Generations are linked in this country Christmas kitchen.
By Anita Diaz
Peeling wallpaper, dusty stacks of beadboard and cobweb-covered window sashes might deter some people. But tucked away in an abandoned cottage at the edge of the woods in western North Carolina were hidden clues to my past. And amazingly, it held everything I needed to make my house a home.
I was always drawn to the old home place, outside tiny Balsam. My great-grandfather bought this mountain property, a former pheasant farm, in the 1920s as a respite from the Florida heat. Childhood visits with my grandparents were magical; I dreamed of one day living here.
Five years ago, that dream became a reality when my husband, Luis, and I moved with our children into one of the two small cottages on the property, which also had a smokehouse with root cellar, a pheasant house and a two-story garage. The three-story Victorian farmhouse, once the centerpiece of the property, had been torn down in the 1960s.
Change of Plan
As our young family settled in, I planned to decorate with things collected from my military travels. But the Mediterranean style I favored didn’t fit the setting.
Knowing that my grandfather had owned a country store nearby inspired me to seek out vintage American farmhouse items. I didn’t have to look far—he’d meticulously saved and stored everything, from book presses and corn grinders to doors, windows and wood flooring. It was almost as if he’d saved it all for me!
I discovered things like old tin coffee cans with pristine feed sacks carefully rolled inside and wooden crates filled with old hinges, doorknobs and iron handles. My parents started to find more things for me—vintage paintings, blue mason jars, old books and china.
As I put it all together, my new style started to emerge—a very personal style that just felt right. Instead of spotting trends, I began looking for clues to what would have been in the old house. I pumped my dad, my only link to the home’s past, for details. What took shape was more than decor. It was a comforting sense of family bridging the gap between generations.
Together, Luis and I started adding architectural elements we found. We attached old beadboard in a bathroom, then matched the old gray paint and painted the trim and French doors. I loved it so much, I painted the kitchen cabinets gray and distressed them with dark stain and wax to look like the old beadboard. I replaced my mudroom door with a screen door from the old house, restored with burlap and the same square chicken wire my grandfather had used.
Out of the Blue
My kitchen, meanwhile, came to life with my grandmother’s Pyrex bowls, cutting boards made of reclaimed marble slabs from the store and ruffled tea towels made from feed sacks. Still, something wasn’t quite right. The open kitchen and dining area had red walls. I wanted a color from the old house. While stripping layers of paint from my grandmother’s antique washstand, I found a shade of blue that I just knew my kitchen needed.
We were adding wormy chestnut molding to our kitchen cabinets when I noticed something strange. On the back of the trim were old drips of paint—the exact same shade we’d just painted the walls. It was then that I felt my grandfather must be smiling down from heaven.
When decorating our kitchen for Christmas, I brought in pinecones and greenery just as my grandmother had done, even using a freshly cut hemlock tree trimmed with paper stars and hand-strung popcorn.
The sweet aroma of balsam needles from a feed sack sachet she made makes me imagine my father as a bright-eyed child on Christmas morning. A wooden candlestick that once perched on the mantel where his stocking hung found its place on my kitchen island, where our three children’s stockings await Santa.
My father’s memories are now part of our children’s memories, all because I uncovered a few old boards.
I found the heart of my home not in granite countertops or French grain sacks, but in an abandoned, vine-covered cottage full of peeling paint and my father’s memories. Money just can’t buy that feeling of family and home, or the certainty that it was all so thoughtfully preserved by my grandfather—just for me.
Photography by Anita Diaz. Find her blog at anita-faraboverubies.blogspot.com.