Bayou Home | CHRISTMAS DISPLAY
article by MEREDITH MCKINNIE
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Come Christmastime, Dr. Sanson and Jodie Sanson transform their French chateau home into a holiday wonderland. In partnership with local designer Clinton Whitney Downing, the Sansons adorn their West Monroe home with traditional Christmas colors and elaborate displays that suit the Sanson aesthetic and the home’s personality. The holiday season for the Sansons means time with family and friends, particularly the extended family that hails from all across the globe. Hosting exchange students for the last seven years has broadened the couple’s perspective and outreach; sharing the Christian holiday with exchange students is simply a bonus, and an experience those same students return to the Sansons for year after year. Decorating the home is the quintessential start of the holiday season, as the couple hosts parties, family gatherings, and cookie-decorating extravaganzas to celebrate with loved ones. Indulging the Christmas spirit is Jodie’s nod to her mother Tommie Sue Smith who passed away in 2002 and loved making Christmas special. Jodie says, “When it’s your Mom’s favorite holiday of the year, it becomes your favorite holiday too.” The Sansons open-door policy honors Tommie’s memory, as she always took everyone in. This time of year reminds us all what all we have to be thankful for, and the Sansons are thankful for the people in their lives, both at home and abroad.
Driving up to the Sanson home is akin to entering a pastoral paradise, as the home is flanked with ponds and rolling hills. Set on 200 acres, the house stands like an ornate table centerpiece surrounded by trees. After acquiring the property and clearing the land in 2014, Dr. Marshall, who goes by Shon, and Jodie discussed aesthetics, noting they both desired an eye-catching exterior, the “wow factor,” as Shon described it. When construction was complete, Jodie and Shon moved in with little furniture or decor as they wanted to get a feel for the space before committing to a design aesthetic. When faced with a multitude of decor options, Jodie turned to her new friend Clinton for help. The design duo started selecting furniture for the home in 2015, acquiring art tapestries from estate sales and furniture pieces from Century, Theodore Alexander, and Maitland Smith. For Christmas, Clinton and Jodie lean into traditional Christmas colors, varying hues of red, green, and gold to evoke the classic holiday aesthetic. The grand exterior features a holiday wreath centered on each of the 8 front-facing windows. The front door is flanked by two trees decorated with silk hunter green ribbons, berried pine sprays, pheasant feathers, glittered orbs, and beaded roping. The subtle holiday exterior accents reserve the home’s towering presence.
Walking inside the front door, one first notices the grand, winding staircase. The railing features fern, cedar, and beaded swags, crystallized holly and mistletoe balls, velvet poinsettias, magnolia leaves, and bell garlands. The dramatic effect of the decor drags the eyes up the curved railing, accentuating the height of the space and the sheer magnitude of the home. Tucked in the curve of the staircase sits a Yamaha Grand piano. Off the right side of the entryway is the formal dining room; the back wall is entirely covered in a mural patterned after the lavender fields in southern France, a favorite scene from Shon’s time in Europe. The mural was painted by Matthew Yerby, also a filmmaker and producer, whose movie The Dirty South just premiered on Netflix. The formal dining table with seating for 10 is framed by two crystal chandeliers that give the illusion of movement in the recreated lavender fields. For this holiday season, the table is set with mother of pearl balls, mercury glass ornaments, gold filigree Christmas trees, silver deer with an 18-carat gold braided ribbon, and oyster shells, which underscore the lavender tones in the space.
As one walks into the great room, again the eyes are drawn upward to the stacked windows that allow for open views of the outdoor space. More than any other room featured in this Christmas home shoot, the great room showcases the passions of Shon and Jodie Sanson, who met when Shon and Jodie’s sister Dr. Melissa Traxler attended medical school together at LSUS. After marrying in 2011, the Sansons focused on building Shon’s practice, now the Sanson Family Medicine Walk-In Clinic on Arkansas Road in West Monroe. Now married 12 years, Jodie describes her husband as “eclectic,” evidenced by the portrait on the right wall of the great room. Shon plays the bagpipes, hunts large game all over the world, and is a State Championship shooter. He travels to Scotland for bagpipe competitions and recently returned from Canada on a hunting expedition. An avid lover of art and music, Shon played the trombone in multiple symphonies growing up and adores classical music. Dr. Sanson is also the newly-elected Ouachita Parish coroner, the first change of the position in 23 years. On a wall over the island that divides the great room and the kitchen, one can see the extent of Shon’s hunting expeditions, as various animal heads are mounted on the wall. The more formal accents in the room highlight Jodie’s taste. The elaborate mantle is made of Italian marble that took 8 months to arrive by boat.
