A Christmas tree and wreaths make this Spanish Colonial home in Kentfield festive for the annual St. John s Tour de Noel. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                When LaRae Quy opened all the doors on the main floor of her newly purchased home in Kentfield a few months ago, she was startled to see a hidden one in the foyer suddenly pop open in a gust of wind.

It didn't scare the former FBI agent; it just made her curious. "I'm doing research on it," she laughed. "For now, we just joke that it's where contractors who don't come in on budget go."

The concealed door is just one of the architectural elements that Quy, head of OnQCommunications in Mill Valley and her English-born husband, Roger, a venture capitalist, appreciate about their 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival home.

It will be one of four homes featured on the 29th "Tour de Noel," the annual tour of holiday-decorated homes in Ross and                                                                                                                                                                                        

The annual Tour de Noel features this Christmas-decorated Spanish Colonial home in Kentfield. Designer Veronika Mikhalash fluffs a pillow on a chaise lounge in the living room. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
Kentfield sponsored by St. John's Episcopal Church Saturday, Dec. 8. Other houses included a traditional-style home, a house in the Santa Barbara manner and a historic 26-room Queen Anne Victorian known as the J.K. Armsby House.

"What attracted to me to our new house were the beautiful arched windows and the faithfulness of the details," Quy said. "A lot of times you'll see a home that's Spanish on the outside but when you walk in, it's been remodeled or updated so much that the look isn't

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                                                                                                                        consistent, but here everything's been preserved everywhere you look."

The 6,500-square-foot, three-story white stucco home was inspired by the dramatic, and often theatrical, work of Southern California architect Wallace Neff who designed elaborate estates for Hollywood's A-list such as Darryl Zanuck, Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert.

Although the home's original architect may be lost to memory, the house was gently remodeled and expanded 10 years ago by architect Bill Wallace who traveled

Garland drapes the main entrance of the Kentfield home. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
to Los Angeles to study the remaining Neff homes. His remodel respected the architecture and today, much of the original house remains intact, including the front entrance door and floor tile, living, dining and guest bedrooms, wood-beamed ceilings, staircase and railings and balcony.

A sweeping staircase ascends to the second story entrance and the common rooms, with ample space and views framed by arched windows.

Private quarters are on the top floor, and an office, media room and wine                                                                                                                                                                                

Green, red and glitter beckon in the dining room. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
                                                                                                                        cellar are on the lower level.

Quy said she was also drawn to the romantic exterior loggia with its bougainvillea-draped columns and views of Mount Tam and the Ross Valley. They remind her of being in Italy. The same Spanish floor tiles found in the kitchen extend past the loggia, through two sets of French doors into the Brandon Tyson-designed garden, a pool terrace and outdoor kitchen. A one-bedroom guesthouse is set in its own private setting on a lower hillside.

The Quys left their                                                                                                                                                                                

Homeowner LaRae Quy (left) with designer Veronika Mikhalash in the living room. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
English cottage-style home on Strawberry Point six months ago for the warmer climate of Ross. "I knew this house would have a totally different feel than our last one," she said. "I wanted to honor the bones of the house and let it tell us what we would do."

She interviewed several designers to help select appropriate furnishings, fabrics and accessories.

One of the first questions she posed to the designers was how they each felt about color. "I wanted someone who wasn't afraid of color. There was only color I didn't want - beige."

She decided on Jessica Hall and Veronika Mikhalash of Jessica Hall Associates in Larkpsur.

"The house is beautiful and traditional in the best sense of the word," said Hall. "Nothing is fake. The bottom line is that it wasn't built 10 years ago trying to be traditional, and that's where it shines."

She and Mikhalash took their cues from the house. "It's really a formal and classic Spanish home in the European tradition as opposed to Latin America," Hall said. "That influenced the materials and texture and deep strong colors."

So, while there's a recall to the traditional style, contemporary fabrics, texture and color were introduced and rich colors were used to balance the intensity in the rooms.

The living room has three distinct sitting areas: a pair of chaises in front of arched windows ("It has amazing light there where they can have their morning coffee," said Hall.+), a game area with a leopard-print rug and a stylish conversation grouping in front of the fireplace. In this room, the designers chose colors of salmon, orange, gold with a punch of citrus green for the fabrics.

"It's a great sophisticated palette but, at the same time, fun," said Quy. "We needed sophisticated but, so often sophisticated goes to beige."

What Hall calls "twinkle" was introduced through lighting - an iron and crystal Spanish-reproduction floor lamp, for example, and sconces from Lunaria, the lighting, rugs and window treatment store in Larkspur associated with Hall's design firm.

"We installed the sconces at the entry and they're so perfect that they look like they came with the house. They bring a sense of light and freshness to the space."

Among the Quy's favorite furniture pieces are a mahogany Pembroke table in the family room ("It doesn't matter what house we move to, it goes with us.") and a 130-year-old, 9-foot-long Mongolian chest that would typically have come from a noble family.

"We found it at Via Diva in San Rafael and thought it would go in the office but when we showed it to Jessica she loved it, too, but thought it should go in the dining room."

Because Quy likes to cook, the kitchen was an important room for her. "I fell in love with it," she said. There are two islands, black-granite countertops, honey walnut cabinetry, a bar area, office and storage space. In addition to the countertops, the designers refreshed the kitchen with new barstools and a copper bar sink.

In a few weeks the couple will host their annual Christmas kickoff dinner party for eight.

"Everyone's picked a recipe and will bring the ingredients," Quy said. "We'll have work stations set up and we'll pair up with someone else other than our partner and make one of the courses we didn't bring. That's one of the things we can do in this kitchen."

Christmas dinner itself is more formal. "Being born and raised in Wyoming, we had turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving and ham or roast beef for Christmas. For English people, though, it's turkey and cranberries for Christmas."

Her husband goes further, adding that it's not official without "the most important part of a good English Christmas dinner - the Christmas pudding served with brandied butter."

They began decorating their new home for Christmas this week. "We love decorating together and Pepe, our right-hand man, helps us. I'd never want anyone to come in and decorate for us."

Roger Quy's favorite job is trimming the tree, hanging ornaments they've collected on trips - masks from Russia, starfish from the South Pacific, a black Santa Claus from Tahiti, for example.

LaRae Quy especially enjoys arranging fresh greenery and candles on the mantelpieces, swagging garlands on the staircase balustrade and hanging wreaths and ribbons in the windows. A new cr che found in Mexico will be displayed along the couple's Santa Claus collection.

As they decorate, they'll have ancient Gregorian chants playing in the background. "We love them," she said. "They evoke such a mood of contemplation and seriousness about the season. There's so much gaiety and fun, but we also like to think about the reason and inspiration for Christmas."


What: "Tour de Noel"

Where: St. John's Episcopal Church, 14 Lagunitas Road, Ross

When: Five reserved admission times between 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8

Tickets: $35 at the door, $30 in advance at david M. brian in Greenbrae; Mill Valley Market in Mill Valley; Susan's Store Room in San Anselmo; Paradise Foods in Corte Madera; St. John's Episcopal Church in Ross

Luncheon: $10

Information: 456-1102 or go to http://www.tourdenoel.org