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Bespoke lighting



Celebrating the essence of English style December 2019 | Issue 178 | £4.50 | UK Edition

FESTIVE WELCOME Beautiful homes dressed with seasonal sparkle


Inspiring ways to create memorable celebrations


Preparations at the real Downton Abbey


Thoughtful presents Twinkling table settings

Delicious recipes and ways to make guests feel at home


64 44

Beautiful Buys 14 FESTIVE COMFORTS Beautiful seasonal buys. 20 BEST OF BRITISH Stylish gifts, made in Britain. 22 PERSONAL TOUCH Lovingly hand-crafted presents. 24 ROYAL APPROVAL Goodies by Royal Warrant holders.

English Homes 34 WINTER WONDERLAND A Sussex family home

at its magical best in the festive season.

44 CRAFTING MEMORIES Textile designer Molly

Mahon’s colourful and creative East Sussex home.

54 JOYFUL OCCASION A 1920s mock-Tudor home

in Surrey is the perfect setting for entertaining.

64 COUNTRY CHRISTMAS A Grade II listed home in


Rutland sets the scene for an elegant Christmas.


Style inspiration 77 WELCOMING PARTY Create a festive entrance. 78 PERFECTLY IMPERFECT Put aside impeccable ideals

and create a relaxed family Christmas to cherish.

86 A FEAST FOR THE EYES Festive table-setting ideas. 92 ARTISTIC FLAIR The story of lighting and furniture

company Cox London.

94 THE CONVIVIAL KITCHEN Create a kitchen layout

that works harmoniously for both hosts and guests.

102 HEART OF THE HOME The latest range cookers.



109 CHRISTMAS SPICE Making mulled wine. 110 CHRISTMAS IN THE MOMENT Preparing for guests, a

classic trifle recipe and illuminations at Kew Gardens.


Carnarvon reveals her seasonal secrets.


130 THE FINAL WORD ON... CHRISTMAS A chic take on

gift wrapping echoes colours of the season.

Regulars 8

A LETTER FROM HOME A welcome from our


27 NOTEBOOK A festive digest of notable people and

pursuits, plus important dates for the diary.

32 THE LONDON EDIT Interiors news from the capital. 74 SUBSCRIBE Treat yourself or a loved one to

a subscription to The English Home.

124 COMING NEXT MONTH Useful resources and




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an insight into the delights to come in our January edition.

ENJOY SINGLE ISSUES BY POST To make life easier, you can now buy single editions or back issues of The English Home online and have them posted directly to your home address. To order your copy, please visit

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A letter from home


OUR TEAM CHRISTMAS RITUALS... Samantha, Executive Editor: “I love rediscovering our favourite baubles each year and decorating two trees with my young daughter – one with her handmade decorations, the other with our heirloom treasures. We enjoy making home-made place settings for the table, and gifts, such as preserves known as ‘Sam’s Jams’ by friends and family.” Katy, Decorating Editor: “I’m looking forward to the excitement and anticipation with my three-year-old daughter on Christmas Eve as she carefully leaves out a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie for Father Christmas and waking up early to see if ‘he’s been’.” Lea, Sub Editor: ”My favourite Christmas tradition is our children coming into our room to open their stockings whilst we drink a cup of tea. And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a flaming pudding.” Clair, Homes Editor: “This year I’m looking forward to distributing our home-made apple chutney to all our family and friends, made using our bumper crop of apples from our ancient apple tree in the garden.”


With warm regards,

Kerryn Harper-Cuss, Editor-in-Chief

Follow us on Twitter @englishhometeam Pinterest at Facebook at Instagram at


For ways of making new memories and creating a ‘perfectly imperfect’ Christmas, turn to page 78

elishing the reassuring nature of festive rituals and indulging in a little nostalgia is a significant part of Christmas for many of us. There is great comfort in tradition and in the gathering of family and friends. I find myself particularly wistful at this time of year, recalling Christmases past. Decking our home with foliage and decorations conjures so many happy memories of childhood, and of family who are here now only in spirit but are brought to mind in the twinkling lights on the tree. It is important, of course, to keep making memories for each new generation, so whilst I love to honour the rituals of my parents and grandparents, I try also to continue to create new ones that are particular to my own immediate family, inspired or suggested by my daughter so that her character and interests are incorporated and handed on. I am a firm believer, too, that there is no need to succumb to a pressure for everything to be ‘just so’. It is usually the small, silly, joyful accidents that people remember, not whether the napkins were perfectly folded or if the dinner was served at midday ‘on the dot’. However you celebrate and whoever you share your festivities with, I hope they will be full of comfort and joy.

Chappana Wallpaper. Roman Shades in Chappana. Darien Chairs in Grassmarket Check.

Colony Collection: Wallpaper, Print and Woven Fabrics tel: 020 7737 6555


Celebrating the e ence of Engli h t le December 2019 | Issue 178 | £4.50 | UK Edition

FESTIVE WELCOME Beautiful homes dressed with seasonal sparkle


CONTACT US Editorial 0333 014 3215 The English Home, Cumberland House, Oriel Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 1BB Email Website Advertising/Publishing 020 7349 3700 The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd, Jubilee House, 2 Jubilee Place, London SW3 3TQ Email

Inspiring ways to create memorable celebrations


Preparations at the real Downton Abbey


Thoughtful gifts Twinkling table settings

ical touches

Delicious recipes and ways to make guests feel at home



Editor-in-Chief Kerryn Harper-Cuss Executive Editor Samantha Scott-Jeffries Managing Editor Sarah Feeley Art Editor Claire Hicks Contributing Art Editors Mark Bradley, Matt Griffiths, Rebecca Stead Sub Editor Lea Tacey Decorating Editor Katy Mclean Features Editor Eve Middleton Homes & Lifestyle Editor Clair Wayman Editor-at-Large Kate Freud


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Including Room-by-room decorating advice Interviews with top interior designers Behind-the-scenes insights Invaluable buyers’ guides

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OPPOSITE PAGE Setting the scene Add to a traditional tableau with rustic rattan and candle-lit lanterns. Farringdon Star (small), Steel, £18; Miners Lantern (large), Charcoal, £15; round bud vase, Blue Glass, £8; Wells Windlight, Recycled Glass, £35; Christmas tree skirt (large), Rattan, £45; Open Weave Basket (small), Rattan, £50, all Garden Trading CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Awaiting Father Christmas Soft velvet in elegant hues and a pared-back design make these stockings a stylish offering. Isla velvet stockings, £30 each; Heddon candlestick (small), £37, all Neptune Wooden wonder Made from salvaged wood that has undergone ‘petrification’ – a type of fossilisation that takes place underground where the wood is starved of oxygen – this beautiful bowl is a natural delight. Petrified wood bowl, £90, Indigenous Cake classic Nothing says Christmas like a slice of fruit cake, enjoyed with marzipan and icing for the ultimate treat. Soft Iced Star Christmas Cake, £30, Bettys

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT The advent of organisation Proving that advent calendars aren’t just for little ones, this thoughtfully considered offering has everything needed to plan the run-up to Christmas. 24 Days of Stationery advent calendar, £89, Martha Brook London Stationery All wrapped up Take the time to enjoy gift wrapping ahead of the big day, mixing and matching patterns and adornments for a joyful look with maximum impact. Bauble, Traditions luxury baubles, Red, £50 (for a box of 26); Traditions bauble cluster, Red, £1.50; gift wrap, from £4, all John Lewis & Partners Light the way Combine traditions of old with the technology of today with clip-on electric candle lights. Warm White LED Christmas Tree Candle Lights, £19.99 for 10, Seasonal servings Made from enamelled cast iron, this casserole has been given a seasonal twist. French Oven Snowflake Cocotte in Cherry, £229, Staub

Perfectly Imperfect Interior Design


The gift of scent Carefully curated in accordance with both eco-friendly and style credentials in mind and tested by the in-house team, only all-natural candles from UK-based artisan makers go into this gift subscription service. Scented candle gifting subscription, from £38.85 for three months, Iggy Box Original detail Inspired by the architectural mouldings of neoclassical architect Robert Adam, these potato-print effect homewares bring together homespun charm and original style. Vine Ochre tray (medium), £22.50; Dentil Grey placemats (set of 4), £30; Dentil Grey coasters (set of 4), £14; Vine fine bone china plate, £16, all from the Dentil collection at The Humble Cut



CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE Raise a glass A festive cocktail will taste all the better when sipped from these fine-rimmed glasses. Clara flared glasses, £32 for a set of two, Rowen & Wren

100% Bespoke kitchen & household furniture, sympathetically designed to work with your home’s architecture and handmade to last a lifetime. 24A West Street, Ashburton, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 7DU

Tel: 01364 653613

All children’s toys by Dragons of Walton Street

Hand-painted Molly Longlegs tea caddy lamp base, £906, Besselink & Jones The Tragedy of Lord George eau de parfum for men, 75ml, £188, Penhaligon’s

BEST OF BRITISH Emma Louise Liberty fabric silk eye mask, £48, Coco & Wolf

There are many British pastimes that can be elevated with a thoughtful Christmas gift, and our round-up of ideas are all – fittingly – made in Britain. From traditional children’s toys to beautifully scented candles, treat loved ones to items that help them rediscover a pleasure for their day-to-day activities. Family and friends will appreciate presents that celebrate or enrich their favourite interests.

Botanical alphabet limited-edition prints, personalised messages can be added, £30 each, Nicola Watters

Bee Happy Gift Box, £40, Daylesford Organic

The Christmas Silver Sixpence 2019, £30, The Royal Mint

Polyanthus cosmetic case, £15, Emily Burningham

British racing car wooden toy, £34, Hop & Peck 20 THE ENGLISH HOME

, , o Pure Bathroom Alpaca & wool bed Collection throw, £139, Ally-Bee


Pomegranate candle, £24, Plum & Ashby


Fern & Urn handmade table mats, £56 for a set of four, Club Matters

Helen Round Christmas Collection hand-printed linen napkins, £27.75 for two, Made By Hand

Ink linen hand-painted tablecloth in light green with gold drips, £625, Summerill & Bishop


Dorset milking stool, £269 including up to 10 hand-carved letters, (additional letters £10 a letter), Sitting Spiritually

Show those nearest and dearest how much they mean with lovingly hand-crafted products. Every time the recipient uses the item, its characteristics will be a reminder of the care taken to select such an individual piece. Practical items will be beautifully functional and charming to use, and even small tokens, such as personalised chocolates, can be utterly spoiling. There is little to compare with the delight of seeing handmade commissions opened on Christmas morning.

Tim Plunkett ash bowl, £440, Maud & Mabel

Mr & Mrs pinch pot, from £7 each, Sue Pryke

Classic vintage novels and new notebooks rebound by hand in vintage fabrics, A6 designs £8.50, A5 designs £14.50, Forget Me Not Originals, From Britain with

Ceramic leaf-print soap dish, hand-carved and shaped, £26, Aerende Bee handmade beaded coasters, £16.50 for a set of four, Oliver Bonas


Alphabet chocolate bars, personalised with letters or words, £5.20 a letter, bar as seen with one letter £5.20, Melt London


Gold Columbia Fine Bone China Collection, from £100 for a 20cm plate, Wedgwood

Briarwood & Gold Plate shaving brush, £185, Floris

Clyde Fedora in Aubergine, £475, Lock & Co

Gordon Castle Antler Trellis Trinket Tray in Ivory, £195, Halcyon Days

Crystal Vita Tall Rose cocktail coupe, £180, William Yeoward

ROYAL APPROVAL This Christmas, why not treat family and friends – and even oneself – to glorious gifts from brands given the Royal seal of approval. Her Majesty The Queen and Their Royal Highnesses The Prince Of Wales and The Duke of Edinburgh bestow their Royal Warrants on specialist companies which supply Royal households with goods and services. All of the brands on this page proudly hold at least one Royal Warrant.

2020 Kings Diary in Navy, £199, Smythson

The Sleighbourne Hamper, £500, Fortnum & Mason


Acorn curtain pole finials in polished brass, from £296 each, Robert Kime


Women’s Norris Field Gloss wellington boots in Dulse, £100, Hunter

Revival iStream3 digital radio in Dusky Pink, £199.99, Roberts


For a free copy of our brochure please call 01473 826934 or visit

Orla Glass Pendant £176

Apollo bath in burnished bronze - 2 sizes manufactured

What’s unique about an Albion Bath? We first began making fine free-standing baths over 20 years ago using our own special material: Iso-Enamel, keeping your bath hotter for longer, and at only a third of the weight of cast iron. Request our 276 page brochure for our range of 50


beautiful traditional bath tubs.

01255 831605 |




NOTEBOOK Managing Editor Sarah Feeley highlights dazzling details for the festive season

Handmade with love

It truly is the thought that counts, especially at Christmas, so handmade gifts and decorations are even more precious for the time, effort and love poured into them. Now is the perfect time to enjoy some fun being creative – regardless of one’s own perceived levels of skill and artistry. National Trust locations up and down the country will host Christmas craft workshops, from wreath-making at places such as Ightham Mote in Kent, Hidcote in Gloucestershire and Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, to making willow angels in Surrey with weaver Judith Needham. Learn the art of modern calligraphy and – after practising alphabets and feeling brave – personalise baubles, cards, gift bags and tags to take home at Swallows & Artisans in the Lake District. Make a festive fairy to adorn the Christmas tree or give as a gift (see below) at The Malthouse Collective in Stroud, Gloucestershire on Saturday 7 December using vintage lace and jewellery. All materials will be provided, with refreshments and a light lunch. This venue will host a range of workshops in November and December, making gifts and decorations plus floral arranging. 

