Sebastopol woman’s hobby transforms her home into shimmering wonderland for holidays

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There is no room for anything else in Nanette Owens’ closets. She couldn’t possibly buy and store another thing. Every possible shelf is spilling over with Christmas.

And yet, when a nutcracker or a Santa or a snowglobe or a unique ornament calls to her from a store display, storage space will be found. When it comes to Christmas, Owens’ Sebastopol home is like a Mary Poppins magical carpet bag.

The holiday explodes into the Owens’ house the day after Thanksgiving, when box after box after box emerges from closets and cupboards, each filled with treasure and, for this lover of Christmas, tidings of great joy.

It has taken her several days to meticulously arrange 64 German-made wooden nutcrackers, each different, dozens of handmade artisan Santas, some 17 snow globes, and three Christmas trees — one in the bathroom — their branches laden with a multitude of ornaments dating back to the 1940s and ringed with a miniature Lionel railroad.

“I love it. I have such a good time doing it. And I love sharing this with other people,” said Owens, surrounded by boxes still filled to the gills with decorations, leading a visitor to wonder where it will all go.

No worries. She will find a place for everything in her magical House of Christmas, which on this day smells of fresh-baked fruitcake.

Owens’ task of turning her home into a shimmering Christmas wonderland is made all the more remarkable because she is almost blind. With a tiny bit of sight in just one eye that allows her to discern things up close, she assembles all of her nutcrackers in proper groupings. In the front window are a dozen characters from “The Nutcracker” ballet, right down to The Mouse King and Clara. In another area are all the characters from Alice in Wonderland in nutcracker form.

Assembled like a small army along a sideboard are dozens of other nutcrackers of all stripes, from pirates to peddlers. Owens brings in two-by-fours and balances them on a sideboard to create even more shelf space for her wooden treasures, most made in Germany by Steinbach, the leading maker of heirloom-quality nutrackers.

Owens and her husband, Charlie, have been gathering decorations since they married 55 years ago. It became a shared hobby, with vacations and outings always an opportunity to pop into a shop in search of something new to add to the collection. But when it comes to bringing it all out and putting everything in its perfect place, it’s a one-woman job.

“I do the best I can,” said Owens, who for years was a familiar fixture as the good humored checker at Fiesta Market in Sebastopol.

Now she busies herself as a volunteer at the Earle Baum Center of the Blind in Santa Rosa. She and Charlie volunteer in the garden, and she also works in the office.

She began losing her vision to diabetic retinopathy while she was still working as a checker. But Owens keeps a buoyant attitude, preferring to walk on the sunny side of the street, focusing on what she can do rather than what she can’t. And one thing she can do still is revel in her many Christmas collections.

They include clear Adachi ornaments, many they bought nearly half a century ago, a virtual village of country peasant figures made in Santon, France and a full-sized tree beside her bed decked entirely in collectible Hallmark ornaments. They’re all prizes but Owens has a particular soft spot for a delicate paper topped ornament that belonged to her parents and dates back to World War II, when metal was in short supply due to the war effort.

Most of her Snow Globes, many with a Santa Claus theme, came as gifts from her two sons and occupy a cabinet of their own. Forget lighting the fireplace for chestnut roasting: Owens has annexed the entire area and populated it with Santas and snow.

“Whether I can see it or not, I love it,” she said of her handiwork, flashing a broad smile. “I shine. I can’t see it but I know it shines.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 707-521-5204.

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