Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
You may remember Vonda and Jim Leiner from last month’s issue when we showcased their fall design while they hosted a dinner with their brick-fire pizza oven. This time, we’re back to give you a glimpse of their winter wonderland. Every year, the Leiners decorate their home, not just for the holidays, but as an ode to the entire winter season. They love to entertain and guests equally love to visit, exploring the couple’s seasonally-changing decor and rare, vintage finds.
Inspired by Winter
When it comes to the holidays, the Leiners believe that each and every room should have a touch of winter wonderland. “It’s for us just as much as it is for entertaining,” said Vonda Leiner. “People usually can’t believe that we have our tree’s lights on so early, but to me, they’re just lights. I don’t think of it as just for Christmas. So, for the winter months, I kind of prefer more of a winter scene.”
One of the features Vonda Leiner is most excited about this year is her dining room centerpieces comprised of an unexpected item, repurposed tree stands, painted white. Only one is a newer version, while the other two are rare vintage finds.
Their centerpiece isn’t the only unexpected decor. If you look closely at the table runner, you’ll see that Vonda Leiner used shipping paper that is typically used for wrapping fragile items. They also love changing out the decor on the large branch hanging over their dining table. For the winter months, each branch is adorned with a mix of new and vintage snowflake crystals. To the Leiners, anything and everything is capable of architectural artistry.
The Leiner’s massive, vintage pendant lights came out of the old Dayton’s department store. Vonda Leiner worked there for about 20 years and when they were going through remodels, employees were offered a chance to bid on various items.
“It’s not your normal looking kitchen because there aren’t a lot of cabinets,” said Vonda Leiner. “Most of the storage is hidden.” The drawers below the authentic, brick oven pull out to hold approximately 500 pounds. The butcher block island is solely comprised of pull-out storage and the refrigerator is hidden behind the knotty alder facade. Jim Leiner, a custom cabinetmaker at Wood Specialists for over 30 years, specially designed the commercial-size sink to include cutting boards while creating a special baking section for Vonda Leiner which simplifies clean up. There’s a hidden TV, microwave and two dishwasher drawers. Every bit of cabinetry and all of the custom finishes were designed and completed by the Leiners.
“With Jim being able to build the cabinets and do all of the finish work, that really helps us be able to live in this type of home. Anything that you can do yourself like the flooring, landscaping, painting – that’s an investment. This house comes from a lot of nights, holidays and weekends of hard work,” said Vonda Leiner.
“Winter is my favorite time of year, so I love when the snowflakes are sticking to the outside of this window. I try to bring that snowy look inside,” said Vonda Leiner. Lending a snowy facade to her kitchen window, these pots were once brown, terracotta that she painted white and finished with glitter to match the painted deer stags overlooking her wooded backyard.
Repurposing the Past
“Jim and I love going to flea markets. That clock is actually an old picnic table, then we found the hinges at another place and thought, why wouldn’t these hinges be cool as the quarters on the hour, then get a clock kit and put it together? I also have a lot of things from family,” said Vonda Leiner. “I like things with Karma and I think there’s a spirit that they give from the past.” For holiday decor, Vonda Leiner kept it natured-inspired with pinecones, trees, deer stags, white lights and greens.
Ski Lodge Love
If you’re a guest to their home, you’ll notice several Maplelag prints, vintage skis and various nods to winter lodges. Jim Leiner grew up in Montana and these pieces represent a small remnant of his past and a beautiful inspiration to them both.
Vonda Leiner’s winter vibe begins in the fall when she changes out the yellow, floral “summer pillows” for warmer throws and ski lodge-inspired, cross pillows.
With the high ceilings in their family room, the Leiner’s use a vintage, red-painted table to elevate their Christmas tree to new heights. At the base of the tree, they incorporated a galvanized tub to hide the tree stand.
Just off of the kitchen and past the antique, red doors the Leiners display an array of vintage and antique chippy items, her mom’s artwork and a winter-inspired mix of pillows with Kriss Lecocq’s grommet adorned linen pillows.