Crowning Glory: Choosing a Christmas Tree Venturing out on a crisp December day to pick out the best Christmas tree is a muchanticipated family tradition, and children love to have the final say on the magnificent specimen to be taken home. A gentle steer towards certain varieties can result in less work to keep the tree looking handsome throughout the festive period. Louise Golden, senior plant buyer from Dobbies Garden Centres, advises: “There are two excellent options of trees with needle-holding qualities: the Nordmann Fir, which has glossy foliage and is soft to the touch, and the Fraser Fir, with

more of a slender growth habit and a refreshing citrus scent.” She also has sage advice for those seeking a Christmas tree requiring minimum care. “Container-grown trees are a superb solution for those who want a lowmaintenance Christmas tree, as its root systems will do all the work for you.” For a finishing touch, add a ‘skirt’, such as this Garden Trading rattan one (above) to conceal the base of the tree and its stand (essential for keeping the tree standing straight), and as a backdrop for presents. Visit for more expert wisdom. THE ENGLISH HOME 27


Tom Martin Bauble master

When he was a 16-year-old schoolboy in 010, Tom Martin started his own business, producing 100 hand-painted baubles. Today, his business, Tom Martin London, makes and exports thousands of baubles annually all over the world – each painstakingly hand-painted on the inside using a fine, hooked brush inserted through a hole in the top. Tom has also forged a partnership with The Snowman to make baubles depicting characters from the much-loved children’s story, and works with corporate clients on commissions. ‘Inside painting’ is an ancient Chinese raft. Legend has it that 200 years ago a businessman travelled to Beijing and became addicted to snuff. His business failed and, destitute, he took refuge in a temple, where, unable to afford more snuff, he scratched every last bit from his snuff bottle, leaving etchings inside the glass. A monk came across the bottle and, seeing beauty, decided to paint the etchings from the inside. “An heirloom doesn’t have to be valuable to be special to a family,” says Tom. “I’ve always thought a bauble is integral to the decoration process on any special occasion. The decorations we produce are all handmade so they’re wonderful, special keepsake items.”

Tanya & Philip Taylor Founders of Harrow & Green Having renovated their London home, Tanya and Phil Taylor tried to source somewhere that would print their address on a vintage tinder sack in which to store logs for their new fireplace. Unable to do so, they ordered a sack online and printed it themselves. Family and friends loved it, and requested their own. This sparked an idea to make personalised sacks for presents, Phil having received Christmas gifts in a pillowcase as a child. The couple made a few and demand soon spread. Setting up a website in 2011, they successfully pitched to and their firm flourished. Stockists now include Harrods and Selfridges – where two personalised sacks are said to have been bought by the Duchess of Cambridge for Prince George and Princess Charlotte in 2016. Phil, whose background is in IT, and Tanya, who worked at a translation company, have since expanded their range to include personalised stockings, mini sacks, handkerchiefs and more, everything designed and printed in-house. “We both have a passion for design and typography and have always wanted to work together,” they say. “Our Christmas sacks add a little magic to Christmas morning. It’s such a simple idea but it brings so much joy.” 


Chimneypieces | Lighting | Furniture 020 7730 2122 |

Festive events & days out Bath Christmas Market 28 November to 15 December, Bath Tantalising aromas of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts will greet market visitors, with 150 twinkling chalets to explore. Beverley Festival of Christmas 8 December, East Yorkshire The man in red himself – plus reindeer – will parade through this historic market town, where visitors can peruse three Victorian street markets and over 120 stalls. Burghley Christmas Fair 28 November to 1 December, Lincolnshire One of England’s greatest Elizabethan estates will host its biggest ever Christmas fair, run in association with the charity fundraising Angel Fair, with over 100 exhibitors selling luxury gifts and fine food. Carols at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons 2–11 December, Oxfordshire Enjoy a champagne reception at this idyllic country house hotel before going on a torchlit stroll to nearby St Mary’s Church for an evening of choral performances by candlelight, then return to the hotel for a celebratory dinner at chef patron Raymond Blanc’s fabulous Michelin-starred restaurant.


Christmas at Charles Dickens Museum Dates in November & December, London The former home of Charles Dickens, where he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby, will play host to special readings, performances and festive delights in its historic interiors. Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre 23–24 November, Ludlow, Shropshire Ludlow Castle will provide the historic backdrop for medieval jesters, live music, carol singers, a pantomime, over 100 stalls and the chance to try archery, swordfighting, juggling and circus skills. Malton Christmas Market 7–8 December, Malton, Yorkshire Yorkshire’s official food capital will host a festive version of its popular monthly food market with non-food gifts as well, plus street food, live music and entertainment. Mousehole Harbour Lights 14 December to 4 January, Cornwall The charming fishing village of Mousehole in Cornwall will be illuminated by thousands of lights in a colourful festive display started in 1963 by local artist Joan Gillchrest. Open-air carols sung by local choirs will accompany the ‘switch-on’.

Natural History Museum Ice Rink Until 12 January, London Frost-covered trees festooned with fairy lights add a touch of magic to this seasonal family treat, with the promise of mulled wine as a warming reward. Nottingham Winter Wonderland 15 November to 31 December Staged in the Old Market Square in the city centre with an ice rink, a Christmas market,

FAR LEFT The Natural History museum’s iconic Waterhouse building makes a wonderful backdrop for its outdoor ice rink. LEFT Nutcracker by the English National Ballet is a festive tradition enjoyed by all ages. BELOW FAR LEFT Hunt for treasures at The Country Brocante Winter Fair in West Sussex. BELOW LEFT Enjoy a festive weekend including carols by candlelight at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.

workshops and even an elf training academy are among this event’s many attractions.

Padstow Christmas Festival 5–8 December, Padstow, Cornwall For celebrity chefs, culinary delights and festive fun, head to Padstow Christmas Festival, featuring cookery demonstrations, chef Q&As, fine local produce and artisan skills, live music, a market and fireworks. Royal Opera House Carols Singalong 15 December, London Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House will be filled with festive song led by members of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, with mulled wine and mince pies to follow. roving entertainers, live music, food galore and an Ice Bar complete with ice sculptures and drinks served in ice glasses. Nutcracker, English National Ballet 27–30 November, Liverpool; 11 December to 5 January, London Over 100 dancers and musicians will bring this classic tale to life with exquisite dancing, enchanting sets and Tchaikovsky’s spellbinding score played live.

Royal Pavilion Ice Rink From 2 November to 19 January, Brighton Marvel at the exotic architecture of King George IV’s Royal Pavilion as you glide by on an atmospheric rink, with ice powered entirely by wind and solar energy. Rye Christmas Festival 7 December, East Sussex Pantomine, storytelling, fairground rides, street performers, a procession, creative

Strawberry Hill Christmas Festival 17 November, Twickenham, London Carefully curated festive shopping, Christmas home-styling demonstrations, food tastings and a hog roast will be staged at Strawberry Hill House, a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture. The Country Brocante Winter Fair 22 & 23 November, West Sussex Lovers of simple English country style and pretty French interiors will flock to this delightful event at Parham House & Gardens for decorative homewares, antiques, artisan giftware and accessories. Ulverston Dickensian Christmas Festival 23–24 November, Cumbria Step back in time to the Dickensian era in this historic market town, with free festive entertainment, music and dancing, Christmas market stalls with gifts, seasonal food and a grand costume parade. Viennese Christmas by Candlelight 29 November to 29 December, UK-wide Revel in seasonal classical music by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Schubert, performed by the UK chamber orchestra London Concertante in locations such as London, Liverpool, Derby, Coventry, Manchester and Newcastle. THE ENGLISH HOME 31


Stratford-upon-Avon Christmas Festival 6–8 December, Warwickshire This Victorian Christmas event with a Dickensian theme will feature traditional gift and craft markets, food stalls, vintage funfair rides and live entertainment.


THE LONDON EDIT Festive inspiration from Editor-at-Large Kate Freud, from wreath-making and bespoke hampers to felt Christmas decorations and afternoon tea PETERSHAM NURSERIES






hilst interiors brand Cox & Cox is a year-round favourite for homewares and gifts, it is also carving itself quite a niche for Christmas decorations, offering an extensive range, whatever style is sought. There is plenty on offer for purists, with traditional tree decorations, such as tree trains, golden hanging bells, wooden toys and baubles in classic red, silver and white. Meanwhile, those who want to make a style statement can harness the joy with the Festive Fiesta range, a colourful Peruvianinspired collection featuring rainbow-hued baubles and felt alpacas. And its carolsinging felt reindeer and mice promise to become firm family favourites. Table decorations and crackers can be found here, too, as well as chich wrapping paper, including leopard print and golden deco designs, and ribbon inscribed with ‘You are very hard to buy for…’, a sentiment we all know too well. Exterior decorations have been thought of too, with Cox & Cox’s neon-style polar bears, light-up faux rattan reindeer and a pre-lit indoor/outdoor Christmas tree.



t is hard to think of a more beautiful setting in which to get into the Christmas spirit than Petersham Nurseries, whether at the original in Richmond or at its newer outpost nestled in the heart of Covent Garden. The latter has all the charm of the flagship restaurant and nurseries, and despite its convenient central London location proves to be a haven of peace from the bustling streets outside. This Christmas, Petersham Nurseries is offering a series of festive workshops at both sites from 6 November until 21 December, with prices from £40. Events include Christmas wine tastings, bulb-planting for the festive season, and making a wreath, centrepiece or hand-tied bouquet using wild flowers, foraged foliage, berries and woodland materials. Alternatively, join one of the candlelit Christmas carol and shopping evenings 6pm–9pm on 4 December in Richmond and 5 & 12 December in Covent Garden, to enjoy mince pies, mulled wine and a chance to buy everything from Christmas crackers to stylish decorations for the tree.

ver since William Fortnum and Hugh Mason opened the Piccadilly grocery store Fortnum & Mason in 1707, it has become a British institution and destination for luxury gifts, hampers and one of the best afternoon teas in London. The store never looks more splendid than at Christmas when, bedecked with Christmas trees and sparkly lights, it bustles with tourists and British traditionalists looking for that perfect ‘little something’. In store and online there is plenty to delight the gourmet shopper with an enticing collection of exotic teas, wines, chocolates, biscuits, fresh food and even the opportunity to create a bespoke hamper. Visitors can also buy a bit of the quintessentially English pomp and ceremony to take home, such as Fortnum & Mason tea sets, cake stands, fine bone china teapots and tea towels. This year, those seeking something truly extravagant can purchase Fortnum & Mason’s Midas Touch Christmas crackers. The six gold-wrapped crackers cost £5,000 and each contains a gold envelope with tickets for a gift and an experience, including fine china, delectable hampers, champagne afternoon teas and dinner at Fortnum’s restaurant at The Royal Exchange.










‘the star of the Summer’s country house offerings’ Music OMH

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The kitchen and dining room have been knocked together and bespoke dresser-style cupboards fitted. A pair of steel pendant lights, one of which hangs above the kitchen island (see overleaf), were custom-made a few years ago to add a contemporary touch. The painting is Wild Flowers I by Clive Fredriksson.


ABOVE The walls are painted in Matchstick and the units are painted in Stony Ground, both Farrow & Ball. “When I asked in the shop about the kitchen colours, the assistant told me they wouldn’t usually put those two together because one is more green and the other has blue undertones, but it works because it’s north-facing,” says Amanda. LEFT Amanda with black labrador Otter. The initials above the front door relate to the property’s original name and the numbers to the date it was built.


ome Christmas time, Amanda and Simon Rooney’s Sussex home is like something straight out of the pages of a children’s storybook. Roaring log fires, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the hall with its sweetsmelling branches reaching up the stairwell, and candles and baubles at every turn. Meanwhile, outside it resembles an advent calendar with its symmetrical windows and holly trees flanking the front door. In 1993, the couple were living in Bristol with their young children Matthew, Charlotte and Serena – all now grown up – when surgeon Simon got a job on the south coast. The family moved into rented accommodation in a village a short drive away and then, in 1994, heard about a house nearby that was about to come on the market. “We were the first people through the door,” says Amanda. “The moment I walked into the hall, I could just imagine a Christmas tree at the bottom of the stairs. I got into the car and said to Simon, ‘I’ve just got to have that house’.” Undeterred by the Grade II* listing, the couple put in an offer and, by September 1994, the house was theirs. “The original part of the house was built in the 1600s and then, in 1702, it 

The antique dining table in the entrance hall is perfect for festive gatherings. The wooden lamp on the console table is from Duck & Dog in Cranbrook and the large oil canvas to the right is by the couple’s elder daughter, Charlotte.


The wallpaper is vintage Cole & Son and was in situ when the couple bought the house. The blue and white lamp on the bureau is by Oka. For a similar fire surround, try the Bolection fireplace in Black Marble from Jamb.

‘This is a particularly festive house. It is the time of year when it really comes alive’ was extended,” says Amanda. “The house was painstakingly restored in the 1970s by the previous owners, who have become good friends.” When they first moved in, the couple resolved to live with the layout and decor for a couple of years, after which they decided to knock through from the kitchen into the dining room to make a large kitchen/diner. “We also put down the wooden floor because, when the rooms were separate, one side was concrete with vinyl over the top, and the levels were different,” explains Amanda. The rest of the house – sitting room, five bedrooms, family bathroom and two en-suite bathrooms – has all been updated over the years, save for the drawing room walls which are still covered in a vintage blue-and-beige Cole & Son wallpaper put up by the former owners. Amanda has decorated with aplomb and the interior now features a mix of taupe shades, wallpapers in bold hues and a selection of wonderful antiques. There is also a delightful dolls’ house in the hall. “I’ve always had a thing about them,” she says. “When I was little, a friend of my mother gave me her childhood dolls’ 

ABOVE LEFT The sofa in the cosy sitting room is covered in a Manuel Canovas fabric. The two small oil paintings are by Amanda’s aunt Virginia Ridley. ABOVE RIGHT The dolls’ house is a replica of the house and made by Anglia Dolls Houses. The oil painting of the house is by Virginia Ridley. LEFT The Christmas tree looks perfect at the bottom of the stairs in the entrance hall. For a similar staircase, try Stuart Interiors.


