Welcome to Innisfree for Christmas at the Cottage


I was so, so excited to decorate my cottage for Christmas this year. I have to confess, this is not always the case. In fact, since I am focused on holiday decorating pretty much year round, from the holiday markets in spring to decorating the stores in July, I can become a Grinch when it comes to dressing up my own home. Last year, I was in full bah-humbug mode and only managed to slap a wreath on my front door. But this year, the holiday magic was back. And I had a blast dreaming about how to make my snug little home merry and bright.

Dinner by the fire 2

This is our second Christmas in our little lake cottage, and I’m still experimenting with how to decorate it for the holidays. Our historic Greek revival in Atchison was large and grand, and called for a formal, showy treatment. But Innisfree is different. Our ode to Christmas needed to be simpler, more edited.

Dinner by the fire

Lucky for me, I work with a team of insanely talented designers at Nell Hill’s.  So, I invited the visual team to come over to the cottage and dream with me. I had a vision, and they helped me bring it to life.

Dinner by the fire 3

Our Atchison home was old and drafty, so one Christmas I set up a dining table in front of a roaring fire, a romantic, out-of-the ordinary dinner party for just us two. I decided to do the same thing at Innisfree this year. I pulled the two wingback chairs in our living room in front of the hearth, then slipped a side table between them.

Fireside dinner

I wanted the table setting to be festive and inviting, but not overdone. Inexpensive plaid trays became chargers, holding my favorite gold rimmed china. To make the place settings a bit more special, we added holiday ribbon, looped to look like a bow. I love to decorate with fresh flowers but I am terrible at floral arranging. So when I create bouquets myself, they have to be simple, like these sweet little roses tucked into a dish of cranberries.

fireside drinks

Nothing beats a signature drink inspired by the season. Prosecco is my passion, and it doesn’t take much at Nell Hill’s for us to pop the cork and start pouring for customers. So I’m always up for a prosecco-inspired cocktail, garnished beautifully with fresh cranberries and a sprig of rosemary.

Holiday mantel

When you decorate your mantel for the holidays, try one of two approaches: remove everything from the mantel and build a stunning new display, or keep your existing décor and add in a few holiday touches. We did the latter this year. We twisted some honeysuckle vine around my mantel, then wove in a mix of faux greenery picks and berries. I love how it turned out, full and lush and a bit wild.

Kitchen for Christmas

To ensure all the holiday displays in the cottage flowed together, we used the same greens throughout. Just as we did on my fireplace mantel, we kept the little display on the shelf above my stove as-is, then tucked in greens. This little wreath looks so sweet hung above the stove. Since I go to great lengths to never, ever cook, it’s not a fire hazard.

Christmas dining table 2

My sister, Judy, is flying in for Christmas, and I can’t wait to have lots of sister time around the table. Just as I did for fall, I’ve created a holiday look for the table that I will use all season long.

Christmas dining table

I have a red-hot, abiding love for plaid, so in the winter, I wrap the cottage in a riotous mix of plaids, from the pillows on the sofas, to throw blankets on nearly every chair, to table accents. This charming table continues my love poem to plaid, with its table topper and seat cushions.

Christmas place setting 2

One of the beautiful things about aging is gaining perspective. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself during the holidays to make everything perfect. Now, I do everything I can ahead of time to avoid last-minute stress, like setting a lovely table well in advance. That way I can slow down when my family and friends are here, to be fully present and entirely engaged.

Christmas place setting

When my family gets together for the holidays, and the wine starts flowing, it’s story time. We laugh until our sides hurt as we recollect the crazy things we did together as kids. Here’s one of my favorite Christmas memories: When I was about 5, my entire family came down with the stomach flu on Christmas Eve. Never one to miss a party, while the four of them fought over the bathroom, I made merry in the living room. I plugged in the revolving silver Christmas tree and ripped open the gift from my great uncle, who had a habit of spoiling me. At the time, Barbie was everything in my world. So you can imagine my glee as I opened a Barbie record player and a stack of 45’s. I spent the morning dancing around the living room in my jammies. Best Christmas ever!


Several years ago, I made the switch from fresh cut Christmas trees to artificial. Had something to do with stepping on brittle pine needles hidden in the carpets for months. I found artificial trees easier to work with – they don’t come crashing down quite as easily, the ornaments and ribbons stay where you put them, and they don’t drop needles everywhere.

Tree Lyric

But this year, I tried something brand new: a live tree, which will be planted in our yard as soon as the holidays are over. I fell in love with this little old Charlie Brown tree, with its irregular shape and diminutive size. When we decorated it for Christmas, we took our cue from the burlap-covered root ball and filled the tree with natural treasures. Honeysuckle vines swirl in and out, bird’s nests and faux birds are perched on branches. A faux popcorn garland is lazily draped around its spindly girth.

Tree dark

Thank you so much for spending time with me at my cottage, pausing for a moment from the hurly-burly rush of the season. I want to leave you with this fun poem penned by Bruce, our multi-talented head of visual design as Nell Hill’s:

T’was the Night Before Christmas … at Innisfree

T’was the night before Christmas when up at the lake, no dinner was cooking, not even a steak.

The garland was strung on the chimney with care, in hopes that it wouldn’t fall on my chair.

Our Lyric was nestled right next to the tree, while visions of biscuits filled her with glee.

All decked in tartans, both red and green, the table was set for holiday cuisine.

With nut bowls! With crystal! With candles and rose! On china! On bread plates! Oh, how it glows.

And then, in a twinkling, I spied by the fire …a cocktail table all set to inspire.

As I drew closer, it was set just for two, with ribbon so festive, I couldn’t guess who …

Would leave this surprise, it must be a trick. This might be the time to believe in St. Nick!

It’s been quite a year with much to convey, from birthdays and s’mores to pizza flambe.

And I’d like to say, as I turn out the light, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Next Week … Bring in the New Year with a gathering.