Nat­u­rally fes­tive


Christ­mas needn’t be all about fake snow and sparkly tin­sel. Just ask an­tiques dealer Josephine Ryan, who brings fes­tive cheer to her South Lon­don home with sim­ple can­dles and fresh mistle­toe

When it comes to Christ­mas, an­tiques dealer Josephine Ryan is a tra­di­tion­al­ist and loves to fill her el­e­gant south Lon­don home with can­dles and nat­u­ral fo­liage

An­tiques dealer Josephine Ryan is happy to de­scribe her­self as some­what con­trol­ling when it comes to dec­o­rat­ing her house at Christ­mas. She has no time for ar­ti­fi­cial trees, fake gar­lands or silk flow­ers, she says, no mat­ter how re­al­is­tic. She is as adamant in her ha­tred of such things as she is pas­sion­ate about head­ing out to gather fresh mistle­toe and sea­sonal fo­liage for­aged from lo­cal – al­beit in­ner- city – hedgerows. Ex­tra green­ery comes from the trim­mings Josephine takes from the Christ­mas tree; these she ar­ranges along shelves and man­tel­pieces to cre­ate a lush back­drop for her sil­ver­ware and other or­na­ments.

The em­pha­sis is on ease and sim­plic­ity, which chimes per­fectly with Josephine’s aes­thetic through­out the rest of the year: an­tique chairs and so­fas are up­hol­stered in plain linens, no mat­ter how or­nate the frames; lux­u­ri­ous-seem­ing throws are fash­ioned from an­tique fur coats which she ‘al­ters’ by

tuck­ing the sleeves out of sight. ‘If they are really ragged, I might just cut them o ,’ she says. While the aim is to cre­ate a sense of faded grandeur – like a coun­try house in the city – in terms of fur­ni­ture, she is drawn to sim­ple, painted pieces over gilt and mar­quetry.

Josephine traces her par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for rus­tic, coun­try fur­ni­ture to a child­hood spent sur­rounded by the an­tiques that filled her par­ents’ home in Ire­land. ‘A love of an­tiques is in my DNA,’ she says. ‘Both my par­ents were avid col­lec­tors so I was des­tined to fol­low their lead. I grew to love that dis­tressed, bat­tered look of sim­ple, rus­tic fur­ni­ture.’

She bought her first an­tique from a dealer on Por­to­bello Road and paid for it in in­stal­ments. It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore she en­tered the trade her­self. As a dealer, Josephine has al­ways be­lieved in buy­ing the things she likes, even if she has felt at times that these pieces were be­yond her bud­get. ‘It’s sim­ply a mat­ter of con­fi­dence,’ she says. ‘Hav­ing the stay­ing power and be­liev­ing that what you like will ap­peal to some­one else, and, in turn, they’ll want to buy from you.’

Josephine de­ployed the same con­fi­dence and stay­ing power when she de­cided to buy the dou­ble-fronted house that is now her home. The house had been owned and semiren­o­vated by a builder, so it was struc­turally sound but un­sym­pa­thet­i­cally mod­ern­ized and still lacked cen­tral heat­ing. All the Vic­to­rian sash win­dows had been re­placed with alu­minium frames, and orig­i­nal fea­tures such as the old fire­places had been re­moved.

It was a chal­lenge, but full of prom­ise, and Josephine couldn’t re­sist. ‘It had coun­try­house pro­por­tions, with large, light, al­most

The em­pha­sis is on ease and sim­plic­ity… an­tique chairs and so­fas, no mat­ter how or­nate, are up­hol­stered in plain linens

square rooms,’ she ex­plains. ‘And I loved the way it was laid out – dou­ble-fronted and only two storeys, so I wouldn’t have to spend my life run­ning up and down stairs!’ This was a key con­sid­er­a­tion for her at the time as she was preg­nant with her first child.

The work was ex­ten­sive and in­volved knock­ing down the walls be­tween the kitchen and din­ing room, re­plac­ing win­dows and re­in­stat­ing fire­places. Josephine also re­moved the many di er­ently coloured car­pets in or­der to paint the floor­boards.

‘In those days I would buy some­thing for the house, run out of money and de­cide I needed to sell it,’ Josephine re­calls. Con­se­quently, the rooms and the over­all look of the house were in a con­stant state of flux. But she had a good eye for an­tiques and was al­ways able to turn a profit: her first batch of an­tique fur­ni­ture sold out at Ne­wark an­tiques fair. ‘In­stead of spend­ing the money sen­si­bly, I promptly bought a whole new lot of fur­ni­ture,’ she laughs.

These days, with grown-up chil­dren and a thriv­ing in­te­ri­ors busi­ness, there is no longer any need to sell the fur­ni­ture and the look of the house has set­tled. ‘I’ve stopped buy­ing new things,’ she says, ‘not that I ever bought any­thing much that was ac­tu­ally new ex­cept for can­dles and lamps.’ And can­dles are key to the way Josephine dec­o­rates the house at Christ­mas. Apart from a few twin­kling lights on the tree (a rare con­ces­sion to the 21stcen­tury take on fes­tiv­i­ties) the rest of the house is bathed in can­dle­light. ‘I like to place mir­rored mats below can­dle­sticks,’ she says, ‘as it dou­bles the im­pact of the glow and adds more sparkle.’ Other than lights and swags of lo­cally sourced green­ery, dec­o­ra­tions are lim­ited to Christ­mas cards, which are dis­played on an old Ed­war­dian fruit picker’s lad­der in the hall. But de­spite her firm rules re­gard­ing the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, the day it­self is re­laxed. The house is filled with fam­ily and friends and guests are wel­come to pot­ter around in dress­ing gowns if they feel like it. ‘The day is about chat­ting, lis­ten­ing to old LPs of chil­dren singing car­ols, and play­ing games,’ she says. ‘Friends say I live in an­other cen­tury,’ she smiles, happy to take the com­pli­ment.

Josephine has ar­ranged an­tique and vin­tage spoons made of sil­ver and bone in a pewter cup (for more fes­tive dis­play­ing ideas see page 48)

ABOVE LEFT The kitchen revolves around a French range by Fal­con. The old butcher’s block, which cre­ates an is­land, is a great place for carv­ing the goose ABOVE RIGHT Tree trim­mings and tea lights are used to dec­o­rate the man­tel­piece in the draw­ing room FAC­ING PAGE

ABOVE More an­tique Swedish chairs sit either side of the bay win­dow in the mas­ter bed­room. The shelves in the al­cove are home to a col­lec­tion of vin­tage and an­tique glass and ceram­ics. A large wooden bowl lled with pine cones makes a quirky, sea­sonal doorstop

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