ABOVE The matching wallpaper and curtains in the guest bedroom are in Vauxhall Gardens by Lewis & Wood. RIGHT In the serene master en-suite bathroom, the bath is Toulouse by Victoria + Albert at CP Hart. The cupboard is from India Jane.

house from the 1930s. Then, when I was too old to play with dolls’ houses, my mother kindly gave it to the church raffle. Suddenly, as an adult, I decided I wanted another one, so had one commissioned to look like the house.” Amanda only likes to furnish the dolls’ house with copies of her life-size furniture. “Everything is available out there, or you can have it made,” she says. The couple usually host a big dinner party in the run-up to Christmas, decorating outside as well as inside, adding fairy lights to the holly bushes and lining the path to the front door with lanterns. Guests then sit at the large dining table in the hall. “I just love the hall and the original quarry tiled floor. I like to imagine all the people who have passed through over the years,” says Amanda. Upstairs, on the first floor, the master bedroom boasts an en-suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe, but an elegant George III four-poster bed with a silk canopy is the real highlight. “I had always loved the idea of having an antique four-poster bed and a friend of ours, Bargain Hunt’s James Braxton, saw one when he was visiting an auction house in Billingshurst. So I bid for it over the phone.


My heart was pounding but no one was bidding against me and I won,” says Amanda. “It cost as much again to have it restored.” Also on this floor are the pink-toile guest bedroom, two further bedrooms and a separate bathroom. The fifth bedroom with its own en suite is reached via a back staircase. Christmas and New Year is a magical time for the family. The children return home and throw themselves headlong into proceedings, with Otter the black labrador also being involved. “On Christmas Eve, we still put out the mince pie and port for Father Christmas and the children lay out the stockings, including the dog’s,” Amanda says.

After lunch on Christmas Day, the family opens the presents from under the tree. On Boxing Day they all go for a long walk, then the children make their return journeys – Matthew now lives in Singapore, Charlotte in New York and Serena in London. After all the excitement of Christmas, Amanda and Simon prepare for their annual New Year’s Eve party. “We invite old friends to stay, arriving in time for tea, followed by a black-tie dinner and silly games. Last year we had a rib of venison with a bottle or two of very special red wine,” says Amanda. “This is a particularly festive house. It is the time of year when it really comes alive.” 

ABOVE The antique four-poster bed in the master bedroom is dressed in Fairmont Silk and the wallpaper is Ashby Stripe, both Colefax and Fowler. The bedspread is from Cologne & Cotton and the bedside lamps are from Oka.



CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS Mulled wine, plenty of foliage and berries, and shopping at Liberty in London make Christmas special for this couple

How do you celebrate Christmas? We like to kick off the celebrations with the magical Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at Mayfield Convent. What is your favourite festive ritual? Mulled wine after Midnight Mass. We all pile back to the house and Simon and I stay up preparing the stockings whilst drinking a glass or two. What are you looking forward to this Christmas? Having the children home. I miss them desperately and adore having them back in the house. Where do you like to shop for presents? Liberty in London. Simon and I both go there individually to buy for each other and it has become a bit of a tradition. The shop has a wonderful feel to it and I love the fact that it sells unusual things. I also like The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. It’s a pedestrian street that is beautifully decorated at Christmas and has some lovely boutiques.


How do you decorate your home? With lots of foliage and berries foraged from the garden. We have plenty of shrubs and trees, and there are also holly trees flanking the front door. How do you lay the table at Christmas? I like to change it up every year, but I stick to certain colour combinations. This year it will be a white tablecloth and lots of candles and tea lights. What is your favourite festive recipe? An old family Christmas pudding recipe. The only one I have found that comes close to it is Mary Berry’s version. It is delicious. What should no Christmas be without? Turkey! It is the only time in the year that we have it. What’s more, I have found a fabulous recipe that doesn’t involve getting up too early in the morning. TOP RIGHT Amanda in the inviting dining area of the kitchen. Candles and soft lighting add to the enveloping atmosphere. RIGHT he handsome fir reath is offset beautifull b the hite front door and the green and red of the t o holl bushes


i g S

esi Mol Eas x fair colourful twists on tradition and an abundance of homemade treasures FEATURE ARABELLA MEZGER STYLING CLAIR WAYMAN PHOTOGRAPHY RACHAEL SMITH

Parsonage Pink by Papers and Paints provides a pretty foil for colourful artwork. The sofa is covered in Molly’s Luna fabric in Blue/Turmeric whilst a cosy tub chair has been upholstered in Molly’s Leaf fabric in Moss Green. The painting above the fireplace was inherited whilst the ones either side of it are by Emma Black, a friend of Molly’s.



rundling back home through the woods on a frosty winter’s morning, bearing armloads of greenery, holly and berries to adorn the house, is a sure sign for Molly and Rollo Mahon that Christmas has arrived. “I think this cottage lends itself to Christmas” reflects Molly. “We love bringing nature in.” The tree, which the children have decorated, twinkles with baubles alongside a nativity scene of felted animals made over the years. Tucked away down a bumpy forest track is the cottage where the magic of Molly’s eponymous homewares label began five years ago – a label that is celebrated for its striking, bold patterns and joyful colours. She creates, she says, “to make people smile”. The couple left London in 2010 “looking for our own little space,” and a few years later, happened upon this seventeeth-century stone cottage in East Sussex. “No way am I buying this house,” thought Molly. “It was really dark, the rooms were all falling down, Rollo couldn’t stand up because the ceilings were so low. It just wasn’t what I had in mind when I dreamt about living in a pretty, rural cottage.” The setting, on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, surrounded by peace and quiet, won them over. The Mahons and their three children – Lani, 12, Algernon,

TOP LEFT Above the sofa hang paintings by James Astor and Molly and Rollo’s son Algernon. LEFT Molly, Rollo and the family’s parson terrier, Bramble, take a moment’s pause in front of the woodshed. ABOVE Books about Peggy Angus, one of Molly’s heroines, sit beneath enticingly wrapped presents on the ottoman.

Rollo made the kitchen units using reclaimed scaffolding planks. An alcove above the Aga is lined with plywood tiles made by Molly. The pink rug is a vintage find.


ABOVE Molly’s Red Pattee Stripe design is used for the lampshade and tablecloth, creating a festive canvas for the Christmas celebration. The brass candlesticks are from Nkuku and the inherited Ercol chairs have been covered in Molly’s Yellow Dot design. Molly made the crackers herself. The flowers were supplied by Aesme and the mince pies came from Bettys.

10 and Orlando, 6, lived there for a short time “to get a feel for it” and then quickly moved out to allow works to begin. “It was that classic scenario: we were so naive that we didn’t realise the work would take a lot longer than the builders promised us.” In fact, the family were to find themselves living in a tent for eight months during the renovations and whilst Orlando was just a few months old. “Life was so crazy, we had to live very simply,” remembers Molly. “We all slept in one tent and found ourselves living in a way which was actually quite tribal.” During this time, the builders completely reconfigured the space in the cottage. “Nothing flowed, and the only way to make sense of it was to build a house that suited us as a family,” Molly recalls. They moved the staircase, which originally sat behind a huge oak door, and changed the layout upstairs to create four spacious bedrooms and a gorgeous family bathroom where Molly enjoys reading to the children whilst they are having a bath.


The kitchen, which was originally two small rooms and a glasshouse, was knocked through, and French windows were put in to allow easy access to the garden. The space is now flooded with light and has been transformed into somewhere Molly loves to sit during any rare downtime. Floors were lowered to give more ceiling height. “We’ve opened up the space and created a lovely family home. We managed to do a lot on a relatively small budget, and it all now works really well. We have no reason to move,” she says. “On Christmas Eve, we go to our local farm and sing carols to the animals,” explains Molly. “The cows look out at us whilst we sip warm apple juice, eat mince pies and the farmer tells the nativity story.” On Christmas morning, Molly will come downstairs to light the fire, put the fairy lights on and make a big pot of tea. “It’s magical, because our daily life can often be quite rushed. This way we open our stockings together: it’s heaven. It’s what life’s supposed to be about – slow and warm.”

Molly professes to being quite traditional when it comes to Christmas, and the decorations throughout the house exude her signature vibrancy. “I will put one of our own-design tablecloths on the table and we’ll have napkins and crackers that I’ve made,” she says. “Then I’ll fill the table with candles, mince pies, pomegranates, satsumas and walnuts. It has a lovely festive, rustic feel.” Molly’s creativity runs throughout everything that the family does; the children print the paper for the paper chains and Molly makes all her own wrapping paper. The Mahons have a symbiotic relationship between work and home. “What I love about my work is that Rollo is involved and I can do it with the children around,” Molly enthuses. Family-produced art and design can be spied throughout the house. Inspired by what she describes as the Bloomsbury group’s “domestic creativity”, Molly is not afraid to paint on her kitchen cupboards or even her fireplace – in fact she is often commissioned by people to 

ABOVE LEFT A simple blue and yellow blind hand-printed by Molly hangs above the Belfast sink. Pretty block-printed curtains cover stacks of crockery below the worktops. ABOVE RIGHT Bramble takes a nap beneath a bench layered with brightly coloured cushions. RIGHT A painted dresser is laden with a cheerful selection of plates and mugs printed with some of Molly’s designs.

The decorations throughout the house exude Molly’s signature vibrancy ABOVE Molly designed the headboard fabric specifically for the master bedroom. ABOVE RIGHT The walls of the bathroom are papered with Molly’s Coral print. RIGHT The seventeenth-century stone cottage looks out over the garden towards the studio. Over Christmas and New Year Molly is running workshops at Daylesford, clothing and homeware company Toast, and Charleston.

paint their cupboards. “It’s the idea that every home should reflect its inhabitants,” she explains. “Your home is your home even if you’re only in it for a very short time. My mother was horrified,” she laughs, referring to the fireplace in their sitting room which she and the children painted, inspired by those at nearby Charleston farmhouse, “but I love it. It looks gorgeous in the evening light.” The surrounding countryside leaves its impression on Molly and Rollo daily. So much so, that they were even married under an oak tree, and, at every turn, the house references the nearby woodland, the simplicity of its shapes and its ever-changing palette. “I love the way that nature is constantly changing,” Molly says. “It’s the same with block printing: every time you lift the block you get a slightly different print. The patterns are simple, they make sense and are timeless.” In an age of perfectionism, when nothing is allowed to be out of step, it is refreshing to witness Molly’s love


of imperfection. “Our house is perfectly imperfect and we wouldn’t want it any other way.” Molly’s studio sits at the bottom of her garden and is a riot of colour and pattern. Christmas wrapping paper is strung from pegs across the length of the room and inspiration lies in every corner. Though comparatively small, there are several different areas within the studio: one for moodboarding, another for designing and drawing, another for printing. She confesses to being an inveterate collector of books, and her studio is piled high with them.

Recalling her first trip to India with delight, Molly says, “I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness. This was where I wanted to be. I felt so alive and excited.” She appears to have pocketed a little bit of Jaipur’s vitality and brought it back with her. The children often spend time with her in the studio. “I think it’s so good for children to be busy with their hands,” she adds. “I love it when we’re in the studio together. We might put some tunes on and everyone is immersed in this creative zone. It’s what I did with my parents and now the children are doing it with me.” 

ABOVE The canopy in daughter Lani’s bedroom is Indigo Blue Stars by Molly Mahon. A handprinted stocking hangs at the foot of the bed. The fairy lights are by Lights4Fun.



FESTIVE TRADITIONS Charades, a roaring log fire and a warm rum cocktail are what make Christmas special for this textile designer How do you celebrate Christmas? We like to wake up at home on Christmas Day, and either have family coming to us or we go to my parents’ house, which is an hour away. Champagne and smoked salmon on bread are served by the children, and the presents get ripped open in a frenzy. Then we settle in for a long lunch knowing that we don’t have to go anywhere other than back to the sitting room to play charades. We love to watch The Queen’s Speech if we haven’t been distracted by bad cracker jokes or copious amounts of Stilton. What is your favourite festive ritual? Coming downstairs early to get the log fire roaring before the children emerge to see if Father Christmas has been. What are you looking forward to this Christmas? Christmas as it always is. Life doesn’t get


more traditional than at Christmas and I love the comfort of this familiar ritual. Where do you like to shop for presents? Lewes is my favourite and most local town. It has a lot of independent shops, so you know you can find something original there. I love shopping at Wickle in Lewes – you can get everything there from my favourite brand of jeans to beautiful children’s toys, plus they make really good coffee. Then I love Closet & Botts (also in Lewes), where I might find something for my sisters. The owner has a great eye for vintage as well as new, so you can get everything from beeswax candles to marbled enamelware there. Last stop is the Charleston Farmhouse Christmas Fair, where I will be selling my wares, too. There are so many great artists and makers in this part of Sussex and Charleston curates a wonderful selection in its own shop and for the fair.

