Christmas at The Watch House


Motivated by the prospect of an OK-style, ‘At Home with Mr Christmas’ photoshoot this week, I have been decorating every corner of The Watch House in readiness for the festivities. This is the first year that the house has been properly habitable since the extension into Polegate Cottage and I have enjoyed getting into those rooms that were half completed last December. A year ago the carpets were just being laid and the dining room served as a box store. I was still putting curtain poles up on Christmas Eve, in readiness for my guests. In contrast, this year I have the luxury of painted walls and blinds at the windows. The aroma of fresh cut MDF has been replaced by the citrusy scent of Fraser fir. Now when I walk through the front door I get a pleasant reminder of how much I have achieved over the last 12 months. Not all in the happiest of circumstances, but it’s kept me from wallowing and given me a rewarding focus.

The first room beyond the front door is known as the morning room because it’s bright and sunny at the start of the day. The walls are painted straw yellow and the space is dominated by two Mr Bright chairs. Eight years after designing them I still maintain they are the most comfortable armchair known to man. They give me a little cuddle every time I sit in them (I’m enjoying one right now), yet they allow enough free arm movement to read a paper or magazine. Children find Mr Bright magnetic, as do biscuit crumbs and grains of sand, which find their way into the deep buttoning in disturbing quantities. Children generally come straight through the front door and start scrambling over the chairs like they are bouncy castles. Unfortunately yellow velvet is not very forgiving when it comes to grime, so I flinch just a little when that happens.

The morning room has never had a Christmas tree before, but since it’s the first room my guests see, and because I had a nice slim tree at my disposal, I thought it would be welcoming to add one. I still have three sets of incandescent fairy lights from the days pre LED, one of which has gently flickering bulbs. I treasure this set and will be very sad when the last of the spare bulbs is used up and cannot be replaced. The decorations – broadly gold, yellow, or midnight blue in colour – are an eclectic mix of things I just happen to like. There’s a lion’s head, a piece of glass honeycomb being tended by bees, a fantail goldfish, pineapples, and some fringed Indian key rings I found in our local gift shop. Colour is a brilliant way of harmonising a whole bunch of things that don’t really belong together.

Next comes the dining room, which also has a tree for the first time. Space has been created in a corner where a bookshelf has recently been removed, although it will be tight when we come to use the table on Christmas Day. I put the tree up in November, just to get it done, and hence used an artificial one so that it would still look good six weeks later. Decorated with silver, sapphire and crystal decorations inspired by St Petersburg’s Winter Palace, I am chuffed to bits with the result. The colour combination complements my collection of blue and white china, and there’s so much sparkle that the whole room lights up when I flick the power switch. On the opposite wall I have a lit wreath made from wire threaded with acrylic crystals, and over the narrow mantle shelf I have bunched and draped several crystal garlands, onto which I have clipped a collection of Joanna Buchanan ornaments, each inspired by an item of vintage jewellery. The quality of the faux gems so good that that they sparkle even in low light. My favourites are the opals.

My house always filled with fresh flowers and plants, but I can’t resist adding an extra layer at Christmas time. In the library there are yellow orchids, but I’ve chosen little white cyclamen in antiqued-glass pots for the dining room. These were snapped up for £5 a pop at Tesco. Even as a buyer it amazes me that plants can be offered at such low prices. Had I grown these cyclamen myself, I would not have parted with them for that kind of money.

I’ve always harboured ambitions of decorating the kitchen, hanging a heavy garland across the chimney breast, but the time has never materialised. I also don’t relish the thought of glitter, moss and other detritus falling into my food. However, this year the stairs got a subtle dressing. I’ve attached a couple of garlands to the base of the bannisters using cable ties (so easy) and prettied them up a little using lime-green baubles. Having found nowhere to put my Christmas cards, I have discovered that they tuck between the garland and bannisters very neatly, and there they will stay until twelfth night.

In the snug, where I watch TV (restricted to Strictly, Poldark and Gardener’s World these days), I have decorated another slender tree with red, blue and white decorations. They have a loosely nautical theme and include a dolphin, several lighthouses, felt storks and mice, which is where the nautical theme starts to fall down: it’s Christmas, so I can do as I please. I picked up a very pretty paper mistletoe garland in The Netherlands which has helped to pull this little spire of silliness together.

In the garden room I’ve upheld a strict green and antique-brass theme. I’ve strung up three sets of my favourite vine lights, which are tiny, micro-LED lights clustered on long green stems, arranged along a string. The matte-green wire blends in with foliage brilliantly and the bulbs give out a soft, warm light that suggests something magical might be afoot. In places I’ve draped lengths of antique brass stars among the leaves and left it at that.

The panels of jade green insulation board at the end of the garden room block off an empty space which will one day be an additional bathroom. Unfortunately they don’t fit tightly so there’s an almighty draught blowing through which neither suits me nor the plants. I’ve disguised the panels with four identical moss wreaths, each of which is adorned with white birds and green glass pine cones. The wreaths fill the space and create a pleasant focal point. So that there’s some depth as the eye wanders through the greenery, I’ve suspended giant antique baubles and tin cocoa pods among my hanging plants, all at different heights. I like to think of the garden room as an indoor balcony; the kind of spot where the characters in a Noel Coward play would slink off to for a contretemps or thrilling tryst. I might do the latter myself after a few sherries.

I’ve been saving the best until last – the library. Hard to imagine that this time last year the walls were bare wood and plaster. Although I still don’t have a fire surround, and the chandeliers remain in their boxes in the garage, the library has more than the makings of a lovely room. It will come into its own on Christmas Eve, when the fire will roar and there will be games, gifts and G&Ts aplenty. Here I have my real tree, a seven foot Fraser fir, which smells like candied citrus peal. Having bought my first Fraser fir last year I would never go back to a Nordmann, which is coarse and scentless in comparison.

In choosing decorations for this tree I have not followed the decoration of the room, which would be my usual approach. I’ve nodded to the paintwork’s heathery tones with some gorgeous antique glass baubles in a mottled, purplish-bronze shade, but the rest are russet, chestnut, copper and burgundy. There’s a loose woodland-cum-wildlife-cum-farmyard theme, complete with foxes, chickens, pheasants, conkers, pine cones, baskets of eggs and flying ducks, but if the colours go, I shove the decoration on. Here’s how it came together:

For my niece Martha I am hiding a fairy decoration in each room of the house. We’ll have some fun seeking them out later. I’m going to enjoy the next half an hour of peace and quiet before she and my sister arrive, as there will be no rest once they do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little tour of the Watch House and that you’re all ready to celebrate in style. I wish you and your families the Merriest of Christmases. TFG.