You might call Jimmie Henslee an imperfectionist. The interiors stylist has an affinity for what others deem flawed. “I love things that are tarnished and burnished and that show their age,” he says. “I don’t like anything that’s too pristine.”
This attitude pertains especially to his beloved and ever-changing Christmas décor. Henslee has been collecting ornaments and other holiday accessories since the early ’80s, when he would scour the shelves at the Salvation Army and Goodwill looking for the perfectly imperfect. “I would buy bags of ornaments,” he says. “I would dig through and find the older ones, the really good ones, and discard the rest.”
Nearly 30 years of Christmas collecting means Henslee’s Kessler Park home gets a new holiday look every year. When it’s time to decorate, he ventures out to the climate-controlled storage unit where his Christmas accessories spend most of their days tucked away in acid-free cardboard boxes. He rarely uses any one item in back-to-back years, and some things might even stay packed up for five or six seasons before they get their time to shine.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to Christmas trees, Henslee leans toward the Charlie Brown variety. “Every year I try to do a different tree,” he says. “Some years it’s a potted living tree. Some years it’s a cut tree. One year I took a Christmas tree and cut out every other row of branches so that it had more of an old world look. I don’t really like the way commercial Christmas trees are, where they’re all groomed and kind of pyramid or tripod-shaped. I really like them where they have a lot of space and they’re very irregular.”
There is one thing Henslee says is a constant on his holiday trees: a collection of glass Japanese pine cones from the ’30s and ’40s. “I love ornaments from that period. So much of it was still handmade.” He also speaks fondly of his collection of Christmas cards from the ’20s and ’30s. “There are so many great old notes written inside,” he says. “A lot of times Christmas was the one time where people would really sit down and write a note to their friends and family filling them in on what had been going on in their lives. I love that little element of nostalgia, getting a peek into these people’s lives. Sometimes they’re really poignant and sweet, and other times there will just be a little signature.”
That sense of family and sharing is part of the reason Henslee has so much holiday spirit. Growing up, Christmas was a big deal at his house, especially for his mother. So he and his sister LeAnn and his niece Zoe always make it a point to get together to celebrate and decorate. Whether it’s making cookies and cupcakes or crafting garland out of construction paper, LeAnn and Zoe play a big part in the yearly makeover of the Henslee house.
But as quickly as the decorations go up, it seems, it’s time to take them down. Henslee creates his Christmas wonderland about two weeks before the holiday and leaves it on display through Epiphany. Then, as is tradition as much as anything else, the pine cones and ornaments and lights go back to the storage unit, where they stay nestled in tissue paper, waiting for next year.