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

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