A Santa Story

With nary a child in the house, this Hunterdon County couple embraces the magic of the holiday season with hundreds of Santas standing guard.

(Photos by Laura Moss)

It all started innocently enough. While browsing New York City art galleries some years ago, Regina Kelley and her husband, David Coken, were drawn to an image of Santa Claus—an Andy Warhol serigraph. “We just fell in love with it,” Kelley says. She admits they were concerned it might seem odd having such an iconic holiday symbol hanging over the fireplace all year long. But, she adds, “we decided we could live with it, even in July.” That was 1985. Since then, Kelley’s Santa collection has grown to hundreds, in every shape, size and material. Ironic, especially, since this isn’t Santa geared for kids—Kelley and Coken don’t have any—but for all ages and mostly for themselves. “He just makes us smile,” says Kelley. “It’s as simple as that.”

Santa’s Home
After living in Westfield for years, Kelley and Coken relocated to Hunterdon County to take advantage of the rolling hills and bike trails (they’re avid cyclists). Deciding on a 10-year-old builder-grade house, the couple consulted old friend Jennifer Watty, a Westfield interior designer, to help them add charm and character. They renovated the kitchen and baths, upgraded the lighting and flooring, and then put it all together using their existing furniture—and selected Santas. “The family room, with Santa over the mantle, looks just like their old house,” says Watty.

The Santa collection continues to expand. “Over the years, I’ve traveled a lot internationally, and there’s always a place to buy Santas,” says Kelley. “Plus people know I collect them, so I get lots as gifts.”

Most are packed away for 11 months of the year, brought out just after Thanksgiving. Decorating for the holidays takes the better part of two days, says Kelley. She has a tried-and-true system—Coken brings up box after box from the basement, while Kelley finds the perfect spot for each Santa in the house, mixing it up a bit year to year. The tree, another major decorating endeavor, takes most of a day by itself.

Holiday House
Once it’s all done, let the parties begin. “When the house is all decorated, you just want to have people over,” says Kelley. And come over they do. Adults and children, neighbors, family and friends. “Everyone loves it,” she says.

While the Warhol Santa—part of Warhol’s “Myths” portfolio, which also includes images of Mickey Mouse, Uncle Sam and Superman—is the cornerstone of the collection, it’s not the only one that’s displayed all year long. There are nesting Santas in the breakfast room, a gift from Coken following a trip to Russia; a lounging, swimsuit-clad Santa in the kitchen, bought while vacationing in Hawaii; and an odd-looking pair of gnomes that resemble Santa on the mantle, “just because they make people smile,” says Kelley. Which is precisely why she keeps them displayed all year. “Why not?” she says. “They’re whimsical. They’re fun and happy.”

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