by Liza Roberts
photographs by Catherine Nguyen
Martha and Kevin Schneider love tradition. When they moved to Raleigh 12 years ago, the couple had to look hard to find a house that felt like home. But when they came upon a nearly 100-year-old brick colonial in Anderson Heights, it spoke to them immediately.
It’s not hard to see why the stately house reminded them of Connecticut. Set behind old stone walls on one of Raleigh’s prettiest and most charming roads, it has the substance and style of another century. And thanks to the Schneiders’ updates, it now also works for their modern family of five. They had an advantage on that front: Martha Schneider is an interior designer and owner of La Maison, a home furnishings boutique in North Hills. With her professional eye, she turned a seldom-used back porch into a spacious family room, transformed a sunny nook into everyone’s favorite spot for talking and reading, and filled the house’s ample, sunny rooms with a relaxed mixture of French antiques, a light palette, and objects that tell a story.
The house itself has its own tale to tell. It was built in 1918 by Dr. Hubert A. Royster, who was North Carolina’s first general surgeon (he practiced at Rex Hospital and St. Agnes Hospital for 38 years and for 42 years, respectively), and it served as a regular gathering place for fellow doctors.
Royster is remembered today for his pioneering role in the medical field, his generosity, and his community leadership. He was co-founder of the American Board of Surgery, president of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and a tireless volunteer at Dorothea Dix Hospital. Always, he was known as a man who fostered community and gathered people together in his home.
Today, the memories made in the same place by the Schneider family at Christmas are ones Martha Schneider is happy to share. “Every Christmas, we march like soliders” according to a fondly time-honored script, she says. The traditions were formed when their daughter Mia was born 21 years ago, and now include Kevin’s parents, who visit from Albany, Ga.
On Dec. 24, the extended family attends church, reads Christmas stories and passages from the Bible, and shares a light supper. After “Santa’s visit,” Kevin Schneider rings the sleigh bells that hang from the stairs’ newel post. “Kevin’s such a traditionalist,” Martha says of her husband, who works in mortgage insurance. “He rings the bells, and he’s off to bed.” He needs the rest: He’s on kitchen duty the next day. On Christmas morning, before Kevin gets to work, he lights a fire, serves up a Kringle pastry, and joins the family in exchanging presents. After a pause for brunch, Kevin cooks dinner. Roast beef, collard greens, salad with pomegranates, and caramel cake are favorites.
It’s a highlight of the family’s year, and one Martha begins preparing for as soon as Thanksgiving’s behind them. The family’s collections of crystal and blown glass ornaments come down from the attic and fill two trees; fresh garlands of pine, cotton, and magnolia cover bannisters, door frames, and mantles; and furniture is moved aside to make way for decorative objects gathered over many years that say “Christmas.”
Like the house itself, all of the Schneiders’ favorite things have a history. “Everything has a story to tell,” she says. “That’s really important to me.”