Deck the Halls

For some people Christmas comes around all too soon, but for others, it can neither be too soon or too often. Jacquie, or 'Kitty' as she is now more commonly known, definitely belongs to the latter category, which is probably just as well, because all things Christmas and indeed Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, or really any kind of celebration are her business. Kitty's house is situated in handsomely landscaped parkland near Sevenoaks. The original medieval and Georgian mansion was demolished long ago, but on its vast acres a small development of contemporary houses has been built. Although they have been constructed from traditional materials with tongue and groove timber doors and large square windows so that there is more than a hint of Scandinavian (and especially Danish) simplicity about them. Kitty's front door, of course, is already cheerily decorated for Christmas with a huge wreath tied with a wide red and wide ribbon and studded with her signature red hearts, pine cones, scarlet berries, and fragrant cinnamon sticks.

Once inside, the impression of having entered something of a winter wonderland or Christmas grotto is redoubled. A silver Christmas tree stands beside a wicker console table that displays some rather rotund fabric Santas. The kitchen window even has red baubles hanging across the window, while on the counter, the festive baking books and bowls are at the ready. 'I love cooking and entertaining,' Kitty confirms. 'They're not just for show, we always have friends and family here over the holiday, so I shall have to get cracking soon. My birthday is on Boxing Day too, so we always have a double celebration and this year I'm going to New York with some of my closest friends, so I'm really looking forward to it all. 'We all have new pyjamas for Christmas Eve and we have smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast on Christmas morning and then there'll be nine of us for lunch, though we're having beef this year rather than turkey. There is a fantastic butcher's in Seal, called 'Coldbreaths' which makes them sound like something from a Dickens' story, but I know we'll have a real feast. I change all the crockery for Christmas too!'

The dining table in the living room is laid with the said Christmas crockery as well as cranberry glasses and a gold tablecover strewn with faux berries and silver stars. The bare bones of the room are simple: white walls, pale tiled floor and big French windows that open onto the garden. Two red velour sofas punctuate the neutral tones of the painted wooden console, coffee table and armoire and bring warmth and vitality to the scheme. 'I chose a deep ruby red for the sofas, which works especially well at Christmas time, but actually, I can dress the room for any occasion.'

The white walls and same pale flooring that covers the whole of the ground floor give the pleasing sense of space flowing through the house and it is easy to see that it makes a kind of 'blank' canvas that can then be altered according to whim. It all makes sense when Kitty says that she began her working life as a stylist for an advertising agency in London and then became a window dresser. 'I loved it, such a buzzy, can-do atmosphere. It was a great adventure going to work, but having my own business now, I can still be creative and have more time with my family. I love doing shows though. I sell at the Wealden Times summer and winter events and I just love that interaction with my customers. I go up to Glasgow every year to do the Country Living Fair in Scotland and people are so appreciative of the fact that you've made such a long journey and gone to such a lot of effort to get there with the van and everything that they are really friendly.

I just make sure that I have enough stock, because the first year I did a big show in London, it was a lot of money to book the stall and I was really nervous that I might not sell anything, but in fact I sold out before the fair was over, so I'll never make that mistake again. I've been making gifts and cards and decorations for more than 12 years now, and I love thinking up new things. Last year I made wooden plaques in the shape of apples that I painted as gifts for teachers and they just took off - I sold more than 300 in the first week! I have been selling my products through notonthehighstreet.com and it's been brilliant. I just have to try to keep up with the orders.' I also have a franchise in Harrods. I am there once a week on a Thursday, and in the lead up to Christmas I'll be there every Saturday. I can personalise people's gifts as they buy them, so it's really nice to chat to people and their children.'

Another survey of the living room reveals that even the standard lamp looks like a giant silver bauble, but surely that isn't a 'Christmas lamp'? 'No,' Kitty laughs. 'That's a permanent fixture, but it is true that it looks rather like those 1950s baubles with the pendulous bottoms. It must have been a subconscious decision when I bought that.' Across the French windows there are white stars that look like 1950s Telstar motifs. A console table is covered with a red and white gingham runner and a three-tiered sweetmeat stand displays a collection of large baubles as well as a red and white stripy-stockinged peg doll.

