Laura Rombauer is the proprietress of Vintage Home in St. Helena– and one of the finest retailers in Northern California. Over the past decade, Laura has championed + taught so many of us the importance of re-inventing our own holiday tradition/ ritual + ceremony– on the table, on the tree, on the mantle, on the front door.
I have been dying to do an in-depth Q + A with Laura, to discuss all the things I never get to while in the shop… I was so thrilled to get her responses.
I have an eagle eye for quality and authenticity. I see the details in things that many people miss. This has been very helpful in my retail business but it drives my vendors and suppliers crazy! I cherry pick many of the lines I offer at the store; only bringing the best of the best.
I have always loved the Christmas holiday for as long as I can remember. I can credit my Mother for this. She was (and still is) a very creative woman and an incredible cook. Our holidays as a young person were always very tasty and my Mother made a point of having the house beautifully decorated. She taught me that the process and efforts leading up to Christmas day were the best parts of the holiday season. My parents always took great efforts in filling my stocking with all sorts of special, individually wrapped gifts. There was always a tangerine in the toe of the stocking which I would eat while I unwrapped all gifts in bed (I would get up at dawn, and everyone else would still be asleep!). I think there were walnuts in the shell tucked in the stocking and foil wrapped chocolate Santa’s, too.
I think I really got into Christmas after my daughter was born. For whatever reason, I have always had an eye for the German nutcrackers, smokers and candle pyramids. I think that the fact that they are all handmade and artfully assembled has attracted that keen eye of mine. Plus, the tradition behind all these Christmas items is so familiar to me. I wanted to share and collect all these holiday traditions with my daughter with the thought that some day she would in turn do the same with her family. Each year as we unpack all our family Christmas collections, it is such a delight! At the store, we always joke about my “inner frauleine” – although now at my age, “inner frau” would be more appropriate! I must have some latent German genes somewhere.
As far as home decor, I would always go to the San Francisco wholesale flower market. It was quite wonderful 20-25 years ago. I think it is a bit different now, but I am sure one can still get fabulous live greens, garlands, wreaths and potted narcissus.
Early on, when my family lived in on the Peninsula (Palo Alto, Los Altos), we would get a number of our ornaments at Cost Plus (of all places)! Way back then, the imported wooden ornaments were from Germany – not China as they are today. Our family moved to Lake Tahoe when I was 11. In Tahoe City, there used to be a store called “Gunde’s of Scandinavia”. This was a wonderful store at Christmas time with all sorts of European holiday items, including many from Germany. I think I have had eye for the German Christmas aesthetic since my childhood.
The German’s have a long history and tradition in woodworking. Most of the manufacturers have been making these pieces for multi-generations. Each company/artisan has a distinctive look. After a while, you can recognize the differences between the different carvers. All of the wood nutcrackers, smokers, pyramids and Christmas scenes I carry at NVVH are handmade and assembled. These pieces are meant to last for generations and to pass down from one family member to the next.
Napa Valley Vintage Home has been open for 10 years as of January 2013. Over the past 10 years, I really have developed a reputation for wonderful, traditional and high quality European Christmas ornaments and décor. We have many customers who add to their collection every year. NVVH has truly become a holiday destination. We close the store 3 days every year to set up and we always have people waiting at the door as we re-open.
NVVH’s best selling holiday items are our custom Napa Valley Christmas ornaments. I have designed a small collection of four Napa Valley/Wine related ornaments that included a holiday wreath, Champagne cork, grape cluster and a Champagne bottle. All of these ornaments are hand painted and made in Poland.
A Silver Tip Fir is my absolute favorite due to the spacing between the branches. This type of tree has a great architectural silhouette and plenty of space between the sturdy branches to hang your ornaments.
I prefer the classic red, green and white associated with most traditional glass and wood ornaments. I love a tree that has ornaments that have been collected over the years and generations. I have never cared for a “theme” tree.
I always like the clear mini lights for an indoor Christmas tree. This allows the ornaments to be the focal point and color. I do love the larger bulb type for exterior use; especially the multi-color – it evokes a vintage feel.
I alternate years between Magnolia and some sort Fir. Either way, I coordinate the mix in the wreaths to match.
Right now, I love the Spiritus Sancti by Cire Trudon. This fragrance reminds me of how Cathedral Notre Dame smells on a damp day. I also love the traditional Frasier Fir by The Thymes. I carry both candles at NVVH.
Champagne by Billecart, of course!