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The Holiday Home of my Neighbour, the Rose Whisperer

By 12/19/2016January 9th, 201772 Comments

My neighbour Lois has lived in her house on the corner for 30 years with her husband Heinz.

Before they bought this house, they lived in a 700 square foot house in the same town, different street. Every time she walked past this house to the library she would think to herself, “I would like to wake up in one of those attic bedrooms and have breakfast in that room with the corner windows.

Their garden reminds me of a secret garden. Enormous and full of gorgeous flowers, shrubs, decorative fences and rambling roses that climb up to 30 feet high in June on her trees at the entrance to her front door (below).

The 30 ft wall of climbing Roses in my Neighbours secret garden!

Lois roses at the entrance of her home.

Lois is a rose whisperer. When I mentioned in passing that I wanted to transplant some of the roses in my garden, she told me that roses must be transplanted in January or February, when they are completely dormant. Otherwise it will take years for them to come back to their full glory.

When I dropped by last year at Christmas time and saw her lovely and personalized holiday decorating style, including the lace ornaments her mother-in-law crochets for her each Christmas, I asked if she would let me photograph her home for my readers this year.

Lois asked if she could write the post too and I was delighted to accept! Here it is:

Making Room for Christmas

I am not a minimalist; not for me the boutique-hotel school of decorating. Neither am I an over-the-top, approaching-hoarder-status maximalist although I do enjoy NYC socialite Iris Apfel’s no-holds-barred approach to life and decorating (which she applies to her home and to her person), “more is more and less is a bore!”

No, my decorating maxim falls somewhere in the safe middle ground between those two extremes.

Holiday Lace Christmas Tree | Living Room

Caramel Sofa with Brass Candlestick

Artist: Stephanie Wood from Vancouver Island

Putting on the Glitz!

Christmas decorating is another matter. I love to bring the holiday spirit into every nook and cranny of my living space and when it comes to the Christmas tree I am with Iris all the way!

But before all those lovely, shiny, gold and white, happy holiday bits and pieces can find a place in my home there is some prep work to be done. Room has to be found…

Crochet christmas decorations

Breathing Room

If I have one word of advice for would-be holiday decorators it would be to make room for Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever holiday you are celebrating in this season of celebrations).

Don’t expect to layer a truckload of holiday greenery and glitz on top of your existing decor scheme. Instead, take some time to make space in your home so that your seasonal decorations can shine.

Boxwood centrepiece with lace angels

Crochet angel with crystal glassware

I accomplish this by removing some of the books and ephemera from my shelves, editing out a few table lamps and removing the odd piece of furniture such as a small table or a chair or two.

I also take down paintings and prints on strategic walls to make room for the Christmas tree.

All of this is taken up to the attic and stored beside the empty Christmas decoration boxes to make it easy to find again when the holidays are over and life goes back to “ordinary time.”

A basement or spare bedroom can temporarily house these items if you aren’t lucky enough to have a huge, easily accessed attic.

Boxwood arrangements with gold and cream teapots

Brass candlesticks on mirrored tray

Honoring Traditions

I make room for the holidays in another way — in my timetable. Keeping to a consistent theme, year after year, saves me time and energy.

My chosen theme is white and gold (that’s my theme and I’m sticking to it!).

No doubt, the reason many people cling to cherished traditions during the holidays is because they provide a respite from the inevitable vagaries and unpredictability of a busy modern life.

Why not celebrate the seasonal predilection for the tried and true? Chances are the predictable nature of your special traditions are what your family and friends look forward to most every year.

Make room in your schedule by sticking to what has worked well for you in the past and what your near and dear ones are hoping to see (and taste) again.

Boxwood arrangements with gold balls

Artist: Harry Stanbridge from Vancouver Island

Local is Lovely

Rather than chasing an elusive ideal of magazine-worthy perfection, be gentle on yourself by keeping it realistic and personal. The pinecone wreath on my front door (below) was made for me, by a friend, from locally scavenged materials more than 20 years ago.

