The Holiday Home of my Neighbour, the Rose Whisperer

My neighbour Lois has lived in her house on the corner for 30 years with her husband Heinz.

Before they bought this house, they lived in a 700 square foot house in the same town, different street. Every time she walked past this house to the library she would think to herself, “I would like to wake up in one of those attic bedrooms and have breakfast in that room with the corner windows.

Their garden reminds me of a secret garden. Enormous and full of gorgeous flowers, shrubs, decorative fences and rambling roses that climb up to 30 feet high in June on her trees at the entrance to her front door (below).

The 30 ft wall of climbing Roses in my Neighbours secret garden!

Lois roses at the entrance of her home.

Lois is a rose whisperer. When I mentioned in passing that I wanted to transplant some of the roses in my garden, she told me that roses must be transplanted in January or February, when they are completely dormant. Otherwise it will take years for them to come back to their full glory.

When I dropped by last year at Christmas time and saw her lovely and personalized holiday decorating style, including the lace ornaments her mother-in-law crochets for her each Christmas, I asked if she would let me photograph her home for my readers this year.

Lois asked if she could write the post too and I was delighted to accept! Here it is:

Making Room for Christmas

I am not a minimalist; not for me the boutique-hotel school of decorating. Neither am I an over-the-top, approaching-hoarder-status maximalist although I do enjoy NYC socialite Iris Apfel’s no-holds-barred approach to life and decorating (which she applies to her home and to her person), “more is more and less is a bore!”

No, my decorating maxim falls somewhere in the safe middle ground between those two extremes.

Holiday Lace Christmas Tree | Living Room

Caramel Sofa with Brass Candlestick

Artist: Stephanie Wood from Vancouver Island

Putting on the Glitz!

Christmas decorating is another matter. I love to bring the holiday spirit into every nook and cranny of my living space and when it comes to the Christmas tree I am with Iris all the way!

But before all those lovely, shiny, gold and white, happy holiday bits and pieces can find a place in my home there is some prep work to be done. Room has to be found…

Crochet christmas decorations

Breathing Room

If I have one word of advice for would-be holiday decorators it would be to make room for Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever holiday you are celebrating in this season of celebrations).

Don’t expect to layer a truckload of holiday greenery and glitz on top of your existing decor scheme. Instead, take some time to make space in your home so that your seasonal decorations can shine.

Boxwood centrepiece with lace angels

Crochet angel with crystal glassware

I accomplish this by removing some of the books and ephemera from my shelves, editing out a few table lamps and removing the odd piece of furniture such as a small table or a chair or two.

I also take down paintings and prints on strategic walls to make room for the Christmas tree.

All of this is taken up to the attic and stored beside the empty Christmas decoration boxes to make it easy to find again when the holidays are over and life goes back to “ordinary time.”

A basement or spare bedroom can temporarily house these items if you aren’t lucky enough to have a huge, easily accessed attic.

Boxwood arrangements with gold and cream teapots

Brass candlesticks on mirrored tray

Honoring Traditions

I make room for the holidays in another way — in my timetable. Keeping to a consistent theme, year after year, saves me time and energy.

My chosen theme is white and gold (that’s my theme and I’m sticking to it!).

No doubt, the reason many people cling to cherished traditions during the holidays is because they provide a respite from the inevitable vagaries and unpredictability of a busy modern life.

Why not celebrate the seasonal predilection for the tried and true? Chances are the predictable nature of your special traditions are what your family and friends look forward to most every year.

Make room in your schedule by sticking to what has worked well for you in the past and what your near and dear ones are hoping to see (and taste) again.

Boxwood arrangements with gold balls

Artist: Harry Stanbridge from Vancouver Island

Local is Lovely

Rather than chasing an elusive ideal of magazine-worthy perfection, be gentle on yourself by keeping it realistic and personal. The pinecone wreath on my front door (below) was made for me, by a friend, from locally scavenged materials more than 20 years ago.

A red pottery bottle that stands in my entrance hall was made by a local potter; a sprig of evergreen and a length of ribbon temporarily transform it into something festive.

Chances are you too have an abundance of wonderful local sources for decorating ideas in your own community and plenty of local artisans who would appreciate your business.

Making use of materials and resources close at hand makes sense if you are trying to maintain space in your life to enjoy the season.

Entry with quilt and tree branches

Looking In My Own Backyard

Some years ago I had a minor ‘aha moment’ when I realized that I already had three components of a great decorating scheme:

An extensive collection of vintage, cream and sugar sets in white and gold which were acquired piece by piece over the years;

A large garden full of boxwood shrubs which furnish more greenery than I can use;

And about two hundred little crocheted snowflakes from a loving mother-in-law who has made them and given them to me, a few every December, for many decades. (below)

Crochet christmas decorations

How to stiffen crochet lace with white glue

I realized that I could combine these items by repurposing my little creamers and sugar bowls as vases to use in a table-scape and on the tops of bookshelves to create little “hedges”.

