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
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.”
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