How do you decorate your home? I love to decorate with holly, freshly cut from outside our back door and draped all over our artwork around the house. What is your favourite festive cocktail recipe? A long time ago, before we had children, we went for cocktails in a smart London bar, and my husband enjoyed his so much that he remakes it every year to the following recipe. Use the best rum possible, a lime peel, a cinnamon stick and a big, juicy blackcurrant. Rinse out a glass or jug with very hot water so it is warm, then pour in the rum. Add the lime, cinnamon and blackcurrant, swill it around so it warms up and then sieve into another warmed glass, and drink. It’s so warming and delicious. What should no Christmas be without? Christmas stockings. They are still my absolute highlight. Sadly, Father Christmas doesn’t bring me one any more, but I still get that excited feeling when my children open theirs. ABOVE LEFT Molly surrounded by her trademark vibrant colours. ABOVE RIGHT The dining table set in the pink, red and yellow hues Molly loves.

Upholstered chairs from Oka are a comfortable yet stylish option for everyday family meals in the dining area of the kitchen. The wall light is by Porta Romana.


A spacious and inviting mock-Tudor home in Surrey creates the perfect setting for entertaining at Christmas FEATURE & STYLING SARA BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY DAN DUCHARS

The sophisticated drawing room features carefully restored wooden panelling. Candles are gathered on a tray on the table to add ambience of an evening. The grand mantelpiece is decked in fresh foliage and baubles with a wreath hung above.


TOP The walls in the entrance hall were hand-painted by mural specialist James Gemmill and are teamed with flooring by Martin Moore Stone. The festively dressed console table from Oka


provides guests with a warm welcome. ABOVE Using pine cones and ivy gathered from the garden, together with baubles, Claire creates decorative nests to place votives in.

hilst always an exceptional property, Claire and Rob Merriman’s house in Surrey was a rather worn and gloomy sight when they first came to view it. However, it has since had its spirit reignited by the great care and attention to detail they have taken in bringing it back to its former glory. The handsome mock-Tudor property, built in 1927, now radiates warmth all year round and is particularly alluring at Christmas time. “I love this time of year when the house is bathed in the warm glow of Christmas lights,” says Claire. “It makes it really inviting for family and friends. This was important to us when we started to look for our dream home.” The couple spent many a weekend poring over maps and walking the local footpaths to try and find a hidden gem. “When we arrived here, on entering, we could see the view through the open back door. We didn’t even look at the rest of the house, as we just knew,” Claire explains. “We feel very lucky to live here and share this special place with all the wildlife.” Claire could see the building had plenty of potential, with its exposed beams, bags of character and good proportions. She was particularly taken, too, with the kitchen and its impressive vaulted ceiling. However, the space didn’t flow very well for a growing family – the couple have three young children – and the decor was in need of attention. “The interior needed updating and, as a large old house, it was draughty and costly to run,” says Claire. “Luckily we found an architectural practice, Back to Front, who understood how we wanted to shape and style the house.” 

LEFT The main Christmas tree is in the drawing room where the family gathers to open presents. This tree features more of the children’s decorations as well as several presents beneath. ABOVE The large drawing room is divided into three zones with seating around the fireplace, a grand piano to one

side of this and occasional chairs and a console table on the other side. Claire has chosen a mixture of seating styles and sizes, including sofas from The Sofa Company, which are upholstered in tonal fabrics to all sit together comfortably. The faux book door to the left of the fireplace leads to the study.


‘I purposely designed the house to not feel too formal, using warm, relaxing hues so people feel comfortable’ ABOVE Lighting plays a big part in Claire’s decorating scheme with pendant, task and atmospheric styles sourced from Porta Romana. ABOVE RIGHT In the cosy seating area at one end of the kitchen, cream upholstery from Eicholtz is teamed with curtains in fabric by Sheila Coombes.

Claire and Rob decided to live in the property for a year or so before having any work done to gain an insight into what they needed to change in order for it to work as home for them and their family. Amongst the conclusions the couple came to were incorporating a dining area at one end of the kitchen and extending the snug leading off this so they could fit an extra bedroom above this. “We had to knock down part of an exterior wall to achieve this,” Claire explains. “There was a singlestorey roof above the then television room and the roofline cut into the porch, making it a really awkward entrance.” This simple redesign gave the couple a chance to add poise and presence to the house’s facade and do its setting justice. An additional folly-like extension in the form of a tower was added, which now accommodates a study


on the ground floor and a master en-suite bathroom above. Each room has been beautifully designed and features many one-off pieces of furniture. The build and interior decorating took two years to complete. “We had long delays, but it was a relief really because it gave us time to decide what sort of style we wanted,” Claire explains. “It also enabled us to do a lot of design research, meet suppliers and see the work they’d done. Thanks to this, we have some bespoke items and character details and it was nice not to be rushed when making decisions about these.” Claire has kept the interior decor very peaceful and calm, with pale honey-coloured shades throughout. “I purposely designed the house to not feel too formal, using warm, relaxing hues so people feel comfortable,” she says. “We’ve also got 

LEFT The simply set table sets a cocooning mood with its rustic tablemats, linen napkins and plain tableware. The accents of red and green in the decorations add a dash of colour. ABOVE By choosing a circular design table from Appel + Hardwick Interiors in Surrey,

Claire has created a sociable setting where guests can converse easily with each other. The pendant light sourced from Villa Verde is dressed with foliage, creating a focal point above the table. The walls are covered in Paint & Paper Library’s Stone IV paint. THE ENGLISH HOME 59

ABOVE A log wallpaper panel by Andrew Martin provides a textural detail in the entrance hall. The large clock is from Hampton Court Interiors. LEFT The house sits on top of a hill and enjoys fantastic views of the Surrey Hills and South Downs. During the house renovations Claire and Rob decided to add a turret as their legacy to the building. BOTTOM LEFT A handsome wreath decorates the impressive front door of Claire’s home.

several keepsakes from our travels, little reminders of where we’ve been, and the pale hues are the perfect backdrop to these too.” Significant care and attention were taken to address the internal woodwork details. When the family first moved in, Claire was keen to update the dark and gloomy wood panelling in the main drawing room, added to which all the windows, doors and skirtings needed replacing. “We worked with some wonderful carpenters. They renovated and recoloured the panels, beams and casements and we sourced some amazing bespoke windows and doors,” Claire explains. “It has given the house a polished finish as everything flows and feels authentic. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They even helped me create some custom cabinetry I sketched, including the faux book door in the drawing room and the master bathroom basin console.” Now the house has been completed, there are only a few minor decorating tweaks for Claire to keep on top of, so the extensive grounds are now her main focus. “Gardening is my big passion and as I’m a landscape designer, it’s my career, too. As a family we spend so much time outside all year


‘I love to bring natural touches indoors and having all this on my doorstep is such a treat’

TOP A bed from The Four Poster Bed Company is topped with linens and accessories from Oka. Claire chose Paint & Paper Library’s Stone III for the walls. The armchair is in linen upholstery from Hampton Court Interiors. The tray-top table is from Shimu.

ABOVE The double-basin vanity unit in the master en-suite bathroom, was designed by Claire. The bathroom is at the top of the turret extension and includes a freestanding bath from Fired Earth and a rustic stool from Designers Guild.

round, be it in the garden or beyond,” says Claire. Much of the festive foliage adorning the house is foraged from the garden and surrounding grounds. “I love to bring natural touches indoors and having all this on my doorstep is such a treat,” she continues. “This style of dressing the house appeals to my gardener’s nature, but it does take quite a while to collect and do. Fortunately, we have a lot of material in the hedgerows to hand when we need some.” Claire’s approach to Christmas styling sits very well with the overall look of the house. Making a timeless and effortless-looking addition to the elegant rooms and furnishings, it is the perfect layer to her home at this time of year. “We enjoy opening the door and sharing our home with others, so it can get quite busy,” says Claire. “When our family and friends are around and the fire is lit, it is a lovely place to be, especially at this time of year.”  THE ENGLISH HOME 61


CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS Long walks, putting up the decorations and playing board games are what make the festive season special for this couple How do you celebrate Christmas? On Christmas Eve we walk the mile across the fields to the village church for the carol service and walk home with headtorches and a mince pie to keep us going. On Christmas morning the animals (chickens, deer, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs, mice and horses) will all get some extra food and carrots. The children will normally be up at six o’clock in the morning and in each other’s rooms opening their stocking presents. At one o’clock we have a family meal at home – traditional roast chicken – and the children and my husband have to wash up and tidy everything away before we sit around the fire and open the presents. Afterwards we normally have a big board game of Risk or Mine a Million which can get very competitive, especially between my husband and my dad. Boxing Day is usually a nice long walk, taking in a nice country pub.


The William IV in Albury is the perfect Boxing Day pub. What is your favourite festive ritual? Putting up the decorations. Since having the children, we have been putting them up in the last week in November! I always let the children do the tree, although I have to confess that I do some minor ‘adjusting’ when they’ve gone to bed. Trying to make sure Father Christmas doesn’t wake the children up is another annual bit of fun and games. A couple of years ago, my eldest daughter tied a string to her big toe and attached that to her stocking so that when Father Christmas picked it up, it would tug her foot and wake her up. What are you looking forward to this Christmas? Relaxing and having my mum helping out with the cooking. Everything tastes better when she’s cooking with me.

Where do you like to shop for presents? The cobbled high street in Guildford has a very Christmassy atmosphere in December. The Packhouse near Farnham is a treasure trove of ideas, and I love the Loseley House Christmas Fair at Loseley Park near Guildford. How do you decorate your home? With ivy and holly – it looks lovely around old beams. Although the children have more blingy ideas and would love to put up lots of tinsel! How do you lay the table at Christmas? Lots of candles and lanterns – you can’t beat the atmosphere candlelight creates – and foliage, fruits and nuts. What is your favourite festive recipe? My mum’s Christmas pudding. She has adapted her recipes over many years, and she has a well-thumbed copy of Delia Smith on her shelf. I do enjoy a lot of the food from Marks & Spencer – particularly their canapes. What should no Christmas be without? Playing a family game and having a gin and bitter lemon – it’s the only time of year I drink it. Also, getting out the nutcracker for walnuts and hazelnuts. ABOVE, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Claire dresses the dining table with foliage, fruits and nuts; Claire beside the handsome wreath on the front door; A stylish bench from Oka in the entrance hall.

The table and chairs were bought in France as was the light fitting; for a similar look, try the six-light Wheat chandelier by Besselink & Jones. The large ship’s mirror, purple velvet chair and all cushions are from Catesbys.

ry CHRISTMAS Enchanting decorations and locally gathered greenery create a welcoming atmosphere in this Grade II listed home in Rutland at Christmas FEATURE AMANDER MEADE PHOTOGRAPHY RACHAEL SMITH STYLING MARCIA MORGAN


ABOVE LEFT To welcome guests for a festive feast, the couple use plenty of silver and glassware on the dining table to reflect the warmth of the candlelight. ABOVE RIGHT An antique dresser purchased at auction has been decorated with seasonal accessories, a floral arrangement and fruit. LEFT Adding a twist to the country-house look are pieces from the couple’s collection of contemporary art. The lithograph above the console table is Grand Helice Rouge by Sonia Delaunay.



tanding proudly at the end of a winding, tree-lined driveway, is a house that immediately transports the imagination back to the eighteenth century. Resembling a parsonage from a Jane Austen novel, the three-storey Grade II listed stone building dates from 1788 and did indeed originally house the local rector. Surrounded by rolling parkland on the edge of a charming village in Rutland, the property is positioned directly opposite the parish church. The setting is idyllic all year round, but owners Neil Honor and Jonathon Pegg say that it never looks better, or feels cosier, than during the festive season. In 2016, Neil and Jonathon were living in Cambridge and running their homewares business, Catesbys, from a shop in the historic city centre. They discovered Rutland by chance during a weekend away and fell in love with it. “At that time, we were working very long hours and had had enough of traditional retailing. We were ready for a change,” says Neil. Browsing online, Jonathon came across the house, which is part of the Exton Park Estate – home to the Earls of Gainsborough for almost 400 years. Upon viewing it, the couple were instantly smitten and made 

The front door is dressed with a magnificent natural wreath. The warm welcome continues within, with candlelight and plenty of fresh foliage. The Venetian mirror was sourced in France and the bench was made to order by Peter Flavell at Flavell Trading.


ABOVE A pair of shelving units house kitchenware and Jonathon’s collection of cookery books. “Open shelving allows me to keep the things I use most frequently easily to hand,” he says. RIGHT The workbench was made to order by Flavell Trading. “We needed a worksurface for food preparation and a table for casual dining when it’s just the two of us,” says Jonathan. The Clockhouse stools and Petit Paris pendant lamps are by Garden Trading.

the decision to take their lives in a different direction. “Before we moved here, a friend gave us some excellent advice,” recalls Jonathon. “He said ‘start with how you want to live and let everything else follow’. Those words have stood us in good stead, as not only did the house present the opportunity for a wonderful rural lifestyle, but it also gave us the impetus to move our business online. We use our home to hold regular events as a way of keeping in touch with our customers.” The festive season begins for the couple in January each year, when they scour European trade fairs to source for their carefully curated Christmas range. “The Europeans still have the skills to craft beautiful, authentic Christmas decorations in hand-painted, mouth-blown glass with the quirky yet traditional look we adore,” says Jonathon. “We describe the decorations we love and use in our home as the heirlooms we wish we had inherited, full of nostalgic charm and special enough to be handed down through the family.” The couple admit the house has helped them to adopt a more relaxed outlook on life. However, they


insist they will not become slaves to a period home. “Our style takes its cues from the house itself,” says Neil. “We had all the rooms painted before moving in, but soon realised we had taken things a little too neutral, so we have since repainted several rooms to introduce more colour. Whilst experimenting and trying to find just the right shades, we tried lots of different Georgian yellows, but they just don’t seem to work with the light in this house.” The uplifting blue colour used in the sitting room was inspired by the colour of a Cire Trudon candle box, adapted slightly to suit the room and then mixed to order locally. “It was crucial to us that the wall colours were just right as they serve as a backdrop for our collection of modern and contemporary art. It was worth the extra effort as all our pieces definitely sing out far better against bolder hues.” The couple have strong attachments to only a few of their furnishings and are generally happy to let items flow in and out of the house, acquiring and selling pieces fairly regularly, which means their decor changes frequently. “We would never part with some of our key pieces like the rug in the sitting room, but the nature 

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‘All our pieces definitely sing out far better against bolder hues’ of the business means there are accessories coming and going all the time which keeps things fresh.” The kitchen, with its lack of fitted cabinetry, presented a challenge. By chance, the removal men had placed a pair of bookshelves in the kitchen and because they fitted the dimensions exactly, the couple decided to keep them there, creating open shelving for cookware and recipe books. Jonathon is a talented cook and says he loves the feel of a traditional working kitchen. “In keeping with the house’s Georgian origins, the kitchen feels practical and functional, yet at the same time, warm and welcoming. We commissioned a freestanding work bench to our own design which doubles up as a food-preparation space and a dining area. It’s a brilliant practical solution.” The sitting room is another favourite spot, with its views on both sides of the church and countryside beyond. “We entertain a lot at this time of year and this room is so comfortable and festive with our Christmas tree, roaring fire and lots of cosy throws and cushions. We dress the house from top to bottom using plenty of foliage gathered locally on dog walks and really throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the season,” says Neil. 

