/ by Allison Walsh / photography by Inspiro 8 Studios
For Jean Wilson Freeman it’s not the house that makes a home, but the people and things that fill it. And when it comes to things, more is more. “I like an old house. I like a house with some quirky charm,” she says. “But I could envision myself in almost any house because I know you can just bring in a bunch of stuff, and that’s my thing.”
Wilson Freeman is quite taken, however, with the home she and her husband, Will, share with their two children, Robert and Palmer, in their downtown neighborhood of Historic East Park. The prime location and friendly neighborhood have a lot to do with her affection for the home, as does the fact that it is a smaller scale ringer for the Dutch Colonial in Overbrook where she and her two sisters grew up. “My sisters call this house ‘the mini-me,’” she says.
Wilson Freeman’s penchant for “bringing in a bunch of stuff” informs her holiday aesthetic; she and her sisters grew up in the Christmas business, accompanying their parents to craft shows where they sold handmade painted wood ornaments.
“Christmas was a huge deal and we always had lavish Christmases,” Wilson Freeman says. “Things were just always better in December than they were the rest of the year.”
Her childhood home was very traditionally decorated for the holiday with an abundance of live greenery and red bows and she has built on this pedigree by weaving in her own love of all things whimsical. As a young Furman graduate teaching elementary art on Hilton Head Island, Wilson Freeman didn’t have much to spend on her first independent stab at Christmas. She turned to thrift stores to bedazzle her tree and it was there that her love for vintage decorations was sown.
“I got super into glass ornaments and shiny brights and all the little putz houses, all that,” she says. “The whole palette to me was just ‘let’s mix some pink and lime green and aqua blue in with the red and the green.’ I just like a lot of color.”
Wilson Freeman’s Christmas collection is large and ever-growing. She says she never uses all of it in the same year, but always takes care to don the chandeliers and add special moments to mantels and bookshelves, but it’s the window above her kitchen sink that becomes the epicenter of the season. Because she spends a great deal of time cooking (and washing holiday dishes), Wilson Freeman puts her most favorite doodads – bright, glittery cardboard houses and bottle brush trees, vintage snow globes and mugs stuffed with greenery – right at eye level.
“My favorite spot in my whole Christmas house is above my sink,” she says. “Whatever is my favorite thing in that moment is going to be there. I just jam pack that window.”
Live greenery is always in play, though more elaborately some years than others. At a minimum she will bring in live wreaths and stuff her collection of enamelware pitchers with cuttings. A live tree centered in the living room’s triple window is a non-negotiable annual staple, and the tree is where Wilson Freeman’s more-is-more ethos really shines.
“I prefer a real tree,” she says. “But I put so much in a tree you can’t tell at the end whether it’s real or not.”
Renovating a historic Dutch Colonial
The Freemans love the footprint of their home, that it allows light to flow abundantly through every room, and as an accomplished artist Jean Wilson Freeman has a keen eye for light and how it plays in a space. When it came time to renovate – after living as a family of four with a bath and a half for 12 years – light was one thing she was not willing to compromise.
“I didn’t want to add any depth because you can look through the house end-to-end and you can look through it front-to-back, and I love that about it,” she says.
The primary bedroom is upstairs and spans the depth of the house. Wilson Freeman likens it to a bowling alley and her original plan was to carve out a bathroom suite on one end, but an odd little space on the first floor marked the watershed in the scope of the renovation.
“I think it had been a screened porch and it just looked like a little shoebox that was on the end of our house,” she says. “It was structurally a disaster. There was very little parallel in the room.”
The Freemans consulted a number of professionals and the answer was always the same: the shoebox has to go. Mel Middleton with Tindall Architecture Workshop ultimately planned the renovation and T2 builders were contracted for the project. “Mel and I connected so quickly,” says Wilson Freeman. “She really listened to what we wanted.”
A wider foundation was laid to add a spacious bath to their bedroom upstairs (along with desperately needed storage) and paved the way for an equally necessary art studio below with a hallway that acts as a modern mudroom. Today, Wilson Freeman spends her days in her sun-drenched home studio, surrounded by views of her garden, churning out highly sought-after botanicals on paper to designers and galleries. Her work is available locally at Art & Light and at the seasonal Wilson Girls popups Freeman hosts with her sister, Cathleen Seay.
The finished renovation created just enough elbow room to accommodate the busy family’s lifestyle. “The house is almost 100 years old and though we didn’t add that much to it, it fixed everything that was wrong with the house, at least for us,” she says. “We simply needed a little more space for all the stuff that makes it our home.”