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Touring the holidays

For nearly two decades, the St. Francis High School Women"s Club in Mountain View has offered a wonderful holiday gift — "Christmas at Our House," a seasonal home tour that offers the chance to see how others decorate their homes for the holidays.

This year"s event, scheduled Thursday through Saturday, features three Old World-style homes in Los Altos" Woodland Acres, a verdant neighborhood that seems worlds away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Foothill Expressway. Several hundred ornamental trees, planted nearly 80 years ago by Edward Hohfeld, tower over the area and form canopies over some of the streets.

The tour homes — a castle on a hill, a Tuscan villa and a European country manor — are well suited to their surroundings and are resplendent with holiday trappings.

Festivities begin at 5 p.m. Thursday with a twilight tour and preview party. On Friday and Saturday, the homes will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The popular Christmas Gift Shoppe will be located in a tent on the St. Francis campus. It will offer gifts from local craftspeople as well as from around the world. Returning for the second year, "The Winter Garden" boasts a collection of live wreaths, topiaries, winter bulbs and garden accessories.

"Our goal is twofold," said Charlene Raisch, home tour chairwoman. "We want our guests to enjoy a lovely day of shopping, lunch and touring beautiful homes, and we want to help St. Francis High School realize its dream to have a fine performing arts center for our students."

Tour-goers can glean ideas galore. Vying for attention are the holiday decorations, furnishings, architecture and artwork. A preview of the homes follows.

Castle on a Hill

Jane Carter had a two-page wish list when she and husband Jim decided to build their dream house atop a sunny knoll. On the list were items such as a turret, a curving staircase, a master suite and children"s bedrooms upstairs ("for more of a family feeling"), a butler"s pantry and an open kitchen/living area so the family could be together while enjoying separate activities.

Her wishes came true in the form of a castlelike home that sits above the chaos of daily life with views over the treetops and across the valley. And, yes, it has a rough-hewn stone turret and a curving staircase.

Jane, who owns Dance Academy USA in Cupertino, and Jim, a realtor with Intero Real Estate Services, discovered the property in the mid-1990s and began a long relationship with the owner, who, after seven years, finally agreed to sell.

The Carters and their girls — Jessie, 17, a senior at St. Francis; Jamie, 14; and Jodie, 12 — moved into the three-bedroom ranch house on the property, where they lived for two years while they got "the feel of the land."

Jane began her list, and the Carters started to work closely with Ron and Darryl Harris of RH Associates Architects and Kramer Construction.

During the year the house was under construction, the family lived in Sunnyvale with Jane"s mother, who now occupies a cottage designed especially for her on the property.

This will be their first Christmas in the "castle," and Jane will unpack her collections of Santas and nutcrackers. Katherine Phelps of Staprans Design in Portola Valley, who is lending her expertise, is planning a gold and bronze color scheme. She promises some "cutting-edge" ideas along with traditional decor.

The large dining room, with its granite fireplace and warm cinnamon walls of hand-finished Venetian plaster, will be the showcase for a tour tradition: a "Twelfth Night" holiday table setting. This year Tiffany & Co. will create and donate the service for eight featured in the drawing at the end of the tour. Their stylists are staging a Christmas at Tiffany"s scene that includes china, flatware and crystal.

In the living room, off the entry foyer, is a step-up alcove where a grand piano sits beneath a crystal chandelier. Tall, vertical windows topped with gold balloon draperies frame this scene inside the stone turret.

Jim"s nearby office has French doors that open to a private patio. The custom desk and cherry cabinetry were created by St. Francis parent and master cabinetmaker Rick Rabello.

The heart of the house is the spacious living area. Rustic plank flooring of hand-distressed hickory gives it an Old World feel. On one side, a wraparound sofa faces a rough-hewn stone fireplace and flat-screen TV. As you turn toward the kitchen on the other side, a curving wall of windows frames the view of patio, gardens and pool. On the right is a curving rock wall with a stained-glass inset, the image of a heritage oak just outside. A curving desk is set into the wall.

The kitchen is made for entertaining. Consider a Viking professional range, three dishwashers (one standard-sized and two Fisher & Paykel pull-out drawers) and a butler"s pantry with convenient warming drawers and a wine refrigerator.

The center island is huge — roughly 10-by-4.5 feet — and is topped with honed Lapidus granite. Glazed antique-white cabinetry, also created by Rabello, with Nordic Black Antique granite countertop surfaces surrounds the room.

Above the arched doorway to the butler"s pantry, Jane stenciled the words, "In Everything Give Thanks," a constant benediction.

