THE MAGIC OF CHRIST­MAS

A rus­tic fam­ily home in the Kent coun­try­side pro­vides an at­mo­spheric set­ting for gar­lands of green­ery, flick­er­ing can­dle­light and plenty of com­fort and joy

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by celia rufey pho­to­graphs by jody ste­wart

A fam­ily home in ru­ral Kent pro­vides an at­mo­spheric set­ting for gar­lands of green­ery, flick­er­ing can­dle­light and plenty of com­fort and joy

“THE FIRST THING WE THOUGHT when we walked into the sit­ting room and saw the great in­glenook fire­place was how fan­tas­tic the house would be at Christ­mas,” Linda Carter says. “When our chil­dren, Elise, Sam and Ben, were small, we let them dec­o­rate the tree and they would hang up any­thing they’d made at school with lots of baubles un­til it was cov­ered.” Now they are grown up, Linda dec­o­rates with na­ture, gath­er­ing fo­liage from the gar­den and hedgerows: “We have two enor­mous holly trees, which bear a lot of berries. I watch cow-pars­ley seed heads dry in the hedges and pick them be­fore the verges are cut, then hang them in the hall with del­i­cate sil­ver dec­o­ra­tions. But most of all, I love light­ing the house with can­dles.”

With its dark, at­mo­spheric hall, oak stair­case and leaded win­dows, you might think that it is an an­cient dwelling but this is not the case. How­ever, it did solve Linda and Ray Carter’s dilemma in 1993 when the fam­ily were look­ing for a four-bed­room home in the Kent coun­try­side. Un­til they viewed this one, none had suited both Linda’s long­ing to live in an old house and Ray’s re­luc­tance to face the on­go­ing con­ser­va­tion that can come with own­ing a pe­riod prop­erty.

“This is an un­usual house,” Linda ex­plains. “It was built in the mid-1960s by a lo­cal man and, sur­pris­ingly, he de­cided to opt for a ver­nac­u­lar style. The down­stairs rooms are heav­ily beamed with oak floors, the win­dow frames are crafted from old tim­ber, the roof is clad with sal­vaged Kent peg tiles and the el­e­va­tions are in re­claimed bricks.” For the Carters it was the per­fect com­pro­mise. To all ap­pear­ances, the house ex­udes a sense of history but is struc­turally sound.

Dur­ing more than 20 years of liv­ing there, Linda and Ray have made changes with­out al­ter­ing the am­bi­ence. They knocked out an un­der-stairs cup­board to en­large the hall, in­stalled en-suite bath­rooms in two large bed­rooms, and took

down the wall be­tween the kitchen and a small din­ing room. This gave Linda the chance to ex­tend the reach of the kitchen to the end wall of the old din­ing room for an eye-catch­ing dis­play of glass­ware, china and gro­ceries on open shelves. A much more am­bi­tious change be­gan in 2010 when they took down the dou­ble garage and built a din­ing-room ex­ten­sion on one side of the kitchen and a laun­dry room on the other. In keep­ing with the architectural style of the house, both rooms have vaulted oak ceil­ings, while there was still space on the plot for a sin­gle garage at the side.

Linda has al­ways trawled lo­cal an­tiques shops, and four years ago she joined two friends to make buy­ing trips to mar­kets and bro­cantes in France with the idea of sell­ing their pur­chases. They now hold sales in The Old Hen House at Sil­cocks Farm in Ten­ter­den in May and Septem­ber, with a small pres­ence at Christ­mas. “We call our­selves The Three French Hens and sell ev­ery­thing from teacups to wardrobes. There’s al­ways fur­ni­ture, enam­el­ware, gal­va­nized jugs and French linens. We have lim­ited over­heads, so can sell at rea­son­able prices,” she says. Trad­ing vin­tage items has honed Linda’s tal­ent for lat­eral think­ing both in the pieces she buys to sell and how she adapts them at home. She cleaned up a sec­tion of an old French an­i­mal

pen made from wood and chicken wire to hold kitchen im­ple­ments above the oven. A line of an­cient colan­ders is fixed along the win­dow frame for the sheer en­joy­ment of their func­tional beauty, and an old lad­der floats above the kitchen ta­ble with vin­tage metal food cov­ers swing­ing from it. At Christ­mas, twin­kling tin stars are ar­ranged around them. In the util­ity room, a post-of­fice sort­ing rack is packed with dried flow­ers and dur­ing De­cem­ber it holds their stock of wine for the cel­e­bra­tions.

On Christ­mas Eve, when ev­ery­one else has gone to bed, Linda stays up to pre­pare the turkey and all the veg­eta­bles be­cause Christ­mas Day for the Carter fam­ily has a fluid timetable but es­tab­lished rit­u­als. These be­gin with Sam mak­ing eggy bread and ba­con with maple syrup for break­fast. “Then, what­ever the weather,” Linda says, “we walk in the grounds of nearby Scot­ney Cas­tle and take cham­pagne and smoked salmon sand­wiches.” Back home, the fire and can­dles are lit in the sit­ting room and the fam­ily open presents, with the main meal served around 5pm: “Be­fore the pud­ding we have a quiz with ques­tions only about our own fam­ily. It’s amaz­ing what we don’t know about each other! Af­ter that we open tiny presents from the tree, our ver­sion of the Christ­mas stock­ing. Sam rounds off the evening by mak­ing turkey sand­wiches. We al­ways knew that this house would re­ally come into its own at Christ­mas, and it has more than lived up to its prom­ise.”

FROM TOP

LEFT Nar­row shelves of­fer a sym­met­ri­cal dis­play; an old post of­fice sort­ing rack stores dried flow­ers and wine; tin stars swing from metal food cov­ers; owner Linda Carter

THIS PAGE, TOP LEFT The bed­cover was made by the Cana­dian Red Cross dur­ing World War II. Linda found the gen­tle­man’s wardrobe at the lo­cal re­cy­cling cen­tre and painted it in Du­lux High­land Green TOP AND ABOVE Glit­ter­ing ar­range­ments and tealights add tex­ture and sparkle to the main bed­room OP­PO­SITE An an­tique French linen sheet offers the per­fect back­drop for a colour­ful Christ­mas ta­ble, where an ar­ray of gleam­ing vin­tage glass­ware re­flects the soft glow of flick­er­ing tealights

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