There’s no place like home for the holidays. Houses carry a great deal of meaning for us. More than just a physical abode and roof over our heads, the structures we choose to buy, design, renovate, and build represent the idea of home. Each individual’s belief of what a home should be and how it should feel comes from a unique combination of memories and aspirations. I find one of the biggest sources of aspirational home inspiration comes from holiday movie houses. Before I dive into my favorite Christmas movie homes, let me explain what holiday movies mean to me and how I see them influence my client’s design decisions.
Why are Holiday Movie Houses so Meaningful to Us?
For homes we’ve never even set foot in, holiday movie houses carry a great deal of meaning, and many serve as inspiration for my interior design clients. Folks load emotions, expectations, and a dash of pressure into their homes’ appearances, especially in the days leading up to the arrival of holiday company. Since the holidays are so important to us, the idea of “holiday houses” is especially emotionally loaded! When it comes down to it, holiday movie houses are idealizations of home. We live vicariously through them. Our favorite holiday movies provide outlets for us to dream about the “perfect” holiday experience or to watch the drama of other people’s lives unfold. While we may never cross the threshold, we feel connected to these homes and even try to emulate them.
Designing the “Picture-perfect” Home for the Holidays
When working with clients at my Austin interior design studio, many folks bring up holiday-related design concerns. We have conversations about how many people need to have a seat at the dining table, where the Christmas tree will go, and what type of fireplace to build. I wonder how many of my Texas clients actually use their fireplaces for anything more than a photo backdrop? Either way, many of the requests clients ask for come from their favorite holiday films. However, it’s important to remember that real-life holiday gatherings aren’t scripted and are rarely picture-perfect. So try not to put too much pressure on things to follow your favorite movie plot.
My Top 8 Favorite Holiday Movie Houses
You’ve stuck around through my musings, so let’s dive in. Here are my favorite holiday movie houses.
1. The Family Stone Home
“You have a lovely home.” “All the better to entertain you, my dear.” The Family Stone is my all-time favorite holiday movie house. From the wrap-around porch to the door profiles and moldings to the cozy wallpaper, it all just feels so wonderfully homey and welcoming. It has a sense of elegance while still feeling layered and lived in.
2. Home Alone House
“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” When it comes to aspirational holiday houses, the Home Alone house takes the cake. For so many folks, the brick Colonial signifies “making it.” After all, I think we all wondered what Kevin’s parents did to afford their luxurious mansion and first-class plane tickets.
3. The Holiday Cottage
“If you were a melody… I used only the good notes.” The Holiday follows two women who swap houses for the season. Personally, I think the English countryside cottage feels much more “holiday” than the LA mansion. This home fully captures the cozy feeling of warmth from the charming stone exterior to the exposed beams and clawfoot tub.
4. The Elf Apartment
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Elf captures the energy of a New York City Christmas, complete with window displays, caroling in Central Park, and the unrealistically spacious Manhattan apartment. While it’s not the traditional “holiday house” trimmed in lights, the Elf apartment has that unique charm you can only get in New York at Christmas.
5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation House
“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas.” No one puts more pressure on themselves to achieve the perfect holiday than Clark Griswold, which is part of what makes this film so relatable. This movie adds another Colonial-style home to the list, complete with charming shutters and a bay window for the Christmas tree.
6. A Christmas Story House
“It’s a major award!” The Cleveland Historical Society says the home in A Christmas Story is an 1895 Colonial. Is anyone else noticing a trend with Colonial holiday homes? The iconic home features a wrap-around porch and a large picture window for displaying your leg lamp. While other holiday movie homes are grander, this property offers a down-to-earth charm many of us can associate with our youth.
A Christmas Confession: Two of My Favorite Holiday Movies Don’t Center Around a House
I realized while writing this that two of my favorite holiday movies don’t actually center around a house. (More on why I think that’s important later.)
7. The Die Hard Skyscraper
“Yippee-ki-yay.” So, now you know I’m in the camp that says Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and it is one of my favorites to watch during the holidays. Rather than taking place around the fire in an idyllic home, this action film starts at an office party in a 40-story skyscraper. It’s far from traditional, but it’s a holiday tradition for me.
8. The Shop Around the Corner Store
“People seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things…” But, as you might be able to tell, I rarely settle for surface level. The Shop Around the Corner inspired You’ve Got Mail, and both films follow stories about real-life enemies connecting in anonymous messages. From the romance to the window displays, this movie has the perfect recipe to unlock that heartwarming holiday feeling.
Surprising Holiday Decorating Advice from an Interior Designer
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my favorite holiday films don’t feature a house at all. After all, movie holiday houses put a lot of pressure on us to live up to unrealistic expectations. We are anxious about making every last detail perfect, but without a script, we really can’t control anything! My biggest advice for holiday decorating and entertaining may surprise you, especially coming from an interior designer. Set the bar low! I think folks should simply spend time with their loved ones and let the other obligations go — no breaking out the good china, no spending hours on a tablescape, and no stressing. Let go of the holiday movie house dream, and let your favorite films just be a way to bond with family and friends.
Make the holidays your own, no matter what your house looks like.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.