Christmas Eve Cottage
In the Pink
In inner-city nelson, a tiny, one-bedroom home has become “the Christmas Eve house” to its owner’s family. Not that you’d guess from the outside. Come December, the exterior of Annette Hollis’ cottage – well known to the locals for its quirky colour scheme – says anything but “Christmas”.
The pale lilac weatherboards, the sash windows framed in rich purple and the cerise-pink front door are bereft of traditional seasonal decorations. No twinkling lights illuminate the eaves. You won’t catch even a glimpse of tinsel reflecting the sunlight through the windows.
Nevertheless, this is a family who are passionate about Christmas. At the last minute on Christmas Eve, a wreath appears on the front door. It opens onto a magical Christmas display that Annette’s grown-up children all squeeze inside to enjoy. But don’t expect the traditional English theme of red, green and gold; instead the ensemble has a definite French flavour. Light, airy whites sprinkled with shimmering silver, soft pinks and pale pistachio greens are the season’s colours – mirroring the pretty summer display of pink hydrangeas growing in the compact, cobbled courtyard.
“The French theme is very much in my bones,” says Annette. “My great-grandparents on my father’s side were French and I’ve always sought out magazines about French design. The less formal, shabby-chic French style is perfect for me and that’s what I love to have surrounding me.”
On Christmas Eve, Annette, her husband Peter Owen and Annette’s adult children can be found listening to an ageing record player spinning 45s from her late father’s collection of Christmas stories – The Night Before Christmas, The Magic Toyshop, A Christmas Carol, The Littlest Angel… Slices of the rich Christmas cake Annette makes every year will be somewhere close at hand.
Annette’s festive fervour has its origins in her childhood, with a mother who “made Christmas magical. It was a family ritual to listen to those stories on Christmas Eve. She would always have a real Christmas tree and our Christmas stockings were amazing. They were made from a mesh fabric so we could see the presents inside, all different shapes and bumps, individually wrapped. There was always a big juicy orange at the bottom of each one.”
Now aged 87, Annette’s mother Beryl has allowed her daughter to take over the tradition of “making Christmas memories” for the family. “Even though my son Matthew is 36, Zachary is 32, Sam’s 26 and my only daughter Sophie is 22, we still listen to those old records. We walk to the cathedral steps for the Carols by Candlelight and come back here for cake. I’m hoping that, one day, my children will say: ‘Mum used to do that’, and want to do it too.”
Separated from her first husband, Annette continued her mother’s traditions every December with her five children (sadly, her son Kristan died 10 years ago) in the then family home – a grand, two-storey, five-bedroom historic villa on the banks of Nelson’s Maitai River.
The story of how she came to drastically downsize her home is suitably romantic; it even has a Christmas theme. More than a decade ago, Annette began Latin dancing classes and there she met Peter Owen – the man referred to by many Nelsonians as Mr Christmas because he grows Christmas trees. He also owns Eyebright, a store in a barn south of Nelson that specialises in everything Christmas-related. It stocks decorations from all over the world, motorised Christmas model train sets and singing, dancing Father Christmas figurines.
The couple married there nine years ago and, though they have a home on nearby Best Island, about 22km west of Nelson, Annette says she will never be able to shake off her “need to be in the city”.
“Selling my family home was very difficult. I’d bought it 18 years earlier and discovered that my own parents had rented a room there when they were a young couple.
“It probably sounds a bit bizarre but when Peter and I married I went on living in the house for three months, as it hadn’t yet sold. It was really quite romantic – a married couple visiting one another – but it gave me a couple of months to get used to moving to the countryside.”
A couple of years later, when the purple cottage came onto the market, Annette couldn’t resist making an appointment with the real estate agent. At one point negotiations were faltering and it was Peter who insisted she raise her offer and make it her own. “He said he had noticed such a change in me when I was talking about buying it – that I seemed so excited and joyful.”
So Annette now spends part of each week as a city dweller and the rest with Peter, surrounded by their 20 doves, three large, long-necked ducks and two Sydney silky dogs, Lili and Fido (pronounced Fee-doe).
With just one bedroom, the cottage could never accommodate the whole family overnight at Christmas but, for as long as her children return to Nelson each December, this will be “the Christmas Eve house”.
|Story: Victoria Clark|
Photographer: Daniel Allen