It’s no secret that I adore this time of year. Having resumed my studies in the Country House, I’ve had the space to map out new historical content for readers and hope that in the meantime, you enjoy reading about the activities I’ve been indulging in this season. Having recently moved into our new house, I take great pleasure in little homemaking tweaks here and there and in busying myself with many different vintage style occupations. Read on for an insight into what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks…
I was lucky enough for a visit to The Old Flight House Antiques Center to fortuitously coincide with their special Christmas Shopping event. I must have a nose for these things. Anyway, it was such a wonderful occasion! There were special discounts, along with so much to choose from. It also helps having an interval between visits, so that there’s plenty of fresh stock to enjoy on arrival. Within minutes, I had an armful of finds that I then needed to stow away behind the counter in order to carry more along the way!
The delightful thing about The Old Flight House is that you’ll often run into the buyers themselves arranging or adding to their displays; this is often a good opportunity to combine purchases, especially if they’re particularly feeling the festive spirit. I managed to get a small discount on a duck ornament for the garden, wistfully wishing now that I’d bought the pair! Once mum and I had finished shopping, we enjoyed a complimentary glass of cranberry and prosecco which was not only delicious, but also a fantastic way to toast the day’s finds!
Old Fashioned Baking
Last Christmas, I received an absolute gem of a gift from my Aunt Cissy. An unassuming old box, that, once opened, revealed an entire collection of vintage and antique cookware, each carefully and individually wrapped. It was so much fun opening each, to discover whimsical cookie cutters, pudding moulds and speciality tins that wouldn’t look at all out of place in the kitchen of a certain Mrs Patmore! One evening, I laid these out and considered what could be done with them – noticing that many of the wares had originally been bought from Harrods for pennies (imagine!). Well, I decided to give my office Bake-Off stint a shot with the confectionary tins! Having washed each thoroughly, I set about making a madeleine cake mixture – I doubled up on this so there was a lot of mixture. What followed was a rather fiddly, comical couple of hours individually spooning batter, overfilling and wondering how on earth I’d turn out the cakes once baked.
After some anxious minutes watching the cakes in the oven, I took them all out and spent a further few rather fiddly, comical minutes running a knife around awkwardly shaped tins and ferociously tapping them on the kitchen counter in the hopes of releasing something, anything in one piece! Turns out, it’s better if you let the cakes cool first and try to, as naturally as possible, pry them out from their holdings. With the remaining mixture, I gave up in the end and just poured it into a tray – using the cookie cutters to cut out cakey fish, trees and stars (festive!). Piling everything into a tin, I had mediocre hopes for my spongey friends but by some miracle, they were in fact all eaten in a matter of days at work! So it must have all been worth it…!
That’s right, cabinet filling. Since my days of reading Beatrix Potter, it’s been a dream of mind to have a well-stocked cabinet; filled to the brim with all manner of curiosities. The cabinet came in the form of a trusty IKEA DIY job, that we nailed to the wall for fear of it falling over! Inside the cabinet, I’ve chosen to display my most treasured collectables. When I started earning from my first ‘proper’ job and was still living at home with some money to spare, I would invest in a Royal Doulton figurine here and there as a treat to myself.
It’s with great pride that I now have a fine collection of porcelain modelled on my favourite historical and literary women. In their count, Jane Eyre, Anne Boleyn and the young Queen Victoria are included! I also collect vintage Beatrix Potter Beswick figurines and tableaus, the rarest of which is my scene from ‘The Pie & The Patty Pan” and small model of Duchess with her pie from the same book. My wonderful husband-to-be doesn’t mind my grandmotherly tastes with said cabinet, rather, he wholly supports my curation of a private collector’s museum! I also keep various old editions of special books in the cabinet and other small worthies that create a lovely picture together.
Hosting Guests & Yuletide Correspondence
We’ve been preparing our guest room for visitors this season, which has been a real pleasure. It’s quite a thrill have a spare room – one that we’re able to make a comfortable place to stay for family and friends. We’ve chosen warm, sunshine colours for the space and it also happens to be where we keep our largest bookshelf – well stocked with plenty of titles for a leisurely browse. Since the start of November, we haven’t had a weekend to ourselves! This weekend, we’re returning Mark and Dickie’s recent hospitality by having them and little Billie down to stay. We’ve planned a trip, departing from the old-fashioned railway station by steam train to Princes Risborough from our home in Chinnor, where Billie will be able to meet Father Christmas on a themed journey – no doubt charming the socks off of him in the process!
Onto the Christmas cards… this year, working for Museum Selelction, I decided to buy 30 of their classic cards; all of which use vintage illustrations or detail from old works of art. Settling on country birds, I spent an evening watching a Christmas movie and penning messages to family and friends. I’m a big believer in the restorative powers of writing by hand and taking the time to commit your thoughts of paper, so writing your cards at Christmas can be the most mindful of activities. Even if you’re just jotting down a brief message due to the volume of cards to write, each and every moment counts. It’s about slowing down and taking the time to do something that isn’t necessarily a regular habit and to make an occasion of it. For my 24th birthday last year, I received a Victorian writing box which we keep on a little table in the hallway – it was with great ceremony that I took this to the sofa for a leisurely session of writing, using the slope to lean on. Neatly compiling a stack of crisp white envelopes was a very satisfying way to spend an evening – even more so giving out the cards!
Under the stairs, I’ve put together a rather bookish bar with some vintage barware, Darren’s drinking globe trolley and crates of books and board games. To me, this seemed the best use of the space possible, making a cosy den that’s also festooned with fairy lights. It was very easy to assemble from what we already have, including a bookshelf that once belonged to my grandfather’s dear (and now sadly departed) friend, Neville (‘Nobby’). Not only do I love giving old furniture a new home, I also love when it comes with fond memories and a purpose. I washed out the wooden crates from our previous bathroom to house the board games and christened the spot with my “A to Z” bookends from The Old Flight House Antiques Center.
Overseeing proceedings, we placed Darren’s Reginald (‘Reggie’) penguin butler (attired in the smartest of bow ties) at the feet of the globe bar for yet another touch of whimsy (I can never resist)! Pleased with the effect, our bar is all ready to receive guests for what we most enjoy – hosting. Thus far, our games include murder mystery card games and old-fashioned favourites like Jack Straws, Darren adds to these with games that he finds at charity shops along the way. It’s good to make an occasion of little things like ‘games night’ with friends and family and it can have a way of making everyone feel special. It’s no wonder then, that staying in is our preference these days to going out!
I ventured out to this year’s Country Homes & Interiors Christmas Fayre at Stonor Park House with my mum, grandma and Ciss which was a real treat. It promised to be a curated boutique shopping experience with crafted finds and festive gifts, truly delivering on this. I found some additions to our Christmas decorations and home that I hope to share with you shortly. We’re expecting a handmade dresser in the kitchen sometime this month, which, as with the cabinet, I will then proceed to fill with kitchenalia!