A striking silvery white Christmas tree is illuminated by frosty blue fairy lights and hung with crystal snowflakes, silver ice skates and milky white snowmen. 'I make my own cards and decorations to sell, of course, but I also do some vintage fairs that I really enjoy and next spring I'll be at the Decorative Living fair in Eridge. Caroline Zoob, who organises it, very kindly invited me to have a stand a few years ago. She exhibited next to me at Country Living and Wealden Times, so we have become good friends. I'll dress up in vintage gear for the Wealden Times fair, which is something I really enjoy doing now. I felt a little silly at first, but as I've got older I suppose I'm less inhibited. I have to be disciplined about working from home though. It's very easy to get distracted by the household chores, so I make myself go up to my 'workroom' and do a certain number of hours.'

Kitty's workroom is at the top of the stairs and as she reveals it, she quickly adds that she shouldn't make it sound like a chore. 'I know I'm really lucky to be able to work at my desk overlooking the lovely walled garden of an old house on the estate. E. Nesbitt lived in a house on this estate and wrote The Railway Children while she was there in the 1870s. I like to think that it was this one that I can see from here.' Two walls of the room are lined with floor to ceiling shelving packed with boxes and baskets of work in progress.

There are stacks of decorations in their raw wooden state, cut out for Kitty by a friend with a wood workshop. Hearts, gingerbread men, wish lists and stockings are the current crop that will shortly receive their coat of paint and embellishments, but not far behind are Easter bunnies and eggs, as well as apples and mini blackboards for teachers. A row of clothes peg snowmen already have their top hats, but wait in a neat row for their faces to be painted.

There are birthday and Christmas cards adorned with paper cut-outs and vintage mother-of-pearl buttons as well as neatly arranged envelopes, crisp tissue paper and shiny Cellophane. Copies of magazines from all over Europe fill one shelf. 'I get a lot of inspiration from magazines, especially the French one - Marie-Claire Idées. It's important to offer people the traditional decorations and gifts because I've found that people came back for more of the same every year, to add to their collection, but you also need to give them something new. One thing that I've noticed in recent years is that people very often ask whether things are made in Britain - that seems much more important these days, so I'm always pleased to be able to say that I make so much of what I sell.'

A pink painted miniature chest of drawers holds all kinds of tiny beads and decorations and jars of buttons are ranged along the top of it. On the wall opposite, two shelves are completely given over to reels of brightly coloured and patterned ribbons and trimmings. 'It's taken me a while to be so confident in what I do,' says Kitty as she opens the door to the main bedroom. 'That's why I put up a sign above my bed that says 'Believe in Yourself', so if I'm worrying, I can look up at it or over at the pictures of my three children for inspiration.'

The Regency Gothic style iron bed is covered with an Italian handmade quilt festooned with vivid pink and red blousy roses on one side and delicate rosebuds on the reverse. There is a vintage French dressing table with a 1930s cut glass dressing table set and a vase of pink roses, and striped alstroemeria. 'I get my flowers from Botanical in Seal and I love the way they make things look so natural, as if they have just been picked from the garden.'

A wooden ottoman is covered with a plump 1950s paisley eiderdown, a favourite spot for Rosie, Kitty's marmalade cat, to snooze upon. At the sound of voices, Rosie lazily opens one eye but decides that we're not worth rousing herself for and nestles further into her feather bed, covering her face with one paw, to let us know that she really is not to be disturbed. Kitty's children's room is just as colourful as you might expect, and of course, has its own Christmas tree, adorned with ornaments that Joe and Millie have collected and made over the years. There is a wooden nativity set and a train with Father Christmas on board that shows the countdown to Christmas.

'We even have Christmas loo paper you know,' giggles Kitty, by now laughing at the extraordinary list of Christmas related items in her home. 'Oh, and Christmas washing up liquid!' Even the bathroom is set for Yuletide, its dazzlingly white walls illuminated even further by the reflections from a jar of silver faux foliage on the windowledge. 'I really can't wait for Christmas morning when Santa will have brought all the presents. We don't see any of them until then,' explains Kitty as we return to the ground floor. 'We don't have our gifts around the tree before the big day, like some people do, but then I think it's best like that, because otherwise, I get so carried away, I'd open them straight away!'


  • words Claire Tennant-Scull
  • photographs David Merewether
  • styling Lucy Fleming