A mother’s creative Christmas decor
Photographs by Dyanne Wilson
Every year, like a Christmas elf with a distinctly European esthetic, Barbara Wery-Boole decorates her home in a charming way.
When graphic designer Barbara Wery-Boole turns her attention to Christmas decorations for her house on the east side of Ottawa, she brings a classically contemporary European feel to the home. Her decorating is an exercise in tasteful restraint in a palette of red, white and green, with touches of beige, orange and silver from nature, such as silver birch bark, clementine oranges and piles of nuts.
Wery-Boole tries to use only natural colours and textures at Christmas time. She fills the house with the flicker of candlelight and the scent of
cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and pine needles, simmering in a pot of water on the stove. She buys a large living tree — one with roots — rather than a tree that has been cut and therefore drops its needles, and several smaller ones, which she wraps in burlap and uses on windowsills and tables throughout the house. As a counterpoint to the fuzzy green of the tree, she decorates a second tree, a large branch that she found in the park a year ago. Dotted with plain white lights, a natural straw bird or two and plenty of birch bark stars and red felt decorations, it whimsically brings nature indoors.
Although Wery-Boole and her twin sister, Anette, grew up in Ottawa, they have very strong ties to Europe through their German parents and another sister who lives in Vienna. They visit as often as possible. “I am very influenced by my regular visits back to Europe to visit my family,” she says. “A lot of my inspiration comes from what I have seen and experienced overseas.” One particular tradition that Wery-Boole imports from Europe is the Adventskranz, a series of four candles at the centre of her dining table, one for each weekend of Advent. She sets these full-sized candles in the centre of apples and then decorates around them with pine needles gathered from the tree in her garden, as well as scattered nuts, wooden hearts, cranberries and clementines for pops of colour.
Many of Wery-Boole’s decorations are homemade and her two young children love to help. They cut out thick red felt hearts and stars and make their own Advent calendars by wrapping tiny boxes or hanging numbered mini brown paper bags from the stair rail to the basement. Wery-Boole then hides little gifts inside each one.
A procession of small wooden animals made by German toymaker Ostheimer makes its way around the windowsills of the house. Carved elephants, camels and others in the menagerie bring to mind the nativity story, while a series of other animals such as wolves, deer, rabbits, bears and some trees congregate near the dining table. Wery-Boole’s children are delighted when these treasures emerge from storage each year — they play with them almost daily during the season.
One of these wooden figures is St. Nicholas. Wery-Boole, her husband Peter Boole, owner of restaurants Social, Eighteen and Sidedoor in the ByWard Market, and their children celebrate the coming of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6. In the European tradition, St. Nicholas, the saint who inspired the legend of Santa Claus, generally leaves sweet treats for children who have been well behaved in the past year.
With her background in graphic design — Wery-Boole and her sister run design company Kitsch Kreativ — she has turned her skills to canvas, too, painting several large, cheerful pictures of hearts and a snowy pine tree. At Christmas, she swaps the paintings that hang on her walls for the other three seasons of the year, for these images. She’s also painted the backside of her front door in blackboard paint, which provides the perfect spot for her children to doodle Christmas images, or to leave notes for the babysitter at other times.
“I try to use as many natural pieces as I can,” says Wery-Boole. “I gather things from the woods up around Chelsea and use lots of wood, greenery and birch bark stars. And it doesn’