Guests visiting the Haley home during next weekend's Chez Noel house tour won't have to guess at a theme or style that inspired the decor. They will be greeted with the answer right away.
More than 500 nutcrackers have taken up seasonal residency in the Haggin Oaks home of Liz and Russell Haley, which is one of three homes on display for the annual Assistance League fundraiser on Dec. 7 and 8. The army of nutcrackers shows up every year, whether hundreds of visitors are coming by or not.
"I just do what the spirit moves me to do," Liz Haley said, explaining that she does, in fact, usually put up the vast collection of nutcrackers every year. "I just got it done faster!"
This actually isn't the first time the Haley family has opened up its home for the Chez Noel tour — their house was one of the featured homes back in 1991. Asked to participate again, Haley agreed because it's all for a good cause. It regularly raises around $40,000, which the Assistance League uses on programs like Operation School Bell to buy new school clothes for children in need, helping about 3,500 kids each year.
This year's tour includes the Haley home in Haggin Oaks and two homes in Masterpiece Estates at Brimhall and Allen roads. The event also includes shopping at the Assistance League's Bargain Box thrift store and boutique.
Not much in their home has changed since the Haleys last participated in Chez Noel. There have been no major renovations and it even still has the original carpet. But it will be more decorated for the season this time around.
In 1991, Haley said, the Assistance League paired homeowners with a decorator who brought in items to dress the house that could also then be purchased by visitors. But back then, the homes weren't always decorated with Christmas trees and garland in every room. Still, Nancy Hall of Fond Memories brought a little holiday flair to the home.
"She brought three different nutcrackers," Haley said. "At that point I didn't have any nutcrackers and no desire (to have any) either. Then my husband bought one ... and that's kind of how it all started."
As often happens when someone starts a collection, once friends and family knew Haley liked nutcrackers, they all started contributing their own donations.
"I have not bought (more than one or two) in the last year," she said. "People just give them to me."
The Haleys are empty-nesters now that their two "semi-adult" children, as she called them, are no longer living at home. Haley is a recently retired teacher, and her husband works for their family business, Stinson's Office Supplies. Their sons are Nick, 26, and Matt, 22.
Throughout her home, the nutcrackers are grouped according to theme: heroes (firefighter, Marine and Superman, among them), jobs (toymaker, dentist, doctor and, naturally, a few teachers) and hobbies (knitter, gardener, fisherman).
At the wine bar is Haley's "Around the World" collection, featuring nutcrackers representing Ireland, Holland, Spain and, from the U.K., Queen Elizabeth II dressed in a trademark blue dress and hat, standing alongside Prince Philip. Among the country representatives is one from Texas, "because Texas thinks it's its own country," Haley said.
Haley's most expensive nutcracker is a Texas Christian University-themed one, she said, its cost higher than the others not because it's made of the finest materials but because the school is where her son goes. That one sits next to her cheapest nutcracker, a 25-cent find from a yard sale her sister got her.
The nutcracker collection continues throughout the home, with sports ones in one son's room, music ones in the spare room, cooking ones in the kitchen and beach ones in the bathroom.
Every nutcracker comes with a story, like two tall ones that guests will see right when they enter the home.
"My sister-in-law called and said, 'I have two dogs you need to have! They don't eat much, they're well-behaved,'" Haley said. "I thought they were real dogs but they were nutcracker dogs."
One piece of Christmas decoration that isn't a nutcracker is the massive tree that the family has used since 1998, fake but full enough to look real and with several nutcracker ornaments.
Haley isn't nervous about having around 1,000 strangers in her home. She knows from experience that the Assistance League crew makes sure the place stays spotless.
"When I did it in '91, you would have never known anyone was in your house," she said.
Haley herself is a regular guest of the annual home tours. She and Sandy Spray, the organization's public relations chair, agreed that there are lots of reasons to go to Chez Noel.
"It's always fun to see someone else's house!" Haley said.
"People are inherently nosy," Spray said. "And you get decorating ideas."
On top of the in-real-life HGTV qualities of the tour, the money it raises goes to a good cause.
"Being a teacher, I had some students that were clothed by the Assistance League," Haley said. "It makes such a difference in their confidence. If they don't have clothes, they can't come to school and they can't learn."