A red pottery bottle that stands in my entrance hall was made by a local potter; a sprig of evergreen and a length of ribbon temporarily transform it into something festive.

Chances are you too have an abundance of wonderful local sources for decorating ideas in your own community and plenty of local artisans who would appreciate your business.

Making use of materials and resources close at hand makes sense if you are trying to maintain space in your life to enjoy the season.

Entry with quilt and tree branches

Looking In My Own Backyard

Some years ago I had a minor ‘aha moment’ when I realized that I already had three components of a great decorating scheme:

An extensive collection of vintage, cream and sugar sets in white and gold which were acquired piece by piece over the years;

A large garden full of boxwood shrubs which furnish more greenery than I can use;

And about two hundred little crocheted snowflakes from a loving mother-in-law who has made them and given them to me, a few every December, for many decades. (below)

Crochet christmas decorations

How to stiffen crochet lace with white glue

I realized that I could combine these items by repurposing my little creamers and sugar bowls as vases to use in a table-scape and on the tops of bookshelves to create little “hedges”.

This plan had the additional advantage of putting my china collection to good use in the garden-party off season.

Boxwood, which grows in nearly every backyard in my neighbourhood, lasts for at least a month in water gradually drying out but staying green long after the water has evaporated.

This means that, like Iris, I can leave at least some of my decorations up into the spring. I started that first year by adding fresh flowers to the boxwood in the sugar bowl vases.

The next year (and every year since), I substituted little gold and silver Christmas ball ornaments which have the advantage of not wilting and of being reusable.

Another thing I love about this decorating idea is that the boxwood grows in my own back yard meaning it is accessible and, ahem, … cheap.

boxwood in creamers

Painting by Heinz

Money Matters

There, I’ve crassly brought up cold cash.

As much as most people hate to talk about money, being realistic about financial limits avoids a regret-filled January.

My holiday collection of brass items was sourced entirely from thrift stores at give-away prices. I’ve probably spent as much on brass polish as I spent on acquiring the 30 plus candlesticks in my collection. (Did I mention that I have a large attic, so storage is not an issue?)

Working on the principle that I would rather have the real thing than an imitation, I splurge on a real tree – usually a Noble, Grand or Fraser Fir with lots of spaces between the tiers of branches.

To make room for indulgences like a special tree, I choose to enjoy my previously-loved —and very affordable when bought second-hand — Irish linen napkins and tablecloths instead of a more expensive option. (If, on the other hand, your time is more precious than money you might want to skip the vintage Irish linen – it does require a formidable commitment to starching and ironing!)

By being a bit creative with thrifted or inherited items, I know I won’t be awaiting the January credit card bill with dread.

You don’t have to become Second-hand Rose to have a lovely holiday home but keeping it real in the time and money departments will save you undue stress and preserve your celebratory mood.

Stocking with gifts

Photos by Maria Killam

Create Space to Celebrate

This holiday season, pause a minute to consider how you can create some space in your decor and in your busy life. The resulting ‘room to breathe’ will allow you to focus on what this season is really all about; in the words of the Christmas angels on a Bethlehem hillside, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

Wishing you all a beautiful, peaceful and generously spacious holiday season and may peace and goodwill fill your home in the coming year! Merry Christmas! Lois


Lois in front of her stunning Christmas Tree!

Thanks Lois for this lovely glimpse into your charming and colourful home! Lois is also a quilter. You can view and purchase her quilts here.

Which idea will you copy? I love the boxwood clippings, I have lots of boxwood in my garden! When I showed this post to my Mom she said “I can crochet those ornaments!”

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Related posts:

The Iris Apfel School of Holiday Decorating

Holiday Mood Lighting Lessons from Twilight

2014 Holiday Tour of my House Inside Canadian Living

8 pins


  • Donna says:

    What a lovely home! Loving all the crocheted snowflakes on the tree and the advice about avoiding internet/home magazine aspirations. Very wise.

  • Carol says:

    I LOVE Lois’s attitude….I think I’ll copy that.
    What a refreshing and fun article!!!
    Merry Christmas to all

  • nanne says:

    I love this post!! This is exactly what I do for the holidays. And pretty much year round. Thank you!