ABOVE The hospitable sitting room is the couple’s favourite spot for entertaining over the festive season. The European Silver Fir Christmas tree is by Balsam Hill. LEFT Bertie, a rescued French bulldog, relaxes on a rug the couple designed themselves and had made by Berber weavers in the Atlas Mountains.


ABOVE The clean, simple lines of the four-poster bed provide the focus in the guest bedroom, whilst brightly patterned cushions add a dash of colour to the otherwise neutral scheme. The bed is by Coach House, and the large mirror, Les Ottomans cushions and lamps are from Catesbys. The bedside tables are by Biggie Best. RIGHT The Grade II listed house was originally a rectory.

For Jonathon, Christmas Eve is the most magical day of the year and the culmination of a very busy working time for the pair. “Each year we try to spread some cheer by hosting Christmas lunch at the beginning of December for our close friends and a drinks party for neighbours in the week before the big day,” he says. “Then, by Christmas Eve we’re ready to relax with homemade sausage rolls and a glass of wine in front of the television.” On Christmas Day itself, Neil and Jonathon alternate between hosting a celebration at home and dining out with friends, often delaying opening presents until Boxing Day to prolong the excitement. The days that follow are filled with walks, films by the fireside and grazing on leftovers until New Year which is celebrated in style with champagne and smoked salmon. “We cherish those special days between Christmas and New Year. They’re a welcome pause in the festive frenzy, before – soon enough – it all begins again for next year,” says Jonathon. 



FESTIVE TRADITIONS Homemade mincemeat, carol singing and ghost stories are what make Christmas special for these brocante hosts How do you celebrate Christmas? Living less than 50 yards from our village church, we never miss our local carol service. It’s a traditional affair, but the best bit is the homemade mulled wine and mince pies at the end of the service, guaranteed to send everyone on their way with a warm glow. A few days before Christmas itself, we love to gather friends and neighbours together for a village drinks party. We make sure there’s plenty of fizz, and we bake a huge ham, accompanied by gratin dauphinois and red cabbage, followed by an equally enormous tiramisu and cheese board for those who can face it. What is your favourite festive ritual? Wherever we find ourselves on Christmas Eve, we always ensure we’re home in time for homemade sausage rolls and Ghost Stories for Christmas (usually to be found on BBC4), with only the log fire and

tree lights for illumination. A classic MR James spine-chiller is the perfect antidote to an excess of festive schmaltz. What are you looking forward to this Christmas? Going to Vienna for the traditional Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market. We choose a different European destination each year, and find it’s a great way to top up our Christmas cheer when it begins to flag a bit in November. The food stalls offer delicious festive grazing opportunities and there are often great decorating ideas to try back home. Where do you like to shop for presents? Fortnum & Mason – it might be a bit of a cliché, and you do have to time your visit to avoid the crowds at Christmas – we’ve found Sunday mornings to be best – but we love browsing the food halls for treats. When it all gets too much,

the men’s department is quieter and far more civilised. How do you decorate your home? We always dress our fireplaces with garlands threaded with tiny white lights, and our tree is living proof that more is most definitely more at this time of year. Our advice is to imagine the number of decorations you think you need, then double it. How do you lay the table at Christmas? Astier de Villatte serving dishes and platters, and a few of our bronze partridges along the centre of the table, nestling amongst foliage foraged from the garden, interspersed with mercury glass votives. What is your favourite festive recipe? We make our own mincemeat using apples from the Bramley tree in our garden, basing it on Delia Smith’s classic recipe. Friends can never believe how different it is to shop-bought, and even those who claim not to like mince pies come back for seconds. What should no Christmas be without? A real fire, Champagne truffles, homemade sausage rolls and Christmas films – our favourites are The Family Stone, Elf and The Santa Clause. TOP FROM LEFT TO RIGHT he roaring log fire sets the scene for a cosy Christmas in the sitting room; Neil, Jonathon and Bertie, their French bulldog; the couple’s homemade mince pies.


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Ensure a festive welcome and the promise of a fulsome celebration as soon as guests walk up the garden path and across the threshold. Bare branches look magical adorned with baubles and a dusting of snow. And what could be more welcoming than a pair of bronze hounds dressed with fetching ribbons and foliage? Dog statues, £480 each; Wide Red & White Piping Stripe Ribbon (on dog, right) £2.50 a metre; hanging decorations from £4.50; Mother & Father Christmas sack, £48, all Susie Watson Designs




Put aside impeccable ideals and gather nearest and dearest to create a heart-warming Christmas, with one and all partaking in joyful customs and sharing in the unfolding merriment A simple, handmade wreath with dried seed heads can look resplendent. Use an oversized floristry wreath for impact (try the large Benni Wreath Ring from Woodwork, Amsterdam, ÂŁ19.95 for 1l Chalk Paint, Annie Sloan

Take a mome to appreciate t dressed in i Christmas Mother & Fa (right), available Robin & Rosehip £


he most enchanting Christmas experiences come from celebrations filled with personal resonance. This meaningful warmth is encapsulated in sentimental memories, such as watching the childrens’ eyes light up as they listen to stories of Father Christmas’ journey around the world, or everyone chuckling as grandpa tries to mime Chitty Chitty Bang Bang during a game of charades. Each one of these endearing moments become poignant stories of the most magical Christmas times, shared with friends and family. Over the coming pages, we suggest ways to host festivities that focus less on pristine organisation and more on encouraging family and guests to participate and rejoice in a relaxed and convivial gathering. So, soften your desire to be the ‘host with the most’ and learn the joy of embracing the imperfectly perfect instead.

Participating in preparations Great pleasure can be derived from decorating for Christmas, but sometimes this can be compromised in a quest for perfection. Children love to be involved in dressing a tree, setting out the nativity scene or decking a table top, so if the main tree has to be beautifully colour themed and decked, do consider letting the children decorate a second tree of their own, with homemade decorations, tinsel and allowing them to make it as haphazard and gaudy as thrills their eyes. For older children and adults, making homemade paper chains is easy to master and offers a quick way to decorate bare walls, shelves and beams that feels so personal. Sitting down to create them together can reap enormous rewards in memorable conversations and quiet time together. When planning how to bring family and guests together on Christmas Day, it is a lovely idea to buy one small gift for each person (which can handily double as a place setting). Seek out a simple activity for everyone to do together. For example, wrap up jigsaw pieces for a family game (see extra large puzzles from or form a melodious orchestra at the Christmas table with crackers containing whistles (find musical symphony crackers at 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Children will be excited to help with the Christmas baking by making classic delicacies such as mince pies and gingerbread. Brompton cutters, £11.20; Brompton cook book holder, £25; Brompton cake rack, £15, all Garden Trading Make the process of wrapping presents more efficient with personalised printed gift tags. Merry Christmas custom-foiled gift tags, from £50 for a pack of 25, Fraser & Parsley After taking little ones for a walk, embrace the mood with decorations created from woodland characters. Mrs Squirrel wood decoration, £2.99, Gisela Graham at The Contemporary Home Children will delight in making paper chains in these charming designs. Christmas Snowman & Santa paper chain decorations, £6.49, Ginger Ray Keep personalised baubles in a special box to discover year after year. Personalised baubles from £20, Peggy & Kate at Notonthehighstreet. com


Christmas Eve

Set the tone for a sociable yet mellow Christmas Eve with an informal meal. Preparing a hearty-but-simple pie or favourite winter stew will easily feed a large gathering. If guests ask to help, encourage them to create a new cocktail to elevate the evening with an indulgent tipple. Festive cocktail ideas can be found at – we particularly like the sound of the Winter Sidecar and Christmas Alexander. What could be nicer than sharing preparations for the following day and the Christmas feast? With carols on the radio and mince pies to hand, helpers will be in a celebratory mood – singing and peeling vegetables around the kitchen table. Others might be thrilled to be asked to create a simple tablescape; casually arranging the table with foliage has an unassuming and elegant charm. Willow Crossley, florist and stylist, suggests using foraged treasures “scattered down the table as a natural table runner”. This style of display can be created with readily found evergreen foliage, variegated ivy and moss. Crossley suggests partnering the greenery with seed heads, such as dried cow parsley and any leftover garden hydrangeas, along with acorns, cones and nuts – all sprayed in gold (find an array of coloured spray paint at If seeking a smarter mood, Willow says, “I love a red tablescape filled with pomegranates (both cut in half and whole), red and gold pepperberries, red candles and berried eucalyptus.”  TOP RIGHT Father Christmas may have an eye on nostalgic charm for children’s stockings this year, perhaps including sugar mice, wooden toys and skipping ropes. Along with these simple delights, there may be promises of enjoyable family days out together. Traditions Ribbed Velvet Christmas stocking, £20, and all other items, John Lewis and Partners RIGHT If guests are feeling creative, they may wish to concoct a cocktail using Christmassy ingredients such as pomegranate, star anise and citrus fruits.


LEFT Guests may relish the opportunity to get in the festive mood by helping to set the table for a celebratory Christmas Eve supper. Automatic Wine Opener, £45, Cuisinart ABOVE Heighten the atmospheric mood with a cluster of candles on the table. Luna brass candle centrepiece, £38, Rowen & Wren BELOW Botanic-themed tableware harmonises with natural Christmas decorations, and can be used throughout the year.

Portmeirion Botanic Garden tableware, from £9 for a side plate; Portmeirion Botanic Garden crystal wine glasses, £22 for four, all Spode BELOW LEFT Once children are in bed, plan a restful evening for the adults, with candles burning and favourite drinks to make the most of the Christmas mood before the morning. Bluebell two-and-a-half-seat sofa in Squirrel pure cotton matt velvet, £1,940, (NB: Never leave lit candles unattended.)

Christmas morning

Christmas afternoon

To enable a relaxed morning, reconsider the timing of Christmas lunch. Some families eat during late afternoon or evening, which allows the cook to sit down with family and friends and linger over breakfast and enjoy a gentle start to the day. Eggs Benedict or scrambled eggs with slivers of smoked salmon are ideal choices. Alternatively, if young children are part of the group, a pause in the morning proceedings might be necessary to go for a walk whilst food is roasting in the oven. Some may like to disappear to ‘dress’ for a late festive dinner. It is worth seeking recipe short-cuts recommended by well-known cooks. For the ultimate trimmings, see Nigella’s perfect roast potatoes (, Delia Smith’s all-in-one baked vegetables ( and James Martin’s easy bread sauce ( Make the main event special effortlessly by using Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Christmas butter for turkey (prepare the night before and cover the turkey in the morning, see For last-minute saviours, use Oliver’s fruit-and-nut cake topping to ensure the Christmas cake is not left bare, and look to Smith’s Cheats Christmas Pudding and Fastest Mince Pies Ever to whip up traditional desserts in no time.

After dinner, as everyone begins to peel away from the table, guests may wish to assist with the clearing away (as an alternative to helping set the table earlier on). Encourage a jolly team of helpers and make handwashing the best tableware feel out of the ordinary with the addition of special Christmas tea towels. Once the tidying is completed and everyone is settled, create a sense of atmosphere with realisticlooking LED candles so there are no safety concerns about supervising candles in multiple rooms. Throwing a few pine cones on the fire will instantly permeate the air with a Christmassy scent. As the afternoon or evening progresses, considerately ask if guests would like to teach everyone their favourite party games. Or take inspiration for parlour games from Christmases past. The National Trust highlights a favourite Victorian game known as ‘Pass The Slipper’ in which one person stands in the middle of a circle of guests with their eyes closed and counts to 30 whilst a small item is passed behind the backs of the assembled circle. The person in the middle of the circle must then guess who holds the item. Classic Georgian Christmas activities included performing a snippet from a pantomime or creating a puppet theatre. Include less-mobile family members in the entertainment with other simple past traditions, such as storytelling – perhaps ask guests to discuss their favourite Christmas memories – and singing Christmas carols. 

