Hats Off: Christmas home tours to benefit Friends of Noah

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Jim Dayton
Monday, December 4, 2017

JANESVILLE—It's been several years since Tom Joyce and Mike Niemann opened their west side Janesville home for Christmas tours, but it doesn't appear they've lost a step.

Interior decorations, which Joyce estimated were only 40 percent complete when a Gazette reporter visited recently, cover the walls, railings and ledges. It's almost impossible to find a crevice that isn't covered in Christmas décor.

Joyce and Niemann will again open their doors for five upcoming December nights to let visitors see their meticulously designed home. Admission is free with a donation to Friends of Noah, an animal rescue organization.

Their home tours years ago benefited the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. After taking some time off—putting up one Christmas tree is enough for most people, let alone more than a dozen—they decided to donate 2017's proceeds to Friends of Noah.

“Friends of Noah does a lot besides just housing animals,” Joyce said. “They give the money to people who can't afford to pay their vet bills.”

He and Niemann have a house full of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits and doves. Niemann said he probably prefers animals to people.

Both of them grew up with plenty of animals and a heavy emphasis on Christmas. The earliest iterations of their home holiday tours began as they hosted a large holiday party for about 100 guests.

People would bring an overwhelming amount of food and other gifts. They didn't want all the extra stuff, so they decided to ask their guests to bring pet food or other items they could donate to charity, Niemann said.

This year's tour is somehow a downsized version compared to previous ones. Niemann and Joyce will decorate 15 Christmas trees, less than half of their one-time high of 36.

Some of the trees have themes, such as farm animals or candy canes. Besides the trees, the rest of the home is exquisitely decorated.

It's hard to spot any decoration that could be found on a Christmas clearance rack. Many of the items, whether they are miniature reindeer, a village or framed pieces of art, have a nostalgic, 19th century vibe.

Niemann pointed out a kitschy, stuffed Santa Claus someone had given them as a gift. Surrounded by classic, high-quality decorations, it looked out of place. But it might come in handy later to cover extension cords in a different room, he said.

Joyce, a former art major, has an eye for design. Each room is carefully crafted to give the home elegance. Even the bathrooms are decorated.

The house was built in 1886. When Niemann and Joyce bought it more than 10 years ago, it was dilapidated and falling apart.

It's hard to believe that now.

“Every inch of it (was restored). Every light fixture, every piece of woodwork,” Joyce said. “The bathrooms are completely new. The kitchen was down to the studs. Mike built the fireplace.”

Joyce and Niemann have years of experience decorating their home, so putting the finishing touches on it shouldn't be a problem.

But Joyce does have one concern: He hopes people will remember their old tours and decide to make a return visit.

Correction: Tom Joyce was originally quoted as saying Friends of Noah supplied pet food to ECHO. Friends of Noah supplies pet food to seven local shelters, but ECHO is not one of them. This article was updated Monday afternoon to reflect this change.

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