All Decked Out

Two homes in the hills all decked out for the holiday season.

November 16, 2012 | | At Home in the Hills

With a simple wreath and a dusting of snow, the Erin stone house seems made for Christmas.

With a simple wreath and a dusting of snow, the Erin stone house seems made for Christmas. Photo by Pam Purves.

This is the story of a home designed for six dogs and a cat, seven children, 17 grandchildren, siblings, assorted spouses and friends – and their dogs. Dogs rule. Make no mistake about it. All gather at Christmas in one grand, noisy hubbub of laughter and love.

The Erin home started life as a Gothic, centre-hall plan, stone farmhouse. But like the family, it has grown madly in leaps and bounds.

To this beautifully proportioned house has been added an equally well-proportioned master bedroom wing and a great room that accommodates the kitchen, dining and living areas. It’s just about the right amount of room now, but chances are it will be asked to accommodate more.

It’s a home that seems made for Christmas. The approach is along a densely treed allée, over a narrow wooden bridge, emerging into a park-like setting. Snow-covered cedars, warm lights in every window, and a winding stream leading to a smooth skating pond seem transported straight out of Currier and Ives. Mature oaks, maples and white spruce define the slightly rolling property and frame the house perfectly, making it private but welcoming.

The new additions were designed by Jamie Pearson of Mulmur and carried out by Henk Guerts of Du-Can Construction, Inglewood. Pearson has a gift for bringing modernity to classic old homes and doubling or tripling their size without a vernacular misstep. His understanding of how to work with natural materials and the architectural integrity of the original building results in a perfect blend of new and old.

The great room was designed for maximum light and easy access to the outdoors, both visually and practically, no matter the season. Although the room was conceived on a large scale, the unpainted vintage Ontario barn beams and ceiling boards that rise to a 30-foot peak and a massive carved-stone fireplace create an atmosphere that is warm and intimate. Dickens would have loved it.

“Dear Santa I can explain.” In a large household with many pets, accidents can happen and explanations are frequently needed. Santa is always sympathetic.

“Dear Santa I can explain.” In a large household with many pets, accidents can happen and explanations are frequently needed. Santa is always sympathetic. Photo by Pam Purves.

Holiday entertaining is made easy by a pantry and bar located in what is actually a passage from the foyer to the great room. This keeps storage and much of the work area out of direct line of sight, but handy enough for the informal self-service that is de rigueur at the family’s happily chaotic gatherings.

A second passage from the foyer opens into the great room and a long furnished hall leading to the library – a wonderful run for kids and dogs and a roomy area for the circulation of arriving, departing and settling-in guests.

Christmas decorating is traditional on a likewise large scale. A festive tree decorated with the creative output of children and grandchildren over the years is surrounded by carefully and colourfully wrapped gifts for both humans and dogs. A beautifully carved deer grazes in the hall, an antique nativity nestles in greenery on a 17th-century dresser, and many stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

This is a home that celebrates beauty and history, but is meant to be lived in. There are three rules: love dogs, leave the cat alone (she’s really old), and have fun.

Christmas from Floor to Rooftop

Roy and Kelly Craik share a quiet moment of satisfaction following a week-long decorating mission. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Roy and Kelly Craik share a quiet moment of satisfaction following a week-long decorating mission. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Kelly Craik is a woman on a mission. Every season must be celebrated, and celebrated exuberantly.

She and her husband Roy live in Mono in a post-and-beam home authentically crafted from an old Scottish design. Generous windows frame the drama of the changing seasons on the surrounding hills. And Kelly marks those transitions indoors with a complete set of decorations to match the colours, festivities and mood of each season.

But it’s at Christmastime when she fully unleashes her imaginative spirit. The house is literally packed with colour and texture and warmth. Wreaths festoon walls, freshly cut boughs frame windows, doors and mantels, and prized decorations grace every surface. Birchbark deer, painted ducks, carved penguins and other animals prance and strut along shelves. A handsome collection of nutcrackers parades across a ledge – with a Scotsman front and centre. A pair of wonderfully conceived ceramic dogs, found in Mexico, are dressed in seasonal garb and fondly licked by the collection of real dogs – Caicos, Lucky and Coco.

The whole collection has been lovingly selected over the years from local shops and craftspeople and during the couple’s travels. Some have been with Kelly since childhood and remind her of Cuckoo – her beloved grandmother who would entertain the children by appearing out of a high window of a grand house like a figure from a Swiss clock.

Indeed, Kelly may well have inherited the decorating passion from her grandmother, who loved Christmas and decorated the children’s table with a huge mirror, cotton wool and miniature trees to create an enchanted skating pond – one of Kelly’s enduring memories of a picture-perfect childhood.

The Christmas tree in the Craiks’ home is the heart of the decorative abundance. Every branch is densely covered, reminiscent of the fantastic tree in The Nutcracker. Vintage glass Santas are family heirlooms. A set of walnut faces made by her nephew when he was three still have pride of place 23 years later.

Handcrafted birchbark deer romp on a mantel among painted cones and miniature Christmas trees. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Handcrafted birchbark deer romp on a mantel among painted cones and miniature Christmas trees. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Other pieces were found during vacations in San Miguel de Allende, or closer to home in Toronto at a design store called L’Atelier, or right in the neighbourhood at the Olde Stanton Store, Granny Taught Us How, or the annual Christmas sale of their designer friend Jane Fellowes of Tequila Cove. Kelly winds shiny gauze ribbons through the branches to diffuse the light. The tree actually glows.

The country Christmas feel is enhanced by the wreaths, garlands and centrepieces Kelly makes each year from the greenery, cones and other natural materials she collects from their property, suffusing the house with the pungent scent of pine and cedar.

The outside is not neglected either. In addition to wreaths, Kelly piles huge coloured balls in the window boxes. They are filled with sand to keep them from blowing away. Clever.

It may not need to be said that Kelly is a devoted follower of Martha Stewart, but unlike many of us who are content to read and dream of doing, she puts in the effort, and the enchanting result exudes real love.

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Massing colourful Christmas balls is striking and not expensive. These Canadian Tire fi nds, set in a window box, have been fi lled with sand to prevent them from blowing away. Photo by Pete Paterson.

About the Author More by Pam Purves

Freelance photographer and writer Pam Purves lives in Caledon.

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