A great place for a party

Homes: A great place for a party


A great place for a party

An Urbana home, ideal for entertaining, features multiple decorated trees.

Story: Jodi Heckel

Photos: John Dixon

This home is made for entertaining, and homeowner Austin Apgar puts it to good use.

Apgar – a farmer who is also involved in banking and commercial real estate – hosts a family Christmas gathering at his Urbana home. He threw a New Year’s Eve party last year, and he often hosts parties for business associates or for University of Illinois coaches through the UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. He hopes to start using the home as the setting for charity events. Apgar’s home was owned previously by former UI President Stanley Ikenberry and his wife Judy, so there is a history of entertaining guests associated with the UI.

Apgar used to walk or run or bike in the neighborhood while a UI student, and he passed by the house.

“I saw the house and loved it,” he said. “I wrote down the address and went home and Googled it and found out Stan and Judy Ikenberry owned it. I thought, ‘I’ll never own that.’
“I knew it was a grand place and was beautiful, and I figured Stan and Judy would never sell it. I figured they’d live here forever.”

But eventually a mutual friend let the Ikenberrys know of Apgar’s interest in the home. When the Ikenberrys were ready to sell, they called him.

Apgar said the inside of the house was everything he expected it to be.

“It was magnificent,” he said. “I knew, after I saw the inside, I was going to buy it.”

The three started talking and within a couple of months came to an agreement on the sale of the house. Apgar bought the house in the fall of 2011.

He said the flow of the house and its wide hallways make it easy to get around even when it is filled with guests.

“You can entertain large numbers and probably fit more people in the house than other houses of the same size that are more chopped up,” Apgar said. “You don’t feel confined when you have large numbers. That is one of the greatest things I love about it.”

He also loves the street – a boulevard that is not a through street and so is lightly traveled.

“This house is as close to country as you can get in town, with the size of the lot and how quiet the street is. There are not many locations in town that have the feeling this does,” Apgar said.
The Ikenberrys left some furnishings – a piano and some furniture and paintings. Apgar said their taste in artwork and his are quite similar – country themes and natural settings.
But Apgar wanted to put his own spin on the home as well. He bought new rugs and added a leather couch in the family room to give it a masculine touch. He also repainted all the walls, choosing darker colors, including greens and browns.

“It was pretty white in here before,” he said.

Apgar made his changes “keeping in mind I wanted to keep some Ikenberry in here as well, and preserve their time in the house. I wanted to make it so, if they ever came back, they would be proud of it.”

In the first holiday season after he bought the home, Apgar had three decorated trees in the house. Last year, there were seven inside and one outside on the back patio. He’ll likely add a few more this holiday season.

The trees are the handiwork of M.J. Shields, the house manager. Shields began working for the Ikenberrys in 2001, and she’s been there ever since.

Shields said the Ikenberrys spent the holidays in Florida and so she didn’t do a lot of decorating when they were in the home. With Apgar, though, she has been able to let her creativity run wild.
Shields also works at Menard’s in seasonal sales – decorating trees during the holidays and working in the garden center in the spring. She previously had her own floral shop in Mahomet.
She had many clients for whom she decorated – one year, she did 88 trees – but now she decorates only for Apgar. She loves planning what she’ll do with each tree.

“The whole year you think about trees, and you are always looking and shopping,” Shields said. “I’m an ornament junkie. You’re in stores and see different things and that’s how I come up with (ideas).”

The drawing room of the home featured a 12-foot tree last year, with two matching trees by the windows and another tree outside on the patio. Shields loved the way visitors could see all four trees at once, plus their reflections in the windows and a mirror in the room.

The trees were all decorated in red, gold and lime green.

“I wanted something that would go with his furniture and in kind of traditional colors. I threw in the lime green and it popped,” Shields said.

Those trees were Apgar’s favorites.

“They way they accent each other, and with the one outside decorated in the same way, they’re beautiful,” he said.

Shields likes slim trees with lots of lights. She never uses pre-lit trees. Instead, she uses tree cords that run down the trunk and have multiple outlets into which she plugs strings of lights. She works her way down the trees she’s decorating from the inside out, lighting every branch.

Shields used 5,400 lights on the 12-foot tree last year. It took her two days to light the tree and another day to decorate it.

She also starts from the inside of the tree with ornaments and works her way out. She starts with those that will reflect the tree lights. When she puts ornaments on the trees, Shields wraps up the strings they hang from and bends the hooks over so you can’t see them – “Not that I’m picky or anything.”

Other than the three trees in the drawing room, each tree in the house was decorated in a different way last year.

In the dining room was the “old-fashioned” Christmas tree, lit with bubble lights and flanked by toy soldiers that stood outside the home’s front door the previous year. Shields said she wanted to do something to represent an old-fashioned Christmas for Apgar’s family.

The breakfast nook featured a pheasant tree.

“I wanted something that was country, and I love pheasants,” Shields said.

She uses the floral shop at the Savoy Schnucks to buy all the fresh flowers for the home, including poinsettias at the holidays, as well as some ornaments. She said the floral shop manager found pheasant decorations and feathers for her to use on the tree.

A tree in the family room featured cobalt blue ornaments, combined with silver to give it an icy look.

The tree in the home’s sunroom was decorated with peacock feathers. Shields had seen some feathers and thought they would make a beautiful tree.

This year Shields plans to add a tree decorated with John Deere ornaments, and another with crystal ornaments.

“It’s artwork, and she has such talent. She’s always exceeding my expectations. I just turn her loose,” Apgar said.

Shields loves glitter. All the poinsettias she buys for the house have glitter on them, and she uses fabric with glitter rather than traditional tree skirts beneath the trees. She was a little concerned Apgar wouldn’t like so much sparkle, but he’s gotten used to it, she said.

Apgar loves fresh flowers – “stuff that is alive and you can smell” – so Shields creates floral arrangements that are displayed throughout the house, and she uses fresh rosemary plants for the smell.
Apgar said having fresh flowers and fresh fruit makes the place feel like home.

“I want (Shields) to be happy with it too. It represents her. It makes my life so much easier to have her here,” Apgar said, adding he travels a lot. “She keeps this place up to what it deserves.”
Apgar said his guests are always impressed with the Christmas trees.

“They all want M.J. to come decorate their trees,” he said.