LEFT Always have boxes of chocolates dotted around the house, downstairs and in guest bedrooms. English Afternoon Tea truffles, £15, Charbonnel et Walker 82 THE ENGLISH HOME

TOP FAR LEFT Embrace the communal Christmas spirit with a warming glass of mulled wine after a hearty morning walk. Try John Lewis and Partners for mulled wine glasses. LEFT A simple jug of flowers and a red, white and green theme lifts this dining scene into a Christmassy mood. Merry Christmas jug, £75; Christmas silk-flower stems, £48, all other accessories, Susie Watson Designs ABOVE Have baskets ready to make it easier to clear the

post-present opening muddle of paper, etc. (If wrapping paper can be scrunched up, it is usually recyclable, but check with local regulations). Open-weave basket, from £50 for a small basket, Garden Trading BELOW Set up a buffet-style nibbles area, so everyone can help themselves. Dean’s Shortbread Assortment, £9.99; Mince Pies, £3.49; Tracklements Fresh Chilli Jam, £3.79, and all other food, Dobbies

Set the pace for a leisurely Boxing Day with a latemorning cooked breakfast. It allows time for everyone to enjoy a slow rise from bed. As this is a traditional day for a festive walk, guests may relish the opportunity of planning an enjoyable trail and exploring new areas. Prepare a light meal with cold meats and cheese, adding a selection of scrumptious accompaniments. Pickles, dressings and fresh salad and fruit will turn festive leftovers into delicious platefuls anew in no time. When guests are staying for a day or so after Boxing Day, it is worth booking a table at a local hotel, pub or restaurant to provide a welcome break from cooking and a wonderful post-Christmas treat. If a second stream of guests is due to arrive, a pantomime (see to find smaller productions, alongside well-known theatres) or ballet outing will help maintain the Christmas mood. James Forbat, first soloist at the English National Ballet, sums up the lasting pleasure of taking loved ones to see a festive performance: “We hope that families and children are going to take away this magical experience that will remind them of Christmas and everything that’s special.”

ABOVE This special chutney brings Christmas flavours to any dish. Christmas Apricot, Cranberry & Port Chutney, £4.95, Fortnum & Mason TOP RIGHT Treat friends and family to a special festive afternoon tea at a lovely hotel during the Christmas period. Contact for details. RIGHT After a crisp Boxing Day walk, cashmere socks


are the perfect excuse to encourage a cosy afternoon with loved ones. Cashmere socks, mink and grey, £42, Rowen & Wren FAR RIGHT Add festive accessories to add to the cosy, inviting mood. Christmas Knitted Statement Cushion, £48, Sophie Allport


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THE EYES Creating a beautiful environment in which to make memories is surprisingly simple with these three ideas for achieving an elegant table setting this Christmas

A sound starting point for a statement-led table setting is the existing colour palette of a room. Here the giant baubles add a sparkling texture and contrast to the matt grey walls. Wind simple green foliage down the centre of the table to add a natural contrast in tone. Giant Tiko baubles (far left and near left), from £18.95 (15cm); Giant Antique-Gold baubles (centre), from £18.95 (15cm); Bequai Display Pyramid candlestick, from £14.95; Mbata Brass candlestick, from £19.95; Abeeko glassware, from £34.95 for a set of four wine glasses; Abeto Washed Grey table linen, from £16.95 for a napkin, all Nkuku


here is much expected of the dining table at Christmas. It is the perfect canvas to be creative, so take pleasure in the preparations in anticipation of family and friends arriving. Dress it with magical elements and ensure there is ample tableware and comfortable seating so guests will want to linger. Here, we share advice on pulling together a scheme that feels inviting, luxurious and polished. STATEMENT PIECE A deceptively simple way to create a setting with impact is to focus a scheme around a single, dramatic statement piece hung above the table. A giant kissing bough created from mistletoe or a series of twinkling festive decorations added to a low-hung chandelier immediately create a talking point. Be sure to have wire, velvet ribbons and either a baton to fix the display to the ceiling or an existing fixture that is suitable to hang pieces from. Just as impactful might be a giant wreath or star hung on a wall or a collection of decorative plates or silver trays. A sideboard or drinks trolley could be adorned with a tower of candied fruit or a lavish floral display. Everything else can be kept beautifully simple. 

ABOVE Hang a bough or wreath above the dining table, perhaps with LED lights and baubles attached. Arundel dining table in Darkened Oak, £1,695; Arundel bench in Darkened Oak, £455; Amelia armchair in Isla Swallow, £735; Camilla scatter cushions, from £63 each, all Neptune THE ENGLISH HOME 87

KEEP IT COSY Set the mood by creating a warm, calm atmosphere that will feel relaxing and special in equal measure. An inviting dining room could take inspiration from winter’s starry skies or the crisp frosts outside. Lighting is key: leave central ceiling lights off and instead layer wall lights or sconces with candles and votives on the table. Thread twinkling fairy lights amongst them for added atmosphere. Soft, sumptuous textures are key to adding winter luxury. Velvet cushions or sheepskins on seats and a sprinkling of metallics will all feel decadent. To retain elegance, contrast these with more rustic materials such as stiff cotton, rattan and natural foliage. 

Velvet seating is both inviting and informal when a two-seater upright settee is paired with linen-covered dining chairs. This is a simple device to break formality, especially when paired with simple table linen. Still White tablecloth in 100 per cent pure linen, £85, Chalk Pink Linen Co

ABOVE LEFT The warm tones of terracotta work beautifully with gold metallics and woodland-themed decorations which appeal to all ages. The Arts Champagne Saucers, Purple/Gold, £35 (set of two); Skultuna Nattlight candlestick (large), £130; Stag with glittered antlers, £30; Campfire Orange Berry Wood standing tree, £25, all John Lewis ABOVE This opulent table setting is consistent in its jewel-toned colour palette, set off against the drama of a dark brown table. The abundance of natural foliage is the perfect foil and hurricane lamps provide height to the scheme. Charlotte extending dining table, French Walnut, £1,895; Stafford Velvet Alchemilla dining chair, £325, Oka

Fairy lights woven around the Christmas tree and a pre-lit star add to the soft glow produced by candlelight. Using darkcoloured candlesticks ensures they stand out against a tonally consistent scheme of soft greys and deep greens. Placecards ensure everyone can seat themselves easily. Captured Wire tealight holder, £12; Pinecone placecard holders, set of six, £25; Ultimate Green & Berry garland, £75; Pre-lit hanging star £25; Black dinner candlesticks, from £20, all The White Company


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FOCUS ON THE DETAILS Thoughtful, personalised touches make a guest feel truly welcome at the festive table. Ensure that both wine and water glasses are provided and an extra little gift, such as a bauble or game, can be discovered. To create a contemporary setting where each course is catered for, layer china identically for each place setting on top of freshly laundered and ironed table linen. Decorating each setting with a sprig of holly, bauble or place card holder can help pull together the chosen colour palette for the scheme and create a personalised feel. Finally, add glasses, candles, crackers and decorations. For an extra-special touch, attach a small festive posy, bells or a stocking complete with a small gift inside to the backs of the chairs as a fitting final flourish for the most memorable meal of the year. CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT The table setting here is given more prominence against a richly contrasting tablecloth. Broste Copenhagen Gold cutlery, £175 Attaching something special to the back of a chair will delight children and grown ups alike. Green Velvet Christmas Stocking, £39.95, Nordic House A successful table setting can start with one key piece, as shown here with the tablecloth. Berry tablecloth, from £65; red linen napkins, £38 for a set of four, both Sarah K


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Nicola and Chris Cox in their studio in North London. Bronze Fragment Coffee Table, £31,200; Thibier Lounge Chair in Gilt Iron, £7,080; Cut Star Mirror, £9,360 Voyager’s Chair, £33,600 Polypore Light, £108,000; Grove Table, forged-iron base and Kashmir White Stone top, £21,600 OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT The construction of a Ferro Vitro Chandelier. The glass is hand-blown into the iron structure. Pouring molten bronze into a ceramic shell mould. Nicola and Chris in their foundry.


ARTISTIC FLAIR Cox London, the luxury lighting and furniture company run by creative husband-and-wife team Nicola and Chris Cox, is highly respected by interior designers and private collectors



hen Nicola and Chris Cox met whilst studying sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art in 1993, little did they know their shared passion would lead them to the success their lighting and furniture business, Cox London, enjoys today. After the pair graduated in 1997, they practised their trade, working everywhere from bronze foundries to art studios, with metalwork restorers and even in a chandelier-making studio, before the seeds of their business were planted when they bought their first home in 2000. “When we viewed the property, we realised it had a double garage and jumped at the chance to get our hands on it,” Chris explains. “That really was the beginning of our first proper foundry and workshop. We took it from there, then formalised Cox London in 2005, the year we were married.” Today, Nicola and Chris employ 37 people and divide their time between the showroom in Pimlico and the workshop and studio in North London. “When we started the company, we said ‘yes’ to every challenge that was thrown our way,” says Chris. “We restored metalwork, lighting and furniture, cast artists’ work for them in bronze, jesmonite and other materials, made our own artworks, lighting and furniture, and dealt in antiques too. It was a case of keeping all those balls in the air, seven days a week for a few years, which was

really hard. So to have this great team in place now has made the world of difference.” Despite the business having grown, all Cox London’s lighting, furniture and artworks are still crafted using traditional techniques to forge iron, cast bronze, solder, weld and fabricate, as well as for gilding, lacquering and adding patina. “There are so many different elements to the business now,” Chris explains, “but we are never happier than when we are in our overalls using our creative hands. I also enjoy drawing commissions for our makers to work from and love seeing these pieces come to life.” Meeting interior designers and clients to discuss projects is also something the pair thoroughly enjoy. “There are often subtleties in a clients’ needs that don’t translate until you sit down and talk to them or visit their space,” says Chris. Looking ahead to 2020, Cox London is set to launch a partnership with the Crafts Council. Nicola and Chris are ‘education champions’ so will be helping to promote the importance of craft-based subjects in schools and workplaces. “We believe that making something by hand is a basic human urge that can result in a happier, more productive society,” Chris says. With their infectious enthusiasm and passion for what they do so clearly demonstrated in every piece they produce, there is no doubt that the next generation will be inspired too. THE ENGLISH HOME 93

The convivial

KITCHEN Ensure cooking and entertaining flow smoothly with a kitchen layout that works harmoniously for both hosts and guests


hen December arrives, so, too, the season of entertaining begins. Whether drinks at the weekend, midweek suppers with friends, family meals with loved ones or a party with dearest friends, there is a constant demand on the kitchen. For most of us, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and this is never more true than during the festive season in this most hard-working of rooms. With this in mind, it is crucial to think about how to create a seamless flow to make preparing, cooking and serving meals – in addition to socialising with family and friends – run as smoothly as possible. ISLAND LIFE A well-planned kitchen layout will ensure that preparing for celebrations can be as much of a joy as hosting them. This can easily be achieved by introducing key elements to the room and organising them in such a way as to enable easy access and swift movement from one zone to the next. “Intelligent use of space is key,” says Debbie Harradence, lead designer at Barnes of Ashburton. “The ideal layout, especially during the festive season, will ensure there is enough

space on a day-to-day basis, but with the option of creating extra room when required.” Freestanding island units, worktables and moveable butcher’s blocks and trolleys make wonderful areas for food preparation, serving and storage. “Moveable kitchen islands make for a fun way to add versatility to an open-plan kitchen,” says Jamie Blake, creative director at Blakes London. “We recently designed an island on wheels for a client who loves to entertain. In the morning it is used as a breakfast counter, during the day it becomes a food prep space and when guests are expected, it is pushed up against a wall to become a buffet table, allowing the kitchen to open up into the perfect drinks mingling area.” If large enough, a fixed island can be used to house an oven and hob with a downdraft extractor to remove cooking odours and steam, a second sink for washing salad and vegetables and a boiling water tap for hot drinks. There could also be room for guests to sit on bar stools and chat whilst the cooking is taking place. Another advantage of having an island is that it can be used to divide the room into zones by separating the cooking area from the seating or relaxing spaces, for example. Charlie Kingham, managing director of 

OPPOSITE Give the kitchen some festive finishing touches during the Christmas season. A mantel for instance, can be used to display pine cones, candles and foliage. Linear kitchen, from £20,000, Harvey Jones ABOVE A combination of open and closed storage allows for quick and easy access to all the kitchen essentials. Bespoke kitchen, from £35,000, McCarron & Co


Charlie Kingham Cabinetmakers, confirms their appeal. “Islands, peninsulas, pastry benches and butcher’s blocks are all great elements for controlling the all-important flow of a kitchen, yet still serve a clear purpose as preparation stations,” he explains. “Two islands can be a good idea if you have the space, but you have to be careful to get the flow just right, as they really should have their own identity and purpose. Ideally, one might be for social gathering and the other a workhorse-and-prep area supporting the main cook zone.” SITTING COMFORTABLY During larger social gatherings, it is perfectly acceptable to expect guests to stand in the kitchen and mingle, but when it comes to smaller events such as family meals, casual suppers or dinner parties, it is important to ensure there is plenty of seating for all. “When hosting a dinner party in an open-plan kitchen, guests will want to interact with the host whilst they prepare the food,” says Tom Howley, design director at Tom Howley Kitchens. “One layout solution would be to ensure the seating area around the island counter does not interfere with access to the stove top, fridge or drinks cabinet. There should be no seating close to this area. That way, cooking ABOVE RIGHT Keep essential ingredients at hand in one place. Pantry larder, from £4,000; Shaker kitchen, from £20,000, both Harvey Jones RIGHT A large island can be used for both preparing and serving food. Classic English kitchen, from £25,000, deVOL FAR RIGHT The island in this kitchen design separates the cooking and dining areas. The kitchen shown is priced £12,945, British Standard


