‘Tis the season for an upside-down Christmas at Smith Lake

‘Tis the season for an upside-down Christmas at Smith Lake
Paul Billings and John Hurley love entertaining guests during the holidays at their Smith Lake home. Australian labradoodles Abbie and Ashlie get to stay year-round. (Phil Free / Shorelines)

This time of year, the focal point of Paul Billings’ and John Hurley’s cozy Smith Lake home is as clear as the water in the postcard-like setting outside their living room. Walk in the front door, and the Christmas tree demands undivided attention.

That’s not so unusual in many homes during the holiday season. But in their home, the Christmas tree is upside down. It doesn’t hang upside down from the ceiling. Instead, the tree is mounted on the floor. What normally would be the top of the tree spreads out into a stand. A big, fat Santa Claus rests on the bottom, er, top of the tree.

Three years ago, when Billings and Hurley sold their Birmingham condominium for the lake life, they realized they would need a new, smaller Christmas tree for a smaller home.

“We had never had a TV in our living room,” Billings says. “But at the lake, you have to have one because people come and want to watch ballgames.”

The need for wall space for a television, as well as the premium on floor space, made them decide on an upside-down Christmas tree, he says.

“You can turn that tree upside down and have a regular Christmas tree,” Billings says. “It works both ways.”

Reactions to the tree range from “Where did you get that idea?” to “Is it tied to the ceiling?” to “That tree is so stunning.”

“When people see it for the first time, they just stare,” Billings says.

Hurley points out a huge advantage to the inverted tree: “There’s more room for presents.”

While the Christmas tree takes center stage, it is just part of the home’s stylish holiday decor.

The dining room table is set with elegant Lenox Holiday Dimension Collection china, Old Chantilly sterling silver and Waterford crystal stemware atop a hand-sewn tablecloth Billings bought in Amsterdam years ago. A First Blessing Lenox nativity scene rests on the nearby buffet. On a table near the Christmas tree, a Santa handcrafted by a friend 25 years ago keeps track of who’s been naughty or nice.

“Many of our decorations were hand-picked and chosen to reflect our home and original art,” Billings says. “We get excited each year as we move into the holiday season, sharing our home with family and friends.”

Sharing their home year-round are two frisky standard Australian labradoodles, still full of puppy at a little more than a year old. The pair seem to have taken to the idea of Christmas.

“Abbie and Ashlie are a huge part of our lives and tend to stare at the Santas as if waiting for a special treat,” Billings says.

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