  • Louise says:

    Lovely post

  • Angela Taylor says:

    That was so much fun! What a lovely neighbour to share her home with all of us. I do have one question please, could you tell us what the yellow paint is on her walls? I absolutely love her design aesthetic:)Thanks again Maria & Lois

    • Lois says:

      Thanks for your kind comments. The paint is one of Benjamin Moore’s Heritage colours (it is probably archived by now and may not go by the same name) called Concord Ivory. It is beautiful by day and by night (no green undertones at night!).

      • Angela Taylor says:

        Thank you for getting back to me so quickly Lois. I shall definitely check on the paint:) I’m also going to check out your quilts:) Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

  • Chris says:

    What a lovely post, thank you Lois! I get so much at the thrift stores. Especially holiday ornaments. They are new to me and some are quite old and have a lot more character than store-bought new stuff. Merry Christmas Maria and everyone! <3

    • lois says:

      Good for you, Chris! We are of the same ilk. Maria’s photo of the mirror with candles and aperitif glasses shows what thrifted items can look like when combined with a bit of imagination. Keep on thrifiting. (Hint: the MCC thrift stores are really great! Look for them in Canada and the U.S.)

  • Holly says:

    Such a warm, welcoming & peaceful holiday home. Please share the wall, trim & ceiling paint colors used in these two rooms. They’re lovely!

    • lois says:

      The paint colours were done a lot of years ago so I am not sure if Benjamin Moore still has them available. The living room is a colour from BM former Heritage collection called Concord Ivory. The dining room and hall are BM #697 and the trim and ceilings in those three rooms are all done in BM 967 (formerly Cloud White). The kitchen (also yellow but deeper and richer than the living room- see photo with tulip painting) is BM Dorset Gold (HC 8)

  • Ann Crutchfield says:

    I agree with Rose. I love having the same Christmas decorations up year after year, with just a little tweaking now and then. This year I enhanced the garlands with Maria’s idea of adding ornaments. the garlands look fabulous.

  • Andrea says:

    I am in love with her collection of hand-crocheted snowflakes. So sweet that her mother-in-law makes them for her each year and that she cherishes them so dearly. Recently married, I am looking to create some Christmas decorating traditions of our own. Lois has given me lots of wonderful new ideas. And I am so jealous of her beautiful climbing roses.

  • Alison says:

    Lois, thank you for having me in your home, it is a true delight.
    Maria thank you for all the joy you have brought me this year.
    Merry Christmas All from a far too hot Brisbane Australia.

    • Cynthia says:

      Hi Alison
      merry Christmas from Canada! I now have a daughter living in Perth. She just married an Aussie. She is making new Xmas traditions in a too hot place LOL

  • Tamara says:

    Thank You Lois…your home is decorated from your heart.

  • Susie says:

    Also love the snowflakes! I have a few that I have picked up here and there, and can’t believe I’ve never made my own. I guess I’m always too busy this time of year. Great tip for stiffening them…I have a few that have gotten floppy.

    Lovely, cheery home!

  • Rosemary griffin says:

    I love the idea of using collections, old creamers, candlesticks.

  • What a lovely home, but more importantly, a very refreshing, insightful look into the meaning of this season. Thank you so much for sharing this Lois and Maria!

  • Lois says:

    Holly, there is one colour I neglected to include in my reply to you. The Welsh dresser style hutch in the dining room is painted in Farrow and Ball ‘House White” which is not white at all but a soft yellow/cream colour. A great big thank you to my friend Bev Rodgers of Calgary who is responsible for most of the wonderful colour choices in our home.

  • Ange says:

    Thank you for sharing your elegant and classy Christmas decorations. Great post.

  • Norine says:

    Thank you for the down to earth advice and encouragement. Your laser focus was a sweet reminder about the important elements of life.

