A vintage Christmas in a Georgian home
Juliet Maclay is drawn to collecting quirky 1930s and 1940s ephemera, which make a jolly appearance in her Georgian home during the festive period – along with her grandmother’s tree decorations and plenty of roaring fires.
Juliet Maclay, unlike most of us, is not interested in what’s in the box: the excitement lies, for her, in what’s on it – because she collects ephemera, in particular packaging. When the boxes are as charming as the examples she displays under the Christmas tree in her Somerset home, a Georgian coaching inn, it’s easy to understand why.
She recognises that she might be in the minority here. ‘It’s a weird draw,’ she says. The boxes date from the 1930s to 1940s and vary from festive designs from London department stores, such as Harvey Nichols, to quirky American pom-pom-topped miniature hatboxes. These, unsurprisingly, are Juliet’s favourite. ‘The boxes were samples, taken by American hat salesmen to department stores to demonstrate their products,’ she says. She is attracted to the everyday – pieces that have survived, against the odds, through the ages. She is, she admits, ‘a cheap date’.
Juliet can trace her collecting habit through the generations to her grandmother. ‘Nobody has ever thrown anything away in my family and, though we’ve never owned anything of great value, ordinary items never got dispersed either. We see the beauty in the rather prosaic and my husband David and I have carried on that tradition.’
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And so in the library, turned into the cosiest of dining rooms for the candle-lit Christmas dinner, the bookshelves are insulated by books collected by three generations of her family. The shelves above the piano in the living room display her grandmother’s Edwardian croquet balls, and the cabinet in the master bedroom is filled with Juliet’s childhood toys – as well as beautiful cardboard boxes. ‘My grandmother designed boxes for my step-grandfather’s glove business in the 1930s,’ she says. ‘She had a love of cardboard, which I’ve sort of inherited. It’s a pity it wasn’t diamonds!’
When it comes to furniture, Juliet’s approach is much more eclectic. ‘Our furniture tends to either be done-up-found-at-the-dump or inherited,’ she says. ‘David grew up in Massachusetts and we do have some beautiful American pieces – such as his mother’s late-Georgian period writing desk in the bedroom, which I use as a very luxurious sewing desk.’
Junk shops and car boot sales are a great source for furniture and collectables – plus friends are happy to oblige. ‘People know we have a predilection for absurd things no one else wants, so tend to give them to us. We now have a family rule: whenever we obtain something new, an object of equal mass needs to leave.’ As David is an artist and son Conor works in props and sets for film and TV, there’s no shortage of additions jostling to work their way into the home. ‘We’re all drawn to very different things and are slightly snooty about each other’s collections,’ laughs Juliet.
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The generous five-bedroom house has, says Juliet, furthered her slight hoarding tendencies. When they moved in 18 years ago with their two sons, Conor and Milo, they were the first people to take the property on in two years. Its last occupants had run it as a pub, as it had been for 250 years, and the ground floor had been left in a perpetual morning-after state from its closing-down party.
Juliet and David aren’t the types to shirk from a challenge and have gradually restored the house back to life. And while it’s no longer the village pub, they have resurrected the enterprising spirit of the property by opening the former coach entrance as a vintage-style 32-seat cinema called The Roxy.
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Juliet’s favourite room in the house is the library. It was the first room in the house that David overhauled and was based on the panelled rooms of 1720s New England. ‘The room is especially lovely at this time of year, when lit by candles and a fire,’ says Juliet.
Christmas in the Maclay household starts with a festive screening at The Roxy on the last Friday before Christmas. The day itself is celebrated with their sons. Fires are lit, New England-style dishes are made, a nod to David’s American heritage, and the tree is hung with antique and vintage decorations, many inherited from Juliet’s grandmother.
‘We’re Christmas people,’ asserts Juliet. ‘The boys are 28 and 24 but still approach the season with childlike glee.’ And, rather than hoping to unwrap diamonds, Juliet’s wish list of ephemera is more modest, though possibly a lot less easy to track down.
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