Drawer and cupboard space on the less busy side of an island makes tableware easily accessible for those wishing to help. Langton kitchen, from £18,000, Burbidge

and fetching more drinks can be done without tripping over guests’ feet.” Along with bar stools tucked neatly beneath an island or peninsula overhang, additional seating could be in the form of banquettes at the end of an island or added to one side of it, window seats – ideally with storage inside for extra cushions – or around a dining table. “The positioning of seating is very important and should be a main consideration when designing the layout,” says Kingham. “It needs to be thought out to suit lifestyle needs, but still not interfere with the cooking area – it is imperative that the latter is treated with due respect. There is a fine line between a kitchen where all who occupy the space are happy and one that creates stress.” LIGHTING ZONE Another way to help create different areas within the kitchen, especially when it is open-plan, is to plan the lighting carefully. This allows for all the various tasks to take place safely as well as adding ambience and mood after dark. “Task lighting is a must in the kitchen,” explains Chris Jordan, managing director at lighting specialist Christopher Wray, “particularly  THE ENGLISH HOME 97

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above the worktops, the sink area and the cooker, providing the right amount of illumination for preparing food and cleaning up. These tend to be ceiling downlights and under-unit lights.” “Accent lighting,” Jordan continues, “which highlights specific areas, should be used above an island or dining table for maximum effect, providing soft but effective light for eating or even working. Pendants or a chandelier work best here, as they are not only functional but they can also be used to create a focal point.” He also suggests installing LED strips under a breakfast bar, an island or within wall units to add visual impact and atmosphere. HELPING HANDS If space allows, having duplicate elements or multifunctional appliances is another way to ease the workload during festive season. Consider range cookers with ovens for simmering, warming and  ABOVE An island allows guests to chat to the host whilst food and drinks are being served. Bespoke, hand-painted Studio CK kitchen, £21,000, Charlie Kingham RIGHT Creating different zones with lighting to suit is crucial in a busy kitchen. Kitchen from £35,000, Martin Moore



conventional cooking, a second sink on an island for food preparation or in the utility room, and even two dishwashers or a double-drawer dishwasher design to cope with additional demand. Ancillary spaces such as sculleries or prep kitchens are perfect for hiding unsightly washing-up and enable the main kitchen to be used for guests whilst any ‘behind the scenes’ action takes place out of sight. “A separate scullery is becoming more and more popular,” says Peter Humphrey, design director and founder of Humphrey Munson, “but for those without a second room to utilise in this way, consider where plates will be stacked after dinner and whether they can be tucked around a corner out of sight from the dining area. It will feel altogether less crowded and cluttered. Another great solution is a second dishwasher – if you like to cook and use lots of pots and pans, a second dishwasher can be designated for more heavy-duty cleaning, whilst tableware and glassware can be washed quickly and on a less aggressive setting.” Whether hosting a few or many this coming festive season, a smooth-running kitchen will enable both guests and cooks to relax and enjoy every moment. ABOVE A kitchen made for entertaining, this scheme by Guild Anderson features two large islands to keep food preparation and serving separate. Guild Anderson kitchens start at £35,000 with this design costing around £70,000 RIGHT Banquettes are useful for informal dining in an open-plan kitchen with circular tables and curved seating making it easier for guests to interact. Bespoke Tillingham kitchen design, from £45,000, Davonport


e r f THE HOME i

is ie a r coo ing the festive feast b o th es ge coo ers, hich also offer a variet of innovative ne features and functions


ange cookers have long been a quintessential component of the English home – and though classics for a reason, their 21st-century incarnations offer a variety of options. Where fuel choice was once the key factor in choosing a range cooker to suit the home, today’s choices offer myriad opportunities to best suit the needs of any one home. Here, we take a look at the different aspects to take into account when selecting the best design. AVID COOKS For novice chefs and keen cooks alike, there is now a new generation of what could be called hybrid cookers – designs that combine the standard multi-function oven with elements such as an induction hob, simmering plate or steam cavity for flexible culinary flair. Rangemaster has recently introduced a range cooker that incorporates a dedicated steam cavity. “Range cookers offer a variety of options to suit every style of home cook and offer more space for those looking to entertain, whether it is whipping up dinner for unexpected guests or cooking for the whole family at Christmas,” says David Reynolds, technical director of Rangemaster. “The flexibility of a steam function makes preparing a Sunday roast or Christmas dinner even simpler, as it allows for steaming vegetables and puddings, whilst also roasting meat and potatoes in the oven and warming gravy or sauce on the hob.” Aga has also invested heavily in innovative new product design to ensure there is an Aga cooker for every cook and every kitchen. This has led to the launch of four new Aga 3 Series designs in a variety of sizes with useful new additions such as a combination of cast-iron ovens for roasting, baking or simmering, hotplates and induction hob with bridging feature for use with a griddle or fish kettle. This allows for a cooker for all seasons and with simple to manage energy usage.  LEFT verhot manufactures its energ -efficient range coo ers at its carbon-negative factory. Powered by a small, steady o of electricit , the coo ers run off a standard amp plug or rene able energ Everhot 110, Aubergine, £9,040




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BELOW This dual-fuel design boasts two ovens – one fan, one multi-function – and a five-burner gas hob that includes one powerful 5kW burner and a wok cradle. Deluxe 1092 cooker, from £4,139, Falcon

TOP The 990 ELX from Esse features double the hob space of its standard cooker and, as it is electric, can be installed almost anywhere. 990 ELX, £7,950, Esse ABOVE Measuring 220cm wide, this range cooker can be specified as gas, dual fuel or all-electric. Classic Vezelay, from £13,820, Lacanche

LARGE KITCHENS When space allows, it is preferable to choose as large a range cooker as possible in order to have flexibility when it comes to cooking. Companies such as La Cornue and Lacanche, for example, offer widths of 180cm and 220cm, with everything from vaulted ovens to customised cooktops which in addition to gas burners include options such as a simmering plate, chargrill, plancha, multi-cooker with steamer, bainmarie, teppanyaki, induction module and lava-rock grill to complete the culinary experience. Also ideal for a large or open-plan kitchen are cookers that radiate warmth. Rayburn ranges, which are manufactured by Aga, not only come in cookeronly models, but can also be used to heat the home’s hot water and central heating system.

CLASSIC DESIGNS In order to create an enduring look in the kitchen, many stalwarts of the range-cooker market are introducing new colourways to their collections. The cast-iron Rayburn is one such brand, having announced the addition of a host of new colours such as Blush, a soft pink with cream and yellow undertones that works well with other neutrals; Dove, a pale grey with a hint of blue that complements natural wood or painted cabinetry; and Aubergine, a rich, statement shade. There are also new developments in terms of technology. Stoves now offers the Richmond Deluxe with a cavity splitter that turns this three-oven cooker into a four-oven model in an instant, and Bluetooth connectivity that allows the user to control and adjust  THE ENGLISH HOME 105

cooking times from anywhere in the home using an app on a smartphone or tablet. There is even a function that stores cooking times for favourite dishes.

ABOVE LEFT The range of Aga 3 Series cookers offers a mix of ovens, hotplates and induction hobs in a choice of sizes. 3 Series eR3 170 in Linen, £14,765, Aga FAR LEFT Smeg’s SYD4110 Symphony range cooker has two ovens, each with seven functions, including one that allows the cavities to be wiped clean. SYD4110 Symphony, £2,199, Smeg LEFT Boasting two vaulted ovens, the also allows for a customised cooktop. Prices from £28,279, La Cornue



LATEST INNOVATIONS There are plenty of other innovations from manufacturers such as Esse and Everhot. Everhot’s heat-storage cookers really come into their own during the festive season, with six sizes to choose from and no need for a flue or complicated installation – simply plug in using a standard 13amp plug. “Everhot cookers have complete temperature control and some of the largest ovens in a heat-storage cooker, easily accommodating a 32lb turkey,” says Guy Goring, owner and director of Everhot. “The radiant heat means that the turkey can be slow roasted overnight, and also means waking up to a warm kitchen on Christmas Day.” Founded in 1979, the company is celebrating 40 years of making energyefficient range cookers, its designs being compatible with renewable energy, too. Esse, meanwhile, offers a new electric cooker that can be installed almost anywhere and comes with a versatile induction hob, three ovens and a full-width integrated grill. The heat-conserving hotplate has recessed hinges to maximise usable hob space, whilst the top and bottom ovens feature a patented ‘surround heat’ system that wraps around each oven to deliver the same radiant heat as its wood-burning models.


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Few things are as evocative of the festive season as the heady aroma of mulled wine, or even spiced gin, drifting through the home. If time is of the essence, a kit allows for a carefully pre-selected balance of flavours – try grating in a touch of nutmeg for added depth. Green Cuisine Nutmeg & Mini Grater, £2.99; Garden Shed Gin, £39.99; Gin Spice Kit, £2.99, all Dobbies


…in the moment


Be our guest


ne of the simplest yet most rewarding pleasures of the festive period is welcoming guests into the home. Preparing for the arrival of loved ones and anticipating their needs not only serves to make their stay more comfortable, but also adds a delicious sense of anticipation of creating special memories together.

Crossing the threshold

Any journey undertaken at one of the busiest times of year is doubtless ended with a sense of relief, particularly when greeted by a welcoming entrance hall. Creating ample space for hanging hats, coats and shoes will create a sense of ease and comfort as soon as visitors cross the threshold. If necessary, consider investing in storage solutions such as smart wicker baskets or rattan chests for footwear and smaller items like gloves. Neptune and Oka are good resources. It might be sensible, too, to have spare hats and wellington boots on standby. TOP Add thoughtful touches such as hot-water bottles to guest bedrooms. Sheepskin hot-water bottles, £40 each, The White Company MIDDLE Ensure comfort with the provision of cosy woollen blankets. Throws, £60 each, The British Blanket Company ABOVE Mix colours, shapes and sizes for maximum impact when laying the table. Red Calico breakfast saucer, £12; Black Regal Peacock plate, from £14; Red Christmas plate, from £13, all Burleigh


Sitting comfortably

Once guests’ coats have been hung up and their luggage set down, ensuring they have somewhere comfortable to sit and enjoy a reviving cup of tea or perhaps something stronger is of the utmost importance. A sofa or armchair filled with plump cushions and a table nearby on which to set a drink are a good starting point. Enhance the enveloping mood with additional decorative touches such as soft candlelight – which at this time of year is

equally effective day or night and can be easily and safely achieved with minimal fuss thanks to the use of pillar LED candles. Meanwhile, having ready-laid-out refreshments from which new arrivals can help themselves at their leisure creates a lovely laidback feel for both guest and host. Decor, too, need not be overlooked. Adding a personal accent, such as bringing in foliage foraged from the garden to thread along the mantelpiece or place in vases, can create a delightful connection with the outdoors.

The festive feast

Such is the attention on food at Christmas that, often, the practicalities of the actual table itself are easily overlooked in favour of the lavish, home-cooked repast it bears. For instance, not all tables are wide enough to accommodate serving dishes as well as decorations. “Making sure the table is big enough for the number of diners is really important,” counsels Jemma Baskeyfield, company historian at Burleigh. “Lay all serving bowls and dishes out beforehand to ensure everything will work, and that people have room to eat in comfort.” Though practical considerations such as ensuring additional seating and allowing for sufficient space for food, guests and tableware are of key importance, so too are aesthetics of the way the table is laid out. “Ensure that you use bowls and serving dishes in various colours, shapes and sizes,” Baskeyfield says. “Creating a super, eclectic mix draws everyone in and creates a layered landscape across your festively laden table.”

Light the candles, put out the finest glassware and plump the cushions to create a warm welcome. Eva large sofa in Hugo Pale Oat, £2,920; Caspar armchair in Harris Tweed Marmalade, £1,805; Keswick coffee table, £480; Fleming round mirror in Gold, £125; Isla velvet stockings, £30 each, all Neptune

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Sleeping soundly Guest bedrooms are more than simply a place to rest; they can also offer calm and respite amidst the excitement of Christmas. “Rooms don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. It’s all about those thoughtful and personal touches that make them special,” says Sophie Conran, designer and founder of the eponymous homewares shop, who cites items such as boxes of tissues for consideration. Similarly, a cosy hot-water bottle or woollen blanket work wonders for comfort. Southwold table lamp, £175; Mixed Cable Burlington blanket, £130; Markham and Kingston bed linen, from £10 for a classic pillow case, all The White Company 


In an English kitchen


ooking in preparation for Christmas undeniably forms the focus of activity in the kitchen come December. At the beginning of the month, baking begins in earnest, filling the home with nostalgic scents of gentle spices, including cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, used in cakes and sweet treats. The colder temperatures and shorter days, meanwhile, lend themselves to warming soups and stews that are as comforting to prepare as they are to be enjoyed amongst friends and family – served with rough-hewn chunks of freshly baked bread. Though, for many, the traditional choice for Christmas Day may well be turkey, there is also much opportunity to be explored with alternatives such as goose, beef wellington or even a three- or five-bird roast, as a centrepiece for the festive feast.

