Christmas at Louise Keats’ home will be bittersweet this year. The fabulous farmhouse in the NSW Southern Highlands will be filled with all of her favourite people on Earth: husband, children, parents, sister and her sister’s immediate tribe. Champagne corks will fly at kick-off, marking the start of the celebrations, while stockings will be filled with homemade nougat and tables will be piled with fruit mince pies and gingerbread. There will be glazed ham, cured gravlax and stuffed roast turkey with all the trimmings.
But this year also marks the family’s first Christmas since losing Louise’s grandmother, Margaret Fulton, the legendary Australian food writer and national treasure.
“She was custodian of all our Christmas traditions,” says Louise. “She always made sure we had crackers and wore our hats. And she made an amazing Christmas pudding with flaming brandy and homemade custard, studded with sixpence saved from her childhood in Scotland.”
Although her absence will weigh down heavily on the family, Margaret’s spirit will be felt in the Royal Copenhagen dinnerware on the table and the fizz of the champagne (always French). And, while Louise’s mother Suzanne is on pudding duty this year, it’s a safe bet whoever finds the sixpence will be thinking of Margaret as they make their wish. “It’s still really raw,” says Louise, “but Grandma’s old traditions will continue and they will be passed on to her great-grandchildren.”
“I feel like ceilings can really make a room. Unfortunately for our budget, I spent a lot of time on Pinterest and I started to fall in love with these ceilings.” ~ Louise
This year’s celebrations will be the family’s second time hosting Christmas in their forever home, which they moved into in spring 2018. “Last year was really special, and now will always be remembered, because my grandma was there,” explains Louise. Fittingly, it was a full-scale affair. “The idea of throwing some prawns on the barbecue in a T-shirt and shorts at Christmas isn’t for us,” she says.
“The kitchen is definitely the heart of my home and it gets a major daily workout.” ~ Louise
There surely could be no better place to reinforce a family legacy than here. The home is a gracious new build with an age-old soul, sprawling across one level with north-facing windows and highland views for days. Louise describes her home as a “modern farmhouse” and it’s a magical marriage of sustainable architecture, timeworn materials, antiques, modern pieces and family heirlooms.
Louise and husband John bought their 40-hectare property five years ago with just a set of stables on it. Step one was to put a two- bedroom apartment on top of the stables, where they lived for two years. Then came their dream house on the hill.
“I wanted a house I would love in 2019, but also 50 years from now – something that was both traditional and modern,” she says. Louise’s father is an architect and insisted on just two things: no box gutters (“a plumbing nightmare”) and a north-facing aspect to minimise the environmental footprint.
The expanse of north-facing windows means the play area is highly visible.”The kids can have a true free-range childhood,” she says. “I really encourage them to go outdoors, engage with nature.”
Not surprisingly, the family is often found convening in the kitchen. At Christmas, the messy business of cooking with kids reminds Louise of cooking with her grandma. “As a little girl, my job was to sit and stir the custard for the pudding,” she says.
This year, the kitchen will again be packed with family, food and debate. “That’s what Christmas is about for us; taking time out of our hectic lives, rolling up our sleeves and spending countless hours cooking and eating. Together.”
“For some people, it’s all about the cricket in the backyard or the pool, but for us, Christmas resolves around the kitchen and the dining table.” ~ Louise
“I like things to be modern but have a hint of tradition – it’s very hard to find fittings that fit the bill.” ~ Louise
“A lot of my finishes and fittings were custom. It drove my husband and builder crazy, but we got there in the end.”~ Louise
Anna McCooe has the world’s best gig. She spends her days interviewing inspiring people, travelling to amazing places, looking at beautiful things and eating great food. Then she writes about it all for her favourite magazines, websites and newspapers. Seriously, she gets paid for this.
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