Sparkle & Glow

A Family Christmas

A Vancouver designer’s inviting mix of old and new makes a perfect setting for holiday cheer.

Photos by KIM CHRISTIE Prop styling by Carrie McCarthy

SOMETIME AROUND THE FIRST WEEK OF DECEMBER, Vancouver designer Effie Genovese unearths her Christmas decorations from the antique French armoire in her living room. She puts a log on the fire, plays some festive tunes from the Rat Pack and trims the tree with her family. There are mugs of hot chocolate for her daughter, Maxine, 19, and son, Marcello, 16, and a glass of bubbly for Effie. You can smell the buttery shortbreads baking in the oven. “I’m not one to put decorations in every room. I just add a few festive touches here and there,” Effie says. That means a single wreath hung in a window off the kitchen, clusters of candles on tables and boughs of evergreens that tumble effortlessly out of a sterling-silver ice bucket in the front hall. Another must: her handmade 12-days-of-Christmas balls hung on the tree. “For me, Christmas is about nostalgia. I like tradition, and doing things simply and a little bit old-school.”

It’s an aesthetic that goes beyond Effie’s approach to holiday decorating. It’s reflected in the muted palette she chose as the backdrop for her extensive collection of antique furniture and fixtures—many of which are treasured reminders of the years she spent living abroad in the south of France. “I like to look in every corner and see things that evoke happy memories,” she says.

The 4,500-square-foot home appealed to her because of its location: with more than an acre of land and a small barn in the back, it was like having a country estate in the middle of the city. “It’s an equestrian neighbourhood, which worked for my daughter, who jumps horses,” says Effie. But it took more than a year of renovating, working with Formwerks Architectural, to achieve the down-to-earth farmhouse feel she was after. In the family room, she punched through the wall on either side of the fireplace and installed glass doors to create unbroken views to the living room, then added a rustic stone wall. “Paired with the modern fireplace and furniture, it really warms up the room,” she says. Wood ceiling beams amplify the effect, while layers of traditional checks, stripes and woolly rugs were selected because “they’re big and luscious and make me think of a warm, cosy sweater.”

Natural, more rustic elements like wood, metal and distressed leather are balanced with just the right amount of sparkle, thanks to chandeliers in the living and dining rooms, and antique silver pieces that are polished and displayed just in time for holiday gatherings. “It just wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without the antique Canadiana pressed-glass goblets on the table or Lenox’s Tosca china placesettings,” Effie says.

Dinner is relaxed but formal, and Effie happily invites a houseful of guests. A seasoned host, she greets them with champagne or a plate of homemade cookies as soon as they walk through the door. “I do my own cooking—turkey or crown roast with Yorkshire pudding. It’s not something you get to do for people all the time, and that’s what makes it special. But I don’t take it too seriously because I want to have fun, too,” she says. Given the warm welcome and merry setting, having fun is hardly a tough task, even for an attentive host. “No matter what happens, in the end, the candles are burning, the music is on, and everyone’s having a good time.”