Debbie Arrington

Find offbeat decor on El Dorado Hills’ annual holiday tour

Dogs are part of the decor in the form of figurines, photographs and even tree ornaments. The house also hosts 12-year-old Ben, a one-toothed Chihuahua.
Dogs are part of the decor in the form of figurines, photographs and even tree ornaments. The house also hosts 12-year-old Ben, a one-toothed Chihuahua. rbenton@sacbee.com

When decorating for the holidays, anyone can pile on the Santas and elves. Debbie Lundien goes for dogs and frogs.

Decked out in Christmas splendor, canines and amphibians hop out from almost every corner of her Serrano home, part of an eye-popping menagerie designed to amaze. Hundreds of visitors this weekend will see for themselves during the seventh annual Homes for the Holidays tour.

Seven elaborately decorated homes in the El Dorado Hills area will be open during the popular tour, a major fundraiser for the children’s charities of the Assistance League of Sierra Foothills. Almost 1,500 patrons took the tour last year.

Besides the spectacular homes, the event also is known for its holiday raffle, featuring such prizes as 100 bottles of locally produced wine, seven days at a condo in Kona, Hawaii, and 10 designer-decorated Christmas trees, with ornaments and all. This season, the league will host its first free boutique at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church.

With its cheery color scheme, Lundien’s home looks almost ready for Christmas year-round.

“Red and green are my favorite colors,” she said. “I’ve always done these colors in the family room and kitchen of every home.”

Those vibrant plaids and hand-painted furniture are just the starting point for the real holiday decorating.

“It’s a lot of fun – but a lot of work,” said Lundien, whose previous Serrano home was on the 2011 holiday tour. “I started decorating the second week of September. I did everything myself. I just get ideas.”

While in transition from one house to another, her ornaments stayed in storage during recent holiday seasons. The tour this year gave Lundien a chance to pull everything out and play with some of her favorite things.

“Because of our move, I haven’t decorated for two years,” she said. “I had a lot of pent-up energy and ideas.”

During a preview, tour organizers were amazed by Lundien’s creative displays.

“It’s so magical, like a holiday wonderland,” said Barbara Brown, a member of the tour committee.

Lundien found her love of decorating after many years working in the tech industry. She met her husband, Dennis, at Intel; both had successful careers in the Bay Area.

Craving something totally different, Debbie Lundien opened a lingerie boutique with a friend (“That’s back when bustiers were big,” she said), then got into interior design.

After Dennis retired from E-Trade, the couple moved to Serrano in El Dorado Hills to live closer to family and grandkids.

“My 8- and 10-year-old grandchildren will be elves and hand out candy during the tour,” Debbie Lundien said.

Her large assortment of Swarovski crystal animals sparkles on several table tops. Handmade glass “Bobtanicals,” fantasy flowers created by Fresno artists Bob and Laurie Kliss, bloom on a coffee table. Four grandfather clocks stand out; each has its own room.

Her frogs come out at Christmas. There’s a “Mistle Toad” in the kitchen and “Queen Frog” in the dining room. Several princely frogs await Christmas kisses.

Also vying for attention are a life-size piglet on the kitchen counter and a flirtatious reindeer in a corset atop a glass case.

But the dogs really rule. Snapshots of generations of family pooches are perched in cupboards, hutches and bookshelves. There’s also one real-life dog, 12-year-old Ben, the one-toothed Chihuahua. (Don’t worry, he won’t bite.)

Greeting visitors in the front hall is a tree decorated with dog-themed ornaments including dozens of hand-painted portraits and puppy photos, from pugs to Pomeranians.

“These are all our dogs, past and present,” Lundien said. “Bulldogs are my favorite breed. Our French bulldog died last year. Right now, it’s just Ben.”

The couple had as many as 10 pugs at one time, she said. “We had the mom and dad, and they had eight puppies.”

Ben won’t be an only dog much longer. She’s expecting a family addition – yes, another French bulldog – in the new year.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Homes for the Holiday tour

Where: Seven decorated homes in El Dorado Hills. Start at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 1001 Olson Lane, El Dorado Hills

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4

Admission: $25 adults; $10 children ages 12 and younger

Tickets and details: www.sierrafoothills.assistanceleague.org

Also: Tickets also available at Pottery World, El Dorado Hills. A free holiday boutique will be open at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church both tour days.

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