The great room is Jodie’s favorite, as she loves to sit and soak up the beautiful space. “Sometimes I’ll dim or turn off the lights, lie back, and just stare at the Christmas tree. Clinton is a mastermind.” The 16-foot traditional green tree, another personal favorite, sits to the right of the mantle and is adorned with bobbles, mercury and hand-blown glass ornaments, orbs, and unique shapes that create depth from the blend of different finishes. The mantle is draped with a combination of oversized velvet poinsettias, sugared fruit clusters, pine cones, peacock feathers, and cedar swags. Buttressing the mantle sit several oversized, self-standing silk and velvet stockings, hand-stitched in white and gold. Clinton stuffed the stockings with berries and Christmas hats. Throughout the great room and in the kitchen and breakfast area, one can find Mark Roberts fairies perched at odd angles, sometimes hanging on a lamp, nestled in an elaborate spray, or clinging to a chandelier. Many of the famed Mark Roberts fairies have been retired, thus increasing their value, and come certified with serial numbers as collectibles.
In keeping with the lavender fields in the dining room, Matthew Yerby painted another mural above the breakfast nook, an impressive imitation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Shon had trouble deciding between the Michelangelo recreation and a traditional sunset, so Matthew incorporated elements of both. The breakfast table features more Mark Roberts fairies, whimsical gilded golden trees, and cranberry Christmas trees. The kitchen island centerpiece is an elk’s head compote, bursting with velvet poinsettias, crystallized berry and pearl sprays, cedar branches, gilded eucalyptus, and various ornaments, again in the traditional Christmas colors of red, green, and gold. The decorations throughout the home are situated by Clinton and his team of Neville seniors: Maxwell Butler, Keegan Carlson, Charlie Edwards, Bruin Hendricks, Jack Loftin, and Caleb Tugwell. Simply prepping to decorate the home means all hands on deck, as the accumulated holiday stock pile expands each year as the Sanson’s tastes evolve.
The great room, kitchen, and breakfast area are the heartbeat of the Sanson home, as much of their entertaining dominates this space. Just as their living spaces are expansive, so is their familial outreach, opening their home to teenagers from all over the world. The exchange students welcomed by the Sansons include Javier Tellez from Malaga, Spain; Chiara Burroni from La Spezia, Italy; Ines Hillenbrand from Heidelberg, Germany; Shaskya Villarruel from Quito, Ecuador; and most recently, Shahem Soub from Amman, Jordan. As the students typically stay with the Sansons for an entire school year, experiencing a Sanson Christmas is the pinnacle of the experience. As Jodie and Shon stay in contact with the students, many return to visit, gathering with friends made from their time in our region. This Christmas, the Sansons are welcoming back Ines and Chiara, and the family and guests are traveling to Disney World to celebrate the season. When Jodie and Shon married, Jodie’s daughter Sarah Rogers was a freshman in high school, so soon the Sansons became empty nesters. They knew they weren’t done having children around, and the exchange program allows them to share their home and expand their family. Jodie says the teenagers have taught her to see the world through different eyes and to appreciate everyone’s culture. “We live in such a small place, and yet the world is so big. I’ve learned we’re all the same.” The Sansons insist the exchange program has ushered in some of the best experiences of their lives.
The Sansons greatly anticipate their holiday visitors, making memories and sharing the meaning of Christmas in a space specifically designed for that purpose. The Sanson home is grand in physical stature but also in its welcoming potential. Christmas is a season of joy and sharing that joy with others, and the Sansons look forward to many more holiday seasons with their ever-growing, extended family.