Brimming with treasured ornaments, family photos, and cherished letters from Christmases past, Sandra and Ritchie Sayner’s Northland home embodies the true spirit of the season.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photography by Matt Kocourek
Tucked into a quiet cul-de-sac in the picturesque neighborhood of Briarcliff West, Sandra and Ritchie Sayner’s festive holiday home captures all the warmth and joy of their Christmas memories. Their Northland residence has been home to the couple — who are now empty-nesters — since they migrated to Kansas City from Denver in 2003. Constructed in 1995 by builder Don Julian, their 3,400 square-foot 1.5-story home has long been beloved and valued for its convenience and amenities offered by this ideal location.
Every room in the Sayner’s home has been updated, and the kitchen and bathrooms have undergone significant renovations. The couple called on designer Jennifer Surface of Surface to Surface Interior Design and Construction to guide them through their projects. “Jennifer takes me to places design-wise that I would never have imagined,” says Sandra. “She helps make the design experience fun, and she is a delight to work with,” she adds. Husband Ritchie concurs. “Jennifer’s superb design skills augment Sandra’s intuitive taste,” he notes.
“Sandra and I have worked together for nearly five years,” says Jennifer. “I designed, decorated, and created artwork for nearly every room in their beautiful home, but this was the first year I helped with the Christmas decorating. I love the holidays, as does she, and we both knew there was going to be a lot of personal expression going into the design and decorating decisions,” she adds.
The Sayner home celebrates seasonal themes throughout the year, but there is always special emphasis at Christmas. Decorating begins shortly after Halloween and includes multiple trees, each with a specific motif. Among the cherished favorites is a tree adorned with ornaments depicting the couple’s travels, as well as annual picture ornaments received from their ever-growing family. An especially meaningful ornament — a tin angel that Ritchie made 62 years ago in Cub Scouts — is displayed annually. Their living room tree sparkles with white lights and features a collection of Waterford crystal ornaments collected over 25 years. “If you look closely, you are likely to find a napping cat nestled among the artfully wrapped gifts,” Sandra laughs.
Fireplaces glow with the warmth of the season, and lights sparkle, reminding the couple of the joyful memories of their midwestern upbringing — Sandra is originally from Michigan, and Ritchie grew up in Wisconsin. Their home is finished in whites and creams, providing a serene backdrop that contrasts beautifully with dark wood floors. The soft neutral hues accentuate the traditional reds and greens of the season, and 12-foot ceilings create a dramatic effect.
“Sandra has a fabulous collection of splendid décor she acquired over time,” says Jennifer. “I knew exactly what to add to enhance their refined yet festive and cozy retreat. A smooth transition of mixing the old with the new, traditional colors with non-traditional colors, and the whimsical with the elegant delighted us as we cheerfully worked together,” she sums.
Jennifer also incorporated custom bows adorning the chair backs to make the space feel like a present and added sparkles of lights everywhere to make the room brighter and more festive. She maintained the home’s clean look, kept expensive trends at bay, and focused instead on showcasing the holiday spirit in a timeless, sophisticated manner.
“Decorating for Christmas gives me that neurological shift that always produces happiness and subconsciously connects me with the past,” says the designer. “I cannot thank Sandra and Ritchie enough for trusting my vision throughout the years. This project was absolutely the icing on the cake, and I will forever cherish these memories,” she adds.
“A Gift is no gift at all until it is received.
This Christmas and throughout the coming year, may God grant us all eyes to see the gift
that each person has to offer lest in haste we should brush past and leave his gift unnoticed.”
— from the Sayner Christmas letter, 1964
During the holidays, the Sayner family activities include lots of baking, an ongoing jigsaw puzzle, and entertaining friends and neighbors. In addition, the couple annually hosts their Euchre group in December —after all, they are Midwesterners — with dinner, cards, and a gift exchange. Another favorite family tradition is the annual fruit cake. Ritchie has evolved into a fruitcake connoisseur over the years and annually scours the internet for the current year’s finest offering. He emphatically claims that “good fruitcake isn’t cheap and cheap fruitcake isn’t good!”
Although the Sayner’s family is scattered over five states, the warmth, traditions, and love are ever-present. Perhaps the most treasured holiday gift is a collection of Christmas letters that Ritchie’s mother wrote annually, beginning in 1950 — the same year she was married. The letters are a chronology of the family’s life through the decades. “You could always count on the fact that each letter would end with a biblical quote or a saying reminding us to live in harmony with one another to make the world a better place — a lesson that we can all use today,” he adds.