PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS
When Christmas comes to Grathford Glen on the Gulf Shore Road near Pugwash, it comes in waves of silver and turquoise and soft white. Stepping into Carolyn and David McGrath’s home overlooking the Northumberland Strait, one enters an oasis of simple elegance that flows from one season to the next, with a decorating style guided by a love of the ocean.
During an unplanned visit with a friend’s “aunties” on the Gulf Shore in the mid-1980s, the McGraths, then living in Dartmouth, chanced upon the property. As Carolyn gazed at the just-over-two acre property undulating down to the water, she had one thought: “I’m home.”
It would take another twenty years and two retirements before it was truly home but in April 2006, Carolyn and Dave moved into their newly-built one-storey home with a walk-out basement.
“My bedroom window looks out on the ocean the same as it did when I grew up,” Carolyn says with a happy sigh.
They share their home with eleven-year-old Lucy Furr, a black cat who showed up at Grathford Glen in the middle of the following winter, very ill, and found a welcoming home that now includes her own turquoise-coloured cat bed.
The name of their home is a combination of their two surnames, a blending whose origins date back to 1970 when Carolyn Peckford met Dave McGrath, a new RCMP officer recently posted in Botwood, Newfoundland.
“I had this briefcase because I went to the post office every day to get the mail for the company,” says Carolyn who worked in the shipping office at a pulp and paper mill at the time. “Dave was sitting in the police car at the post office and saw me go in with the briefcase. He probably thought I was somebody important!”
They met on her birthday, married two years later, then in 1979, moved to Dartmouth, Carolyn’s first time away from Newfoundland where she was born and raised. Living in Dartmouth but working in downtown Halifax allowed Carolyn to satisfy her lifelong need to be on the water. “I rode the ferry to work every day. I was in heaven doing that.”
Moving into a brand new home allowed Carolyn to create a living space that reflects her love of the sea. Her palette consists of creamy whites and dreamy blues, particularly turquoise, with gold accents thrown in to reflect the sun, as well as the siding of the house, an unexpected, and delightful, find called “Newfie Gold.”
At Christmas time, Carolyn decorates the open-concept main floor simply by adding more turquoise accents, sparkling white lights, and outdoor greenery. She also moves around the carefully curated knick knacks in her home, many of them souvenirs of her post-retirement travels with Dave, to repurpose them for the holiday season.
On her living room table, she places an olive wood plate and the olive wood carving of Mary and Jesus brought home from their trip to Israel, while a photo of her then-eighty-year-old mother standing next to Santa Claus moves up from the guest room in the basement to the “Newfoundland Corner” in the kitchen.
Tiny clusters of pine needles and cones are tucked into bowls, onto tables, in display cabinets, and around candles throughout the house, while larger bows grace the table and the mirror in the front foyer. Carolyn mixes in white lights, blue and green baubles, and even some fake snow.
“I bring in anything from the garden that I think will go but very little changes,” Carolyn says. “That way I can appreciate each thing for what it is.”
The decoration in the centre of her dining room table is perhaps her most treasured one, dating back to the 1950s. Known as “the Christmas log”, Carolyn says it was on her family’s table at Christmas with three red candles in it since she was old enough to remember.
“Mum moved away to Ontario and the log moved with her. For some reason, I ended up with it, and it was in pretty bad shape,” she says. “I didn’t take it out of the box the first Christmas I had it here but I like doing crafts and DIY things so I thought it would be nice to take it to Ottawa and show Mum that I appreciate the things she’s given me over the years.”
It turns out the much-cherished Christmas log was just a smooth cardboard cylinder with flat sparkles on it, and by the time Carolyn took possession of it, most of the sparkles had fallen off.
But Carolyn wanted to fix it up “because it’s a memory from my childhood” so she cleaned the old glue and sparkles off then glued fluffy snow on it and, of course, added new sparkles.
For her table, Carolyn adds three white candles and cedar sprigs, along with some of the blue and green sparkly baubles that are scattered throughout her living room, dining room and kitchen.
The glass sunroom off the dining room is decorated for the festive season, as well. The Buddha statue, with his turquoise holiday necklace, and the little metal bird that sits in his lap spend the summer in Carolyn’s gardens but overwinter inside. The handmade bird came from South Africa and Carolyn’s only regret is that she didn’t buy more of the colourful birds from the man selling them along the side of the road.
It’s those little touches that create the warmth of a seaside Christmas: the tree made of blue and silver balls sitting in a large antique birdcage, a glass snowman with a turquoise scarf, the handknit gnome who sits under the tree with its glass starfish ornaments, and a big teddy bear on the sofa with a sign that says ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’.
Of course, this is Grathford Glen so it’s a blue Christmas dream come true, where everything sparkles with meaning and memory.