This plan had the additional advantage of putting my china collection to good use in the garden-party off season.

Boxwood, which grows in nearly every backyard in my neighbourhood, lasts for at least a month in water gradually drying out but staying green long after the water has evaporated.

This means that, like Iris, I can leave at least some of my decorations up into the spring. I started that first year by adding fresh flowers to the boxwood in the sugar bowl vases.

The next year (and every year since), I substituted little gold and silver Christmas ball ornaments which have the advantage of not wilting and of being reusable.

Another thing I love about this decorating idea is that the boxwood grows in my own back yard meaning it is accessible and, ahem, … cheap.

boxwood in creamers

Painting by Heinz

Money Matters

There, I’ve crassly brought up cold cash.

As much as most people hate to talk about money, being realistic about financial limits avoids a regret-filled January.

My holiday collection of brass items was sourced entirely from thrift stores at give-away prices. I’ve probably spent as much on brass polish as I spent on acquiring the 30 plus candlesticks in my collection. (Did I mention that I have a large attic, so storage is not an issue?)

Working on the principle that I would rather have the real thing than an imitation, I splurge on a real tree – usually a Noble, Grand or Fraser Fir with lots of spaces between the tiers of branches.

To make room for indulgences like a special tree, I choose to enjoy my previously-loved —and very affordable when bought second-hand — Irish linen napkins and tablecloths instead of a more expensive option. (If, on the other hand, your time is more precious than money you might want to skip the vintage Irish linen – it does require a formidable commitment to starching and ironing!)

By being a bit creative with thrifted or inherited items, I know I won’t be awaiting the January credit card bill with dread.

You don’t have to become Second-hand Rose to have a lovely holiday home but keeping it real in the time and money departments will save you undue stress and preserve your celebratory mood.

Stocking with gifts

Photos by Maria Killam

Create Space to Celebrate

This holiday season, pause a minute to consider how you can create some space in your decor and in your busy life. The resulting ‘room to breathe’ will allow you to focus on what this season is really all about; in the words of the Christmas angels on a Bethlehem hillside, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

Wishing you all a beautiful, peaceful and generously spacious holiday season and may peace and goodwill fill your home in the coming year! Merry Christmas! Lois


Lois in front of her stunning Christmas Tree!

Thanks Lois for this lovely glimpse into your charming and colourful home! Lois is also a quilter. You can view and purchase her quilts here.

Which idea will you copy? I love the boxwood clippings, I have lots of boxwood in my garden! When I showed this post to my Mom she said “I can crochet those ornaments!”

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Related posts:

The Iris Apfel School of Holiday Decorating

Holiday Mood Lighting Lessons from Twilight

2014 Holiday Tour of my House Inside Canadian Living

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    • Agreed! Would Love to see this ‘secret garden’!

      Lois you have touched on an aesthetic which is a great leveller (ie completely keeping it real) and have articulated it so well. I also use vintage items from the china hutch for any holiday- quick, easy and unique. Bravo on your amazing quilts-what art!

  1. What an inspiring post! Your home is so homey and relaxing Lois. It makes me just wanting to come over and visit. Your design sense is exceptional! I love your style of writing. Do you have a blog and if not, why not?
    Two wonderful designers in one neighborhood is outstanding!

    Thank you Maria and Lois for sharing your lovely home and great ideas.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours. This was a wonderful present to all of your readers Maria.

    • Lucy, I was going to ask in my post if they would mind having an open house just for us! I would bring food. From Pennsylvania. 🙂

    • THanks, Lucy. I am thinking about starting a blog in the new year as a way to spur myself to do more writing. How about “The Dilettante’s Diary” for a name for my new blog?

  2. First, I started to reply but was interrupted. I don’t think I finished or hit “send,” but whatever I wrote isn’t here any more. If I did send and you get two from me, my apologies.

    This was a lovely post. Thank you Maria and Lois.
    Pretty home, pretty colors, pretty tradition, pretty green (we don’t get a lot of green here in the desert. Believe it or not, I’ve never shoveled snow nor driven in snow).

    And pretty quilts. Those are lovely.

    Also love Heinz’s Tulips!

    Happy holidays and have a great 2017!

    • I love Heinz’s tulips, too! Unfortunately, another beautiful tulip painting by Heinz, in a very expensive frame, fell off the wall shattering the frame about 10 minutes before Maria came to photograph our house! That was a shock!