Tuscan Villa

Surrounded by a canopy of trees, the home of pediatrician Laurie Rubenstein and her husband, Hector Medina, an obstetrician gynecologist with Camino Medical Group, welcomes you with Tuscan charm — corbeled roofline, wrought-iron balcony, loggia and even an Italian wood-burning pizza oven in the outdoor kitchen.

The loggia, sheltered from the elements by a vaulted tile roof and warmed by a fireplace, will be the setting for the "Christmas at Our House" tea. Tour-goers will be served complimentary tea — homemade baked goods, eggnog, hot cider, coffee and teas — Friday and Saturday, while they enjoy informal modeling of fashions from Stuart"s Apparel, Nellie K of Los Altos.

The Medinas, Palo Alto residents at the time, had been looking for a new home. In the meantime, builder Jim Netzel had designed and built a 4,100-square-foot house for himself and his family, but plans changed and he decided to put the house on the market. Just before the open house, in walked Laurie — it was love at first sight. She summoned Hector, the chef in the family, and when he saw the kitchen, "That was it," he said.

A professional Wolf range is surrounded by tumbled marble tiles and carved woodwork. The pale, travertine floors contrast with the deep wood stain of the custom alder cabinets and the warm, golden glow of the granite countertops. The center island has its own sink and is perfect for entertaining.

The elegant dining room makes an intimate setting for formal dinner parties, yet during the holidays the dining room table can expand into the foyer for large gatherings.

Warm yellow walls enliven the two-story foyer. The curving staircase that leads upstairs to the master suite (complete with fireplace and "Eva Peron" balcony) is noteworthy because of its steps, first concave and then convex, to make climbing easier.

Just off the family room is the music room, where a baby grand piano stands ready. The Medinas are a musical family. Older daughter, Ariana, a decorator who lives in San Francisco, plays the piano and was involved in music at New York University. Hector plays piano, and younger daughter, Alexis, a senior at Palo Alto High School, plays the violin, as does Laurie.

For the tour, Christmas decorations will be provided by event planner Lea McIntosh and floral designer David Wales. Hector envisions a Dickensian theme, with garlands and wreaths, but Laurie is adding a menorah. "We"re a hybrid family," she said.

European Country Manor

The graceful, curving roofline, arched windows and curling ironwork window boxes give this home a storybook charm that appealed to St. Francis alumni Christina Papoulias Barton and husband Tom Barton. But, as in the case of the Medinas, it was the kitchen that sold them.

It has double islands. One encloses the cooking and prep areas, putting sink, professional Viking range and tools within easy reach of the chef in the family (Tom). The other serves as a breakfast bar and entertainment center with wine cooler and ample storage. It is here the Bartons" daughters — Sophia, 10, and Alexandra, 12 — spread out their homework after school.

Matthew Harrigan of TimeLine Designs built the house in 2005. The Bartons, who were living in a three-bedroom house in Mountain View, were in the process of designing a custom home for themselves when they came to an open house here to get ideas for their kitchen layout. They fell in love with the house and bought it on the spot.

After moving in, decorating the home from scratch has been a family project, with Christina"s father, George Papoulias, doing the landscaping.

In the cozy living room, a buttery-yellow sofa keeps company with a pair of chairs upholstered in a rose and floral stripe. The sage-green rug was custom designed by Stephen Miller Gallery in Menlo Park. Above the arched doorway leading to the dining room is a hand-painted scene by Donna Pierre that depicts Elafonisos, a tiny Greek island that was the birthplace of Christina"s father.

Pierre also painted the ceiling decoration in the dining room, which echoes the pattern in the rose-and-sage rug. Christina fell in love with the rug and designed the room around it. The antique dining room table and buffet were a gift from the owner of her first home.

Floor-to-ceiling French doors and windows in the kitchen and living area frame the view of the garden, with its roses, fountain, expansive lawn and redwoods.

When it comes to Christmas decorations, Christina goes all out, but "not every surface is covered," she said. Garlands with golden pomegranates will adorn the iron balustrade of the curving staircase. The house, trees and fence will be outlined with tiny white lights, giving it a "gingerbread cottage effect."

There will be a small Christmas tree in the dining room and a larger tree in the family room.

And for the house tour, the patio will be the setting for "Santa"s Workshop," which features a variety of gift baskets for every age and interest.

If you go

For reservations and taped information, call 968-1213, ext. 701, or visit https://womensclub.sfhs.com.

Ticket prices: Preview party and twilight tour, $100; day tour including tea, $40 in advance, $50 at the door; Twelfth Night Table Setting Raffle, $25 donation or 5 for $100; Santa"s Drawing Room, $5 per donation ticket, 5 for $10, 12 for $20.

Box lunches at $20 will be available by advance reservation only.

St. Francis High School is located at 1885 Miramonte Ave., Mountain View.

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