Together at Christmas
We look inside a beautiful north Norfolk home which looks even more fabulous at this time of the year
“Living such busy lives these days, often with families scattered around the country, Christmas is one of the few occasions when we catch up with loved ones to enjoy the festivities.” says Gillie ScottMacEwan when I met up with her at her delightful village home in north Norfolk. Gillie was born and brought up in Norfolk.
“I had a lovely childhood, going to the convent school in Kings Lynn and then to the high school,” says Gillie. “Like so many in those days, I then escaped to London where I trained as a beautician. But after a year working at Harvey Nichols, I changed tack and went to work as a receptionist at J Walter Thompson, the No1 advertising agency in the 1960s. It was a very exciting time, very dynamic, as it was the advent of TV commercials and many well-known actors came into the agency to take part in the making of the adverts.”
Marriage to an insurance broker followed. “We were lucky enough to find a delightful Victorian coach house in Esher, Surrey,” says Gillie. “The house needed a great deal of TLC, which we carried out.
“As a result, friends began to ask for my help with their homes and I realised I had found my passion in interior design, and subsequently trained for a diploma at The Inchbald School of Design. I have been practising as a designer since the late 60s and have been lucky enough to have secured contracts, both domestic and commercial, all over the world.”
Gillie had two children, Alastair and Sarah. Alastair and his family now live in Norfolk, and he has developed a successful ecological heating and plumbing company. Sarah is a teacher and lives with her husband, teenage sons and cockapoo Buddy in West London. They will all assemble at Gillie’s house for Christmas.
Gillie has always had an affinity with period properties and, among the 23 houses the family have lived in, are a 14th century moated manor house and 16th century cottages, all requiring sympathetic restoration or refurbishment, sometimes structural and always cosmetic.
Some of these homes have
appeared in national and international magazines. Her current property brought her back to her roots. The house had belonged to friends of her parents.
She had often been entertained there and on one of these occasions said: “If you ever consider selling this lovely home, please let me know.” They did and that is how she is now back living in her home county.
So to Christmas. Gillie likes to start two weeks before the day, using natural foliage from the garden to decorate all the rooms. “I love the smell of dried oranges, roaring log fires and candles illuminating mantelpieces and window sills,” explains Gillie. “On Christmas Eve I have a party for friends and family, with lots of bubbly and scrumptious nibbles. We then go to midnight mass at our local parish church.
“I am up early on Christmas Day to get the turkey in the oven and prepare all the vegetables. My wonderful son-in-law then takes over the supervision of lunch and my daughter and I escape to Sandringham to see the Royal Family leave West Newton church.
“We then gather here for lunch at about 2pm and then break for the Queen’s Speech at 3pm before opening presents, the younger children unwrapping everything they are given and then losing things in the mass of paper! Exhausted by too much food and excitement, we collapse in the evening and play the odd game of cards.”
On Boxing Day, everyone goes for a bracing recovery walk on Brancaster beach before lunch with Alastair and family.
“My favourite room at this time of year is undoubtedly the dining room with the adjoining
‘Gillie has an affinity with period properties requiring sympathetic restoration’
kitchen, separated only by a screen. Everyone gathers round the big table. I have found several pieces of furniture and artifacts at Bayfield Hall Antiques, which I often visit as my dear friend, the late Allan Urquhart, who created the most wonderful handmade curtains and upholstery for chairs, had a studio there. He did all the fabrics and curtains throughout this house.” Other than going to Sandringham, Gillie loves going to Blickling Hall, especially at Christmas. “They decorate it to perfection and it’s just such a lovely atmosphere.”
I ask about Gillie’s most memorable moment in the county.
“Well mine goes back some years ago, on a beautiful, warm, sunny day, swimming off Holkham beach with my mind in neutral.
“I suddenly realised somebody was swimming alongside me, and to my astonishment, I glanced sideways and realised it was a large and smelly grey seal! I have never swum so quickly in my life towards the shore and ran up the beach in a state of panic!” says Gillie.
“As you can imagine, with my nomadic life over the years, living in 23 different properties, and in three different countries, having the children and grandchildren gather here for Christmas is my most special occasion.
To be in this wonderful part of Norfolk again, at such a lovely time of the year brings me lots of joy and happiness and long may it continue.”
ABOVE:Unit by Wren Kitchens, in Anna Sloane paint (01603 294686); screen from Bayfield Hall Antiques (01263 711595); Turkish table bought there. Similar from Goodbrey Antiques, Suffolk (01728 621191)
RIGHT:Sideboard, re-painted G Plan; rocking chair from Fakenham Auctions (01328 851557); Happy Bunting from Hunstanton WI; lantern from Sue Ryder shop
TOP:Chair from Bayfield Hall Antiques (01263 711595); dressing table and painting of Brittany seascape from Wot-Not in Westerly, Gloucestershire; picture from Bayfield Hall Antiques; coffre bought from Turkey