A graceful country Christmas in the Southern Highlands

Filled with family, feasts and festivities, this charming Southern Highlands cottage comes into its own every December.
Nicki Dobrzynski

When wafts of freshly baked gingerbread are carried on the country breeze, you know it’s almost Christmas in the Southern Highlands. Follow your nose and you’ll find Karon busily baking with her seven-year-old son, Alessandro, in the graceful country cottage they call home. “We make a gingerbread wreath every year, and Christmas cookies to give to his school teachers,” Karon shares. “Getting Alessandro involved in making gifts is always really special.”

HOME ON THE RANGE With its wraparound verandahs and weatherboard cladding, Karon and Michael’s home, which they share with their seven-year-old son, Alessandro, in NSW’s Southern Highlands, is built for a blissful country life. At Christmas, guests spill out onto the verandah, glass of Prosecco in hand, as kids, giddy with excitement, run amuck on the lawn. “It’s always a really relaxed gathering, with food constantly coming out,” Karon shares.

WHO LIVES HERE? Karon, manager of Moonacres Cooking School; her husband Michael, a university lecturer; their son Alessandro, seven; and George the English cocker spaniel.

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR DESIGN? Karon: “I did hours of research online and in magazines. I had two scrapbooks – a digital and a physical one – where I would compile colours, tones, textures, and anything I loved with that country look and feel.”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ROOM? “The open-plan kitchen, dining and living area. All the action happens here.”

CHRISTMAS DECORATING STYLE? “I like to keep it simple and handmade. I often wrap presents simply in string and something from the garden, like a bay leaf.”

Karon, Michael and Alessandro relax on their front verandah, framed by masses of lavender they’ve planted since the build.

Painted in Dulux Dune, the home’s old-world exterior provides the perfect place to sit on rattan Ikea armchairs and soak up views of the surrounding hills. A majestic Balsam Hill tree bedecked in glittering gold baubles from Suzie Anderson Home takes pride of place in the living room.

The kitchen works overtime on Christmas Eve, as Karon prepares for the hordes that will gather for a tremendous feast the following day. As the manager of local organic farm Moonacres’ newly opened cooking school, Karon’s menu always has vibrant vegie dishes as the star of the show, together with traditional glazed ham. “It can be overwhelming in summer because there’s so much amazing produce,” she says.

“The hard part is deciding what not to put on the table!” Thanks to her husband Michael’s Italian heritage, fresh pasta always features, plus panettone and cannoli in addition to the compulsory Christmas pudding. “There really is a sense of plenty going on!” she adds.

KITCHEN With its 4.3-metre island bench, the kitchen has been custom-built for some serious cooking. “Coming from apartment living where I had very little space, I was certainly dreaming of my country kitchen!” Karon admits. She and Alessandro spend weekends rolling fresh pasta on the honed Carrara marble benchtop (from CDK Stone). “We make a massive mess, but there’s enough space to do it,” she says. A trio of ‘Ranarp’ pendant lights from Ikea illuminates the area and adds to the modern country feel that Karon wanted to create, coupled with ‘Rye’ stools from Provincial Home Living.

KITCHEN DETAIL “I love that sense of country hospitality that comes with having someone over for a slice of cake and coffee,” enthuses Karon, who almost always has a freshly baked confection (this time a delicious lemon drizzle cake piled high with fresh berries) atop her favourite Pottery Barn cake stand. A splashback of glossy ‘Massia Bianco’ subway tiles from National Tiles pops against piles of sage green Hunter & Gatherer dinnerware on Karon’s open shelving. “I wanted to create a relaxed country feel, but with clean lines and simplicity – not fussy patterns and colours everywhere,” she explains of the style in this beautiful space.

Karon and Alessandro bake a yummy gingerbread wreath every Christmas.

Karon and Michael relish having family gather at their home, which they built four years ago after living and working in big cities. When a block of land came up in a tightly held Southern Highlands village they had visited many times, they knew it was the spot to put down roots. “Our dream home was a simple one – we wanted a little country cottage with a bit of a contemporary edge,” says Karon. Fortuitously, the land came complete with a DA for a cottage that only required a few tweaks to fit Karon and Michael’s vision.

DINING ROOM Contrasting timber tones bring warmth and character to the dining area (here & opposite), care of No. 18 Thonet chairs in Dark Oak and a generous ‘Mockelby’ dining table from Ikea. “I love a table that’s filled with platters of food, and guests can just grab what they want,” Karon says. “It’s really relaxed dining.” An evocative still life by Southern Highlands artist Kate Vella speaks to casual feasting and adds richness to the scene. At Christmas, French doors framed by breezy Pottery Barn linen curtains are flung open to keep the festivities flowing from indoors to out.

