifelong love affair with my family, home and decorating,” says Julianne. “My goal is to provide a warm, inviting home that reflects the people in it, their collections and family heirlooms.” It’s a formula that worked for her and now for friends and clients, too.

In keeping with the tradition of passing down a love for home decorating, Molly Mac (age 10) helped her mom choose Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore in high gloss for the kitchen cabinets. Julianne creates all of her own arrangements with plants from Zimlich’s Patio and Garden. The shade fabric is from Cotton Capers.
Julianne’s love of pattern and bold art doesn’t stop in the main living spaces. She combines traditional blue and white with a chinoiserie mirror and the leopard spots of Tanzania wallpaper by Thibaut. “Send in the Guards” by June Valentine Ruppe is an eye-catcher on the wall (and feels perhaps a touch Christmasy, too?).

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