  3. Seeing the white crochet ornaments almost made me cry because my mother used to make those when she was alive. That was between making sequin-covered felt decorations like banners with the Twelve Days of Christmas. My mother…and I love sequins, glitter and all things shiny…and usually gaudy. Having entered my 60’s a few weeks ago, I have noticed that my tastes have matured into preferring the simpler white and gold…classic and timeless decorations. In the meantime, my friends and family look forward to my bright and flashy peacock-themed Christmas tree complete with feather boas in teal, lime green, hot pink, purple and royal blue as garland. We plan to enjoy a colorful Christmas this year while I dream of a “White & Gold Christmas” next year.

  4. What a beautiful home, Lois! Thank you for writing this post and sharing all of your holiday tips and ideas.

    I love the paint color of your dining room, and that gorgeous pale blue/turquoise lamp in the corner is divine.

    I also appreciate your emphasis on purchasing things second hand and keeping it local when possible. I just found a sweet pair of bright blue glass song birds at a secondhand store that are now a part of my holiday blue and white table scape. I’m an artist and also appreciate the beautiful local art on your walls!

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Absolutely gorgeous! Love the little hand-crafted items seen throughout your home. It looks like a real home.
    Always appreciated your great sense of style. Merry Christmas!

    • Thanks, Trudi! I didn’t make it into your store today – we took a trip to the big city but I will be in tomorrow!

  6. Two beautiful Christmas home tours – yours the other day, Maria, and Lois’ yesterday. Very different homes that are alive with holiday spirit that invites one in.
    Your tree, Lois, is ecstasy for me – my color palette is cream and yellow greens found my home long before Pantone’s Greenery came along. Even a tiny copy of your tree would be happy here. I’m sort of a “minimalist” with Christmas decorations because my home is very small, I have very limited storage space and three curious cats. But traditions are the things and I love to pull out those little treasures every year. The boxwood clipping idea is wonderful and definitely something I’l try. I hope Maria will bring you back to post again. I’d love to see your garden as well though here in the desert southwest of Arizona, I can’t replicate but I’m good at “virtual” enjoyment
    Thank you and Merry Christmas to both of you.

    • SandyC, I am glad you enjoyed the photos Maria took of my tree. I think the little paper stars that used to decorate my tree ,before I had enough crocheted snowflakes, would replicate the look on a smaller scale and be suitable for a much smaller tree. See my comment below for the link to the instructions.

  7. To all of you lovely readers who admired my snowflake Christmas tree and told me stories of the handmade snowflakes and stars passed on to you by beloved women in your life, I thank you for your comments and, with you, I celebrate the love of the matriarchs in our families. I also have a little bonus for you; before I had a collection of crocheted snowflakes, my tree was decorated with paper stars that I made out of strips of computer paper (and/or gold ribbon). A tutorial can be found here:

  8. Simply beautiful….and beautiful in it’s simplicity. Agree with all the others. Charming, welcoming, and just enough décor well displayed. Love it!!! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Well my goodness Maria, you truly have yourself an angel in Lois – she has captured the true meaning of Christmas – and sharing her thoughts and lovely advice – I feel like I just left a therapy session on what most matters in our world. Cherishing not so much the things we have, but cherishing how we acquired them, through the love and efforts of those we love. One of the most inspiring Christmas treats this season. Thank you Lois, and thank you Maria for sharing your charming neighbor with all of us!
    Merry Christmas !

  10. Thank you for sharing your home Lois! Love the green walls, those creamers, the handmade ornaments. I love that quilt and how it is display as art with that shelf on the wall.. wonderful work. *Season wishes to all! We are visiting Southern Florida this year. It is odd seeing palm trees with Christmas lights, no snow, everyone in shorts, and traditional red and green in a sea of pastels!*

  11. Palm trees and Christmas lights? Anything with a palm tree in it works for me! The quilt on display is a somewhat tattered antique that is over a century and a half old. My husband bought it in an antique shop for me for Christmas when we were newly married.

  12. Maria, Thank you for allowing Lois to share her home with us! Lois, what a heautiful presentation of your Christmas memories & traditions! I too kove keeping with a theme year after year! It does offer that sense of calm in the eye of the Christmas Season Storm. I hope everyone on this sight has a lovely and PEACEFUL Christmas!!! Many blessings into the New Year!!!

  13. The open branched Christmas tree is fabulous! I have been collecting vintage Shiny Brite ornaments for nearly 40 years and would love a tree that could display them to their full potential this way. Due to family members with allergies, we are relegated to artificial trees. Even though I can adjust the branches, it still doesn’t come close to the appearance in these photos.
    Great post!