Haute for the holidays

The Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour may seem innocuously festive, but it has risks. First: The tour tends to mobilize large numbers of armchair architecture critics. Normally a reclusive lot, prone to leafing through magazines and muttering pronouncements from within the tranquil folds of their armchairs, such persons, when assembled in well-appointed urban living rooms, show signs of extreme cattiness and should be monitored.

Second, and relatedly, the Holiday Home Tour exacerbates a seasonal human tendency to wallow in class envy. But it also offers a special brand of hope: Rather than lurk in shadows on your betters’ carefully grooved lawns, occasionally pressing your ruddy face into their immaculate lattice panes, the Holiday Home Tour suggests you deserve a real look inside. All Sacred Heart asks, aside from 30 bucks to get in, is for you to kindly remove your shoes and wear slip-on booties so as not to mar the handsome hardwoods.

Sacred Heart has conducted the tours, to benefit its Parish School, for 33 years as of last weekend. These annual events—collectively a self-selecting adult version of trick or treat—draw thousands annually from all over California and throughout the northwest. For the bulk of the weekend, five “magnificent homes” in East Sac’s Fabulous 40s are given over to gussying artisanal decorators on apparently unlimited budgets, and opened to well-controlled hordes of lookie loos keen on close glimpses of other-half life. This year’s tour booklet boasted of “classic architecture you can’t help but admire,” and was within its rights to do so.

Friday’s night air was brisk and heavy with fragrances: fresh flower arrangements, seasonal potpourri, gathered affluence. As mandated by relevant shelter mags, fruit bowls looked immaculate. Briefly it seemed possible that Sacramento contained more gilded pine cones than any other city. Guests admired the coquettish roof slopes and the stout marble counter surfaces and, becoming catty, moved along.

Now, it wasn’t a contest, but sensitive visitors might have detected a thread of one-upmanship between the homes. One bore an elaborate outdoor fireplace; another, our savior, or a ceramic approximation thereof, in a scale-model hay-strewn manger. A red-ribboned Ferrari parked behind velvet ropes in one home’s driveway seemed a bit indelicate as the apparatus of a Catholic school fund-raiser, but then the Sacred Heart Parish School motto is, after all, “Be Great.”

Meanwhile, nearby homes not involved with the tour seemed to be showing off a little for dignity’s sake, their strings of lights resolutely agleam. Some, by contrast, seemed almost sullenly dark and withdrawn. These were assigned back stories by wayward tour takers: the set of some forgotten Hitchcock movie here, a retired Howard Johnson’s there.

Later, one sharply dressed man, possibly a Holiday Home owner, was heard issuing an urgent whisper: “Why does it take them so long to get out when they’re right by the door?”