The Leiners found the powder room’s vanity at an antique store in Stillwater, S.D. For a different vibe, they installed a tin ceiling and salvaged shutters. Vonda Leiner happened upon the shutters en route to the dumpster, while working at Scheels Home & Hardware years ago. “For us, our style is just us and it evolves over time, we don’t go to the furniture store and buy the set,” explained Vonda Leiner.
“For the office, we just tried to decorate it more like a library or a men’s club, so that’s why I did the pheasant feathers and pinecones,” said Vonda Leiner. Jim Leiner built the elaborate ceilings and knotty alder built-in details that can be converted to a guest bedroom with a murphy bed. The desk is said to be from a train station in Sioux Falls, S.D and the vintage, leather chair is from an antique store in Arizona. Elaborate stained glass and antique windows accent the more masculine space. “I did a special wallpaper technique in this room and we used 10-inch-wide, plank floors that we hand-drilled and hand-hammered old-fashioned, square nailheads into. Then we took chains and pry bars to distress the wood.”
“In the winter, decorating for me is kind of like how we dress, we layer things more. So, in the spring I take down some of those layers and replace the winter pillows with floral pillows. I worked with Julie Alin for a little while at Scheels Home & Hardware and she and I were once managers at Dayton’s. The design department at Scheels used to call me “Mrs. Waverly” because I like mixing fabrics and patterns,” laughed Vonda Leiner.
In the entry, the Leiners repurposed an old dentist table underneath a beautiful, cross-stitched art piece crafted by Vonda Leiner’s sister. If you noticed the jars on the floor, you’re probably wondering why. “We feed our squirrels and they’ll come up and eat peanuts right out of our hands. So, our little friend Karly lives next door and she always wants to eat the squirrel’s peanuts, so we finally got a jar just for her,” laughed Vonda Leiner.
In the style of an outdoor kitchen, complete with crown molding, the Leiners have a grill with custom hood venting, popcorn maker that Jim Leiner refurbished as well as a chef’s chalkboard. The Leiner’s Diner neon sign was a gift from a neighbor. “Jim should get just as much credit in the design, he’s very creative and has an eye for art, design and scale,” said Vonda Leiner.
On the porch, you might notice a large tree branch as an architectural focal point. When the Leiners were first building their home, they saw that their neighbors were cutting down trees and they asked if they could have it for their decor.
In the planters, Vonda Leiner uses galvanized pipe, real berries, greens from Hornbacher’s and oversized pinecones. To warm up their outdoor spaces, the Leiners use blankets they found in the military surplus section at Fleet Farm. “Our old neighbors and longtime friends cut boughs for us out at their lake cabin. So I put these greens everywhere and up in the beams in the entry,” said Vonda Leiner.
“We were at an auction and we saw this mailbox, it used to hang on a building. We actually had to go outside and call the U.S. government to make sure that we could use this as a mailbox. As long as it’s at the right code height and distance from the road, they were fine with it,” explained Vonda Leiner.
In the backyard, Jim Leiner used two sizes of galvanized, stock tanks to create a fire pit, complete with a permanent gas line from the house. Pink winter berries and green boughs accent vintage, metal pots leading to the back patio.
A Labor of Love
“I’ve never followed what’s happening in the design world. Jim and I have never built a house for resale. We build it to what we want to do, then if it sells it sells. And with this house, I didn’t want when people walked in, for them to be able to say, “Oh, that was built in 2009,” based on the trends. We actually built this in 2004. If you noticed on the front porch, we have the galvanized tin up on the ceilings and in our back sunroom off of our bedroom, we have sliding barn doors. We tried to do a different ceiling in every room. So, I kind of feel like we were doing some of these things before they were trendy,” laughed Vonda Leiner.
“This is our fifth home and we started with a 90-year-old home in North Fargo. When Jim and I first got married, we didn’t know that we could do this together,” said Vonda Leiner. We just started and the latter four houses we’d design, then have a contractor get us to the sheetrock, and after that, we’d physically do everything ourselves; landscaping, sprinklers, decks and basement. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it. I don’t want to just say it’s a house that somebody built. It was really built with love and every ounce of sweat, energy and tears. “