Take two friends, a unique setting and the holidays and you’ll get a truly East Coast Christmas.
Valerie Ryan and Lisa MacDonald have been friends for years now, you’d think they were childhood friends but that isn’t quite the case. But after meeting on the Riverfront Jubilee board, their friendship solidified over decorating Val’s lighthouse for the holidays after Lisa found out Val wasn’t planning on decorating at all. With such a striking home, it only makes sense that the holiday decor had to be something special, too.
When the collaboration started, Lisa said they had to “create Christmas from scratch,” as Val’s dog had knocked their previous home’s tree down and ate everything. They wanted to keep the theme closely tied to the setting and the lighthouse so they walked the beach and started collecting. Keeping the elements very natural and nautical makes for a holiday décor that blends seamlessly with the home’s existing style.
The planning stages begin in early November, with both scouring local décor haunts for pieces that would compliment the current colour scheme. If Val finds something, she’s sure to get approval from Lisa before making the purchase. Local craft markets and shows are also a great source for unique, handmade items that will be put to use throughout the house. Both Val and Lisa feel strongly about supporting the local crafters, artists and shops.
They don’t start the actual decorating until after Remembrance Day, and saving things like the fresh greenery until just before the annual Christmas party that kicks the season off. Val Ryan’s partner, Clary MacPherson, helps with decorating the outside, by hanging the lights on the trees surrounding the lighthouse and on the lighthouse itself. But other than that, he prefers to leave the inside work to the dynamic duo.
Even though Lisa takes the reins for the decorating, she gives lots of credit to Val for how well she organizes and stores all the decorations from year to year. The key is storing like with like and organizing it all by floor.
That makes getting started the next year much easier.
Once the annual decking of the halls is complete and the annual fête has been celebrated, they put the decorations to good use, doing lots of entertaining with family and friends. Another traditional event is the Bake-off between Val, Lisa and Lisa’s brother, Laurie. They bake for two solid days, whipping up over 36 different types of cookies, which they then use as gifts. Both Val and Lisa admit that Laurie can out-bake them both.
The Lighthouse – The Concept
It certainly isn’t every day a new lighthouse goes up, it seems there are more coming down. But, back 11 years ago, that’s exactly what happened. Layer by layer, piece by piece, a replica of the Wood Islands lighthouse was built along the shore of Melmerby. The piece of land suited Val and Clary’s requirement to ‘be in the country but see the beach’. Most shore properties were too costly and exposed with your neighbours right on your doorstep, so they feel quite fortunate to have found this piece of paradise.
When Val and Clary decided on this particular lot in Melmerby, Clary climbed an ash tree and flagged off measurements so they would know how high they needed to build to see the ocean view. Val built this house, completely trusting that when the construction got high enough, she really would see the water that Clary saw from the ash tree. That tall, proud ash needed to come down to allow for the construction but now frames a map of the shoreline on one of the levels of the lighthouse tower.
But why a lighthouse? They both knew it needed to be high if they were going to take in the water view. So, Clary suggested a lighthouse and Val took it from there, contacting the Coast Guard, who sent her the drawings for the iconic Wood Islands Lighthouse.
By building up, with the main living space on the ground level, it gave them the privacy they wanted and the privacy that the beautiful wooded lot allowed. But, with the upper levels soaring above the tree line, they also get the incredible view of the north shore, from Pictou Island, Big Island, Roy’s Island and Prince Edward Island.
Now, building a lighthouse is not for the faint of heart. The main floor decking of the house was built and then each section of the lighthouse tower was built on that and then lifted by crane into place. But the creative approach to the build didn’t end there. With the tower having sloped walls, it meant that everything was angled – the stairs, the drywall, the windows, the flooring – thankfully they had a talented team of builders and craftsmen working with them.
The nods to the nautical throughout the lighthouse are subtle but present. The doors into the separate rooms are made to look like port holes, with coloured glass that has been etched to mimic beach glass that the pluck from the sand to add to the holiday decor. The lighting reflects the lanterns that would’ve been used in years gone by. Even the newly installed railings have that nautical, life-on-the-ocean feel about them.
When laying out the floorplan of the main level, Val knew it had to be open, with a warm, inviting kitchen. She is, after all, an east coast girl. The kitchen opens to an intimate sitting area, the living room and the dining room, so when they are entertaining guests, whoever is working in the kitchen is never left out of the festivities, although the party usually ends up in the kitchen, it is the Maritimes after all.
The focal point of the kitchen is a large butcherblock island that once had a home in an original Sobeys store. The heavy and storied block hollowed by the years of service, centres the space and is meaningful reference and source of pride for Val who has worked for Sobey’s since she was a teenager. Today she is VP of Convenience and Fuel for the company, Harbouring tradition and celebrating the region that inspires their sense of place, they have carefully curated a collection of local art. ‘The Wreck of the Melmerby’ a commissioned piece by Luke Naylor anchors a wall in the living room. Throughout the levels of the home there is also work by Sandy Stewart, Susan Patterson, Brianne Williams, and Mike Vienneau.
Clary admits that this house is a work in progress. They are always making changes to improve their life here along the coast. Whether it’s the addition of an outdoor shower, the lift system to make deck-top entertaining easier, the screened-in sunroom, or the generator, they are carving out a sanctuary in which to live their ideal life. In that last round of projects, the original sheers that covered the windows on the top level came down so the view was not impeded. The ceiling had wood added to create that extra layer of depth to the space, along the addition of the inlay in the floor.
Lighthouses were designed as beacons of warning and guidance giving sailors a path to a safe harbour. They are a welcoming signature and a part of the coastal landscape. In Kinsghead the lighthouse might not be guiding a weary sailor home from the sea but it has become known as one of the warmest, inviting places to share time with friends and family.
If you ever receive an invitation to Val and Clary’s, Val will give you the house number and describe the house as the ‘white house with red trim’ and not mention it’s a lighthouse. She just sees it as