“I love being able to sit at our big table having a Christmas feast with family,” says Karon.


Karon’s table is a celebration of nature, dressed in native foliage, sculptural bowls from Hunter & Gatherer, crumpled linen napkins from Suzie Anderson Home, bauble-shaped Christmas tags by Bespoke Letterpress and cut crystal tealight holders from Hunter & Gatherer.

Natural linens and abundant greenery create a festive table setting.

A friendly local peers into the living room (a cow who lives nearby) – ‘Davina’ by photographer Tony Sheffield.

“The house feels really solid and welcoming, like it’s been here longer than it really has,” says Karon.

LIVING ROOM Alessandro plays with George the English cocker spaniel next to the tree. Karon found most of her furniture locally, from the mantelpiece mirror and rustic coffee table, both from Country Homes & Interiors, to Michael’s beloved leather armchair from Suzie Anderson Home. A selection of candles and baubles decorate the coffee table alongside a plate of Karon’s delicious gingerbread.

Separate rooms were opened up to create a large open-plan space, with vaulted ceilings to add to the sense of light from French doors. Dulux Whisper White Half coats the walls, a colour Karon decided on due to the way it beautifully mimics the effect of time-old starched linen. “I love the softness of our linen curtains against it,” she says. Natural textures and neutral tones permeate the home with a sense of calm that’s perfectly in-keeping with its idyllic country setting, while Karon forages in her thriving garden to bring the colour. “I love decorating the table with a big bowl of limes in summer, rather than buying flowers,” she shares. “Or I’ll pick bunches of spinach and put them in a vase!”

“Our bedroom is our escape – it feels really separate to the rest of the house,” says Karon. The bed’s tones are echoed by the Adairs velvet and linen cushions on the Ikea armchair, complete with cosy felt slippers from Suzie Anderson Home. Pottery Barn ‘Emery’ linen curtains and the ‘Desert Totems’ artwork by John Coburn anchor the palette.

Awash in shades of soft pink and sage green, Karon and Michael’s bedroom feels luxuriously calm.

MAIN BEDROOM A vintage Kantha throw from Merchant Campbell, Home Republic linen quilt cover and bamboo raw-edged pillowcases, both from Adairs, create a dreamy effect. “I’ve been devoted to linen sheets for so long,” says Karon. “I love the relaxed texture.” A West Elm ‘Tuft’ bedhead is flanked by Pottery Barn ‘Mateo’ side tables and antique brass lamps.

“My design mantra was to keep everything simple and fresh, with that country feel in mind” ~ Karon

ENSUITE “We wanted to keep it ultra-simple so we can dress it up and change it when we want to,” says Karon of her sophisticated ensuite, tiled in ‘Country Bianco’ subway tiles from National Tiles and ‘Verona’ floor tiles in Cenere from Perini. A sleek Caesarstone ‘Fresh Concrete’ vanity, teamed with Astra Walker ‘Icon’ wall-mounted tapware, make this one of the more contemporary rooms in the home. Accessories in natural textures, such as the Pottery Barn ‘Beachcomber’ basket and a Suzie Anderson Home basket-weave tray, bring a dash of country charm, as does the botanical print from Ikea.

BATHROOM With its freestanding tub (a ‘Cool’ acrylic model from Decina) and romantic linen Roman blind (from Inspired by Blinds), the bathroom has all the charm of a bygone era, albeit with modern conveniences.

“The blind is the same as the blinds in the living area,” Karon explains. “It’s a different look in a bathroom and I was worried it wouldn’t work, but it softens what could otherwise look quite stark.” Handmade ‘Country Bianco’ subway tiles from National Tiles add texture and are combined with Perini ‘Verona’ floor tiles in Cenere. An Astra Walker ‘Icon’ floor-mounted bath spout and Parisi ‘Laser’ vanity lend a contemporary note. The luxe linen towels and chic bathmat are from Suzie Anderson Home.

Carrara marble benchtops are a luxe touch in the laundry room.

Alessandro’s bedroom boasts a handsome Mocka bedhead, Ikea bedlinen and vintage-style lamp from Pottery Barn.

This year’s presents are wrapped in beautiful paper and silk ribbon in a soft palette from Bespoke Letterpress.

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