Seasonal ingredients FRUIT & VEGETABLES Beetroot Bramley apple Cauliflower Celery Grapefruit Horseradish Pomegranate Tangerines Swede White cabbage FROM LAND & SEA Coley Hare Partridge Turkey

A trifle delicious The English trifle has perennial appeal, ensuring its rightful place as a family favourite on the festive dessert table of homes across the land

Arguably the most indulgent of puddings – where else would both custard and cream mingle happily alongside alcohol-soaked cake and fruit? – the trifle has long been a quintessentially English Christmas staple. In her book, The History of Christmas Food and Feasts, food historian Claire Hopley points to the sixteenth-century as the time when trifle began life “as a dish of cream often combined with egg-whites and wine”. Various additional elements have been added over the years, until the dish eventually took its now-recognisable form in the 1800s. For the uninitiated, a trifle – broadly speaking – starts with a layer of alcohol-soaked cake or sponge biscuits. This is then topped with fruit, jelly (anathema to some, ambrosial nectar to others), custard and cream, before a topping of flaked almonds or angelica – or, for the young or young-at-heart, hundreds and thousands – is sprinkled on as a final flourish. Whilst some might argue that the rules of trifle construction are strict – in deference to tradition – others suggest that experimentation often heralds rewards. Whichever of these options is plumped for, a glass bowl – cutcrystal or plain – is essential – not only to display the layers and whet the appetite, but also to add a further note of drama and theatricality to the festive spread. Recipes abound from those passed down from generation to generation, through to failsafe directives from stalwart named chefs. • Delia Smith’s traditional trifle recipe suggests frozen English raspberries over fresh imported varieties for greater depth of flavour, and happily advocates the use of shop-bought trifle sponges over homemade cakes for optimum alcohol absorption ( • Mary Berry’s classic old-fashioned trifle, meanwhile, combines biscuits and sponges sandwiched with strawberry jam as the base layer ( • Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cherry trifle ( is “like Black Forest gateau in a glass” says our source. • Nigel Slater’s mincemeat trifle combines a festive-flavoured almond sponge with lemon curd, custard and cream ( 

Creating a delicious trifle in a cut-glass bowl allows the layers of the classic English trifle to shine through. Strawberries & Cream small trifle bowl, £100; Trifle, Pears & Peaches medium trifle bowl, £150, both Emma Bridgewater


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In an English garden

Clare Foggett, Editor of our sister magazine The English Garden, on how to maximise enjoyment of the garden this month


ecember’s evergreens are synonymous with Christmas, with holly and ivy, in particular, offering beautifully glossy foliage to use for festive decorations. Topiary also looks especially good in winter, adding structure to the garden. For inspiration, Levens Hall in Cumbria is a classic destination, whilst Great Fosters, a hotel in Egham, Surrey has super examples, as do Felley Priory in Nottinghamshire and Packwood House in Warwickshire.

Many of December’s flowers have a heavenly scent to attract winter’s scarce pollinators. The deciduous viburnum shrub bears clusters of small fragrant flowers, usually in pale pink, whilst Clematis cirrhosa cultivars have small, nodding cream-coloured bells, often speckled on the inside with maroon. Sarcococca is also an incredible winter shrub, with dark glossy green leaves; in December, its tiny, tufty white flowers appear and whilst they are barely noticeable, their powerful spicy-sweet fragrance definitely is.

Christmas at Kew Make the most of dark afternoons and evenings in December by visiting one of the increasing number of gardens that illuminate their outdoor displays and glasshouses for the festive season. The Royal Horticultural Society flagship garden at Wisley in Surrey lights up in December, as does Dunham Massey in Cheshire, but possibly the biggest display is at Kew Gardens in London. This year, Christmas at Kew promises more magical twinkling lights than ever, including a new trail that takes in the recently restored Temperate House, where its 15,000 panes of glass will glitter in the light, as well as the traditional finale at the Palm House, where a light show will play across the lake and the glasshouse. 20 November 2019 to 5 January 2020;

Time to plant IN THE GREENHOUSE Bring forced hyacinths out of the dark, cool conditions they have been growing in and into the house to flower. They will do best in a cool, bright room rather than one that is too hot from central heating or a fire. OUTDOORS/IN THE BORDER Continue to plant bare-root hedging, trees or roses whilst available, or try hellebores, those beautiful late winter or early springtime flowerers. As long as the ground is not frozen, they can be planted in borders or containers for a treat during winter’s longest days.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES Bare-root fruit trees and bushes, too, can be planted now, as can cane fruit such as raspberries and loganberries. Protect any winter brassicas – kale, Brussels sprouts, Savoy cabbages – with taut netting as vegetables can soon be reduced to leafless stalks by wildlife in winter. It is also time to winter-prune apple and pear trees. Aim to create a wine-glass shape on freestanding trees, removing any damaged, dead or dying wood first, then take out weak or badly placed branches and cut back side shoots on the remaining main branches.

TOP RIGHT Young and old alike will enjoy Christmas at Kew. ABOVE Clematis cirrhosa bears small cream-coloured bells. LEFT Red holly berries bring a welcome flash of colour come December. THE ENGLISH HOME 117


In bloom

ig cler stle AT CHRISTMAS The Countess of Carnarvon shares her secrets of celebrating the festive season in her spectacular home – the real-life Downton Abbey

The Countess of Carnarvon is very hands-on when decorating the Castle for Christmas.


ighclere Castle enjoys global recognition today through its alter ego, Downton Abbey. It is above all a Victorian home, the period in which the Christmas we know and love today was developed, largely through the influence of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Christmas at Highclere combines ancient rituals bearing witness to centuries of traditions with more modern customs culled from my own family. Combined with the beauty of the land surrounding us, it provides a heritage that makes Christmas here uniquely special. MAGNIFICENT BEJEWELLED CENTREPIECE Abbie, who is a new member of staff, reports that the proposed Castle Saloon tree should measure 24 feet, and whilst I remain silent contemplating that figure, I can hear John Gundill, our Castle Manager, stride into her office, saying, with a degree of controlled panic and urgency, that this was definitely too big.

In the following three-way conversation, he calls down the phone to me, ‘Lady Carnarvon, can you remember what happened last time – it was so wide because of its height that we could not get it through the doors!’ I ask Abbie whether we might not need to find a tree closer to 18 feet. At 24 feet, the tree would effectively be a man’s height taller. Just imagine a whole John on top of the Christmas tree – it would be far too much – and I think Sally from the gift shop would prefer the fairy or angel option… The first day of December is when we all leap into action. Standing in front of the Castle, outside the familiarly heavy, ingrained doors, the nose of the tractor emerges into view down the drive. The tree in the trailer is a Norway spruce, still furled up in its netting. This is the traditional tree chosen by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria, and the type given each year to Trafalgar Square by the people of Norway as a mark of friendship and a thank you for Britain’s help in World War Two. As a child, I was taken to  THE ENGLISH HOME 119

ABOVE LEFT The Countess enlists help from workers across the Estate to heave the giant Christmas tree off the tractor trailer and carry it carefully into the Castle, trying not to lose too many needles on the way. ABOVE RIGHT Her grace is seen here helping to position the fairy at just the right angle so it faces forwards once the tree is hauled upright by ropes. OPPOSITE The decorated Christmas tree stands majestically in the Castle Saloon, and perfectly straight thanks to robust clamps inside the ornate tree stand.

London to see that tree being set up; the ceremony, band and choir was a heartwarming start to Christmas. Highclere’s grand tree for the Saloon comes from a local supplier and is cut down two days earlier, then left on the trailer in one of our barns to dry off. Mindful of Diana, our head housekeeper, who looks after everything inside the Castle so carefully and who will be at the sharp end – both literally and metaphorically – of this enormous tree, we try to keep the trail of needles and detritus to a minimum. Getting an extremely heavy tree into such a fragile and important building is a challenge in itself. Great care has to be taken that none of the stonework is damaged, let alone the leather wall hangings and branched candelabra lamps. The only way to do this is with an enormous amount of manpower… CHRISTMAS FAIRIES WORK THEIR MAGIC The gardeners arrive to help, alongside Simon, Tom and Terry from the farm. John comes down from the office and lines up with David Hilton, our joiner, who has made the remarkable work of art that is the tree stand, which holds it steady and secure. Luis appears with his team from banqueting. Amidst much banter and laughter, with the men lining up on either side of the trailer, the tree is lifted off, carried into the Saloon and laid down on sheets to protect the carpet. The ropes are readied and, as the branches are loosened out, the Christmas fairies – both in the human form of Sally and the decorative tree version – make their appearance. Sally and the gift-shop girls whirl around the tree, attaching decorations to the


topmost part whilst it is easily accessible. My husband waits on the gallery landing above with Simon, our farm manager, ready to haul on the ropes to pull the tree upright. I am, naturally, to be found hauling on a rope against my husband to stop the tree crashing into the leather wall hangings. With much debate and loud instruction, the tree is slowly winched into position and starts to settle. As the branches unfurl and the tree warms in the heat of the house, releasing that unmistakeable green fragrance, we declare a wellearned break and stop for soup and sausage rolls. Within a short time, Luis and Matthew have brought out ladders with mats on which to stand them, and Sally and her gift-shop elves become the lead organisers. Each year more decorations are sourced, bought or made, and boxes of those stored from previous years are carefully refined. The different colours and types are laid out on trestle tables and the plan begins to take shape. Sally tends to stand towards the back of the Saloon, directing operations in a commanding voice. Luis, Matthew and myself are sent up the ladders with long sticks with hooks on to enable us to reach the branches, whilst the gift shop ladies wait below to hand out the decorations. First, two sets of white lights are draped around the tree before the decorations – from baubles to little figures – are hung in place. After about two hours the tree is beginning to take shape. Just as everyone’s energy is starting to wane, my husband reappears to pass judgement and have a cup of tea. With further scrutiny and adjustments, we declare the job well done and toast with mulled wine.” 

Serving the Christmas Pudding “The serving of the pudding is a high point of Christmas celebrations – a moment of drama that everyone remembers year after year from their earliest childhood. Traditionally a sprig of holly decorates the top as a reminder of the Crown of Thorns. At Highclere, Paul pours over some warmed brandy and sets it alight as he rounds the corner from the servery, bearing it into the Dining Room to general applause. The flames seem to take us back into the realms of folklore with the added fun and superstition of seeking treasure and seeing who will find the lucky coin.” METHOD • Remove the pudding from the pantry where you have stored it. Make a pleated foil handle for the bowl so that you can remove it easily from the steamer. Cook it in the steamer for 1½ hours to warm it through properly. • When ready to serve, carefully turn the bowl upside down onto a plate and slide off the basin. • If you didn’t do so when making the pudding, push a few foil-wrapped coins well into the base of the pudding. • If you want to set the pudding alight, warm a tablespoon of brandy over a gas cooker flame, or a candle on the Christmas table. At the last moment, tip the spoon towards the flame so that the fumes catch light, and quickly pour the flames over the pudding. Serve with large dollops of brandy butter.


Highclere Christmas Cocktail “This pretty, light drink is enervating and full of Christmas colour. It is a great favourite whenever we entertain during festivities at the Castle.” INGREDIENTS FOR THE SPICED SYRUP 250ml (9fl oz) cold water 120g (4oz) sugar 3 cinnamon sticks 4 whole cloves Peel of ¼ orange

FOR THE COCKTAIL 50ml (2fl oz) spiced syrup 35ml (1fl oz) cranberry juice Red sugar (see tip) Highclere Champagne (or any good champagne)

METHOD • First make the syrup. Put the cold water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel into a saucepan, then bring to a boil over a low heat, stirring gently. • Let the mixture reduce until you achieve a syrupy texture (about 5 minutes once boiled). • Remove the cinnamon, cloves and orange peel and leave to cool. • To make the cocktail, dip the rim of a Champagne flute into cranberry juice and then into the red sugar. • Put the syrup and the rest of the cranberry juice into the glass and top up with Champagne. • Chef’s tip: Coloured sugar is readily available to buy, or you can make it yourself by simply mixing food colouring and sugar.

This extract is from the new book Christmas At Highclere: Recipes And Traditions From The Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon, £30, published by Penguin Random House.


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FLYING FOX LIFE – STYLE – LIVING Timeless Style that will last for generations


Gorgeous gifts to give or receive

Beautifully made jewellery books that hold earrings, necklaces or rings. Designed to sit elegantly on top of a dressing table or easily pop into a suitcase for travelling. To see our full range, large palette of colours available and for details of where to buy

Visit our Showroom at the National Trust Claydon House, The Courtyard, Claydon Estate, Buckinghamshire, MK18 2EY or visit Tel: 01296 738429

visit Call 02033 711522 or search Little Book of Earrings Avoid inferior copies. Always insist on the original. Accessories shown are not included

For more information visit us at When calling the UK from North America, dial the country code ‘011 44’ and drop the first ‘0’ in the UK phone number




01453 731305

English Panelling

Purveyors of Antiques and decorative items (est.1976)


Quality MDF panelling to suit all tastes!

Hingstons Of Wilton

T: 01722 742263 E: The Old Bell House, 2 Shaftesbury Road, Wilton, Salisbury, SP20DR



an e

oo ers

Oil, Gas, Wood pellet, log wood, logwood/electric, 3 & 5 Oven high efficiency iron range cookers.

Running cost from Just £ 100 to £300 per annum, (oil, gas, pellet) see web site for details. - Tel. 01227 780830, Thornhill Range Cookers, Canterbury, CT1 3RA Efficient Range Cookers that don’t cost the For more information visit us at When calling the UK from North America, dial the country code ‘011 44’ and drop the first ‘0’ in the UK phone number


There is something rather English and incredibly chic about using a classic and understated palette for wrapping Christmas presents to place under the tree. A red as bold as Father Christmas’s coat and a green as rich as holly create impact against an abundance of white as frosty as freshly fallen snow. Use generous lengths of ribbons on neatly wrapped presents and white-painted hampers to create smart parcels that heighten the anticpation of Christmas morning. Visit 130 THE ENGLISH HOME

Certified Organic Bedding

At Sleep Organic we create original designs to warm the heart and soothe the soul. We exclusively use finest quality organic and Fairtrade certified cotton in our bed linen, while our pillows and duvets are hand-made using select British organic wool. Organic Certified by Soil Association Certification DK26565

Made in the UK

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