  • Adelaide says:

    What a delightful post. Gold and white is a beautiful colour scheme to my eye. I appreciate you sharing your home and writing the post, and how generously Maria can share her blog with others.
    I am envious of any-one who has an attic. Unheard of here in South Australia. Happy Christmas to you. PS we are expecting a temperature of 37C on Christmas Day!

    • lois says:

      At 37C you wouldn’t want to be in an attic! Enjoy your warm Christmas!

    • Cynthia says:

      Merry Christmas to you from Canada. As I said to Alison above daughter in Perth is trying to make Xmas traditions that will work in a hot place. I think it would not be easy. Enjoy a hot Christmas

      • Adelaide says:

        Merry Christmas to you Cynthia! We no longer have a hot Christmas meal, opting for salads, seafoods and cold meats. Salad making is time consuming, but the results healthy and delicious.
        Perth at 90F will be 9 degrees cooler than us with predicted temperatures!

  • What a thoughtful, entertaining and well written article.

  • Gery says:

    You are lucky to have each other a neighbors. I agree with your whole attitude. My own theme is victorian, which appeals to both inner, and actual children alike, and also allows bringing the outdoors in. Happy Holidays.

  • Rhonda says:

    Crocheted snowflakes! I have some that my mother made years ago. Unfortunately, due to dementia, she is no longer able to participate in her creative endeavors. Her friend also made me a crocheted angel. Treasured items now! I enjoyed Lois’ house tour and Christmas tips! Thank you for sharing! Merry Christmas!

  • Rhonda says:

    And the roses are absolutely gorgeous!!!

  • Mary T says:

    I love this beautiful home! The colors are so warm and fresh and they really resonate with me. I love your living room wall color (my living room is the same color) and dining and hall colors. I love how you put such beautiful colors into your decor – looking at it inspires me- the warm cognac sofa with the yellow wall and blue throw pillow – such a pretty contrast. Also, with the colors in the entry way- the cranberry twigs in the white vase next to the greenery in the brass log holder against the blue wall- all these colors are so pretty together. Just beautiful- thanks for sharing!

  • Lorri says:

    Love it. Love it. Love it.

    Oh, that snowflake tree is perfection. Lois has an eye and that is a well-loved house full of interesting things.

    I see someone else shares my love for teacups in shades of green too.

  • Helene Belloni says:

    Maria, it is so refreshing to see someone’s real home decorated for the holidays. You hit the nail on the head once again. Thank-you!

  • Connie says:

    So beautiful Lois! Will you please share info on gorgeous entry rug?

    • Lois says:

      Purchased it in Penticton, British Columbia on the main street. Can’t remember the name of the shop but they have tea and small home decor items in the front and a good selection of imported rugs in the back. It is from Pakistan.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    What a beautiful home! Lois, if you ever decide you have too many crocheted ornaments, let me know. I would be happy to take them off your hands. I have one, lonely crocheted bell & it could use some friends.
    Thank you Maria for introducing us to your neighbor.

  • POP O'COLOR says:

    Great article Lois. I hope she writes another article in the summer about her rose garden.

    Such a refreshing approach to the holidays.

  • Brenda says:

    Love this, Maria! Lois, your home is just lovely and just so…heartfelt. I have a few crocheted snowflakes that my husband’a aunt made. I’ve often thought I would like to learn how to make those myself! Now I’m really inspired!

  • Joanne says:

    Thank you, Maria, for introducing us to your neighbor! Lois, your home and your point of view are uplifting. I think your advice about clearing out space may seem like common sense, but it is so easily overlooked.

    I also believe in tradition. I am sometimes tempted to try a new color scheme or theme for the holidays – especially after seeing other peoples’ ideas – but there is a certain comfort in taking out pieces year after year. Like running into an old friend. So something new or a slight variation on my traditions is wonderful, but year after year, I return to my simple reds and greens and gold.

    A question for both of you. My challenge is that after I have decorated my home, what to do when I entertain!! It makes me sad when I have to clear my entire dining room table and displace a couple of decorations on my buffet to make room for all of the food I prepare. And I prepare a LOT of food for my xmas brunch!

    Maybe I should take pictures BEFORE I put the plates out and tell my guests – this is what my dining room looked like before you arrived! LOL!!

    • Lois says:

      Joanne, you raise a good point. I am lucky enough to have a counter and sink in my back entry off the kitchen – I put some of the prep mess out there and clear my counters and the kitchen island (I usually put a table cloth on the island for this) and then set out a buffet that is in the kitchen – close to the dining room but not directly in the dining room. People can grab their plates and file around the buffet. After everyone has started in on the meal, I get up and get dishes to pass as I see people might need them. The mirrored tray (actually an old mirror) is my bar tray – that’s where the drinks go – so I would have to remove a few candles but I try to decorate in a way that is still usable and doesn’t have to be taken down – the greenery stays on the table and I keep the candles low so people can see each other.

  • Carla says:

    Very nice and inspirational!

  • Pat says:

    A wonderful post. Love your home and decorating.

  • Tracee says:

    Wonderful! I would love to see you do a post on Lois’ garden in the future!

    • Mairi says:

      Agreed! Would Love to see this ‘secret garden’!

      Lois you have touched on an aesthetic which is a great leveller (ie completely keeping it real) and have articulated it so well. I also use vintage items from the china hutch for any holiday- quick, easy and unique. Bravo on your amazing quilts-what art!

  • Lucy Haines says:

    What an inspiring post! Your home is so homey and relaxing Lois. It makes me just wanting to come over and visit. Your design sense is exceptional! I love your style of writing. Do you have a blog and if not, why not?
    Two wonderful designers in one neighborhood is outstanding!

    Thank you Maria and Lois for sharing your lovely home and great ideas.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours. This was a wonderful present to all of your readers Maria.

    • Joanne says:

      Lucy, I was going to ask in my post if they would mind having an open house just for us! I would bring food. From Pennsylvania. 🙂

    • Lois says:

      THanks, Lucy. I am thinking about starting a blog in the new year as a way to spur myself to do more writing. How about “The Dilettante’s Diary” for a name for my new blog?

  • P.A.L. says:

    First, I started to reply but was interrupted. I don’t think I finished or hit “send,” but whatever I wrote isn’t here any more. If I did send and you get two from me, my apologies.

    This was a lovely post. Thank you Maria and Lois.
    Pretty home, pretty colors, pretty tradition, pretty green (we don’t get a lot of green here in the desert. Believe it or not, I’ve never shoveled snow nor driven in snow).

    And pretty quilts. Those are lovely.

    Also love Heinz’s Tulips!

    Happy holidays and have a great 2017!

    • Lois says:

      I love Heinz’s tulips, too! Unfortunately, another beautiful tulip painting by Heinz, in a very expensive frame, fell off the wall shattering the frame about 10 minutes before Maria came to photograph our house! That was a shock!

  • Erna says:

    Gorgeous photos and an inspiring post. Thank you for sharing your home with us.

  • Karen Jacobsma says:

    Seeing the white crochet ornaments almost made me cry because my mother used to make those when she was alive. That was between making sequin-covered felt decorations like banners with the Twelve Days of Christmas. My mother…and I love sequins, glitter and all things shiny…and usually gaudy. Having entered my 60’s a few weeks ago, I have noticed that my tastes have matured into preferring the simpler white and gold…classic and timeless decorations. In the meantime, my friends and family look forward to my bright and flashy peacock-themed Christmas tree complete with feather boas in teal, lime green, hot pink, purple and royal blue as garland. We plan to enjoy a colorful Christmas this year while I dream of a “White & Gold Christmas” next year.

  • What a beautiful home, Lois! Thank you for writing this post and sharing all of your holiday tips and ideas.

    I love the paint color of your dining room, and that gorgeous pale blue/turquoise lamp in the corner is divine.

    I also appreciate your emphasis on purchasing things second hand and keeping it local when possible. I just found a sweet pair of bright blue glass song birds at a secondhand store that are now a part of my holiday blue and white table scape. I’m an artist and also appreciate the beautiful local art on your walls!

    Happy Holidays!

  • Anne says:

    Great post. Thank you Lois.

  • Absolutely gorgeous! Love the little hand-crafted items seen throughout your home. It looks like a real home.
    Always appreciated your great sense of style. Merry Christmas!

    • lois says:

      Thanks, Trudi! I didn’t make it into your store today – we took a trip to the big city but I will be in tomorrow!

  • sandyc says:

    Two beautiful Christmas home tours – yours the other day, Maria, and Lois’ yesterday. Very different homes that are alive with holiday spirit that invites one in.
    Your tree, Lois, is ecstasy for me – my color palette is cream and yellow greens found my home long before Pantone’s Greenery came along. Even a tiny copy of your tree would be happy here. I’m sort of a “minimalist” with Christmas decorations because my home is very small, I have very limited storage space and three curious cats. But traditions are the things and I love to pull out those little treasures every year. The boxwood clipping idea is wonderful and definitely something I’l try. I hope Maria will bring you back to post again. I’d love to see your garden as well though here in the desert southwest of Arizona, I can’t replicate but I’m good at “virtual” enjoyment
    Thank you and Merry Christmas to both of you.

    • Lois says:

      SandyC, I am glad you enjoyed the photos Maria took of my tree. I think the little paper stars that used to decorate my tree ,before I had enough crocheted snowflakes, would replicate the look on a smaller scale and be suitable for a much smaller tree. See my comment below for the link to the instructions.

  • Lois says:

    To all of you lovely readers who admired my snowflake Christmas tree and told me stories of the handmade snowflakes and stars passed on to you by beloved women in your life, I thank you for your comments and, with you, I celebrate the love of the matriarchs in our families. I also have a little bonus for you; before I had a collection of crocheted snowflakes, my tree was decorated with paper stars that I made out of strips of computer paper (and/or gold ribbon). A tutorial can be found here:

  • Lindy Lawrence says:

    Simply beautiful….and beautiful in it’s simplicity. Agree with all the others. Charming, welcoming, and just enough décor well displayed. Love it!!! Thank you for sharing!

  • Karen says:

    Lois is a fabulous writer!! Smart and reasonable woman. Loved hearing from her.

  • Jane Cassidy says:

    Well my goodness Maria, you truly have yourself an angel in Lois – she has captured the true meaning of Christmas – and sharing her thoughts and lovely advice – I feel like I just left a therapy session on what most matters in our world. Cherishing not so much the things we have, but cherishing how we acquired them, through the love and efforts of those we love. One of the most inspiring Christmas treats this season. Thank you Lois, and thank you Maria for sharing your charming neighbor with all of us!
    Merry Christmas !

  • Thank you for sharing your home Lois! Love the green walls, those creamers, the handmade ornaments. I love that quilt and how it is display as art with that shelf on the wall.. wonderful work. *Season wishes to all! We are visiting Southern Florida this year. It is odd seeing palm trees with Christmas lights, no snow, everyone in shorts, and traditional red and green in a sea of pastels!*

  • Lois says:

    Palm trees and Christmas lights? Anything with a palm tree in it works for me! The quilt on display is a somewhat tattered antique that is over a century and a half old. My husband bought it in an antique shop for me for Christmas when we were newly married.

  • Colleen Coleman says:

    Maria, Thank you for allowing Lois to share her home with us! Lois, what a heautiful presentation of your Christmas memories & traditions! I too kove keeping with a theme year after year! It does offer that sense of calm in the eye of the Christmas Season Storm. I hope everyone on this sight has a lovely and PEACEFUL Christmas!!! Many blessings into the New Year!!!

  • Mary Rickrich says:

    The open branched Christmas tree is fabulous! I have been collecting vintage Shiny Brite ornaments for nearly 40 years and would love a tree that could display them to their full potential this way. Due to family members with allergies, we are relegated to artificial trees. Even though I can adjust the branches, it still doesn’t come close to the appearance in these photos.
    Great post!

  • Sheryl Taylor says:

    Wow! Interesting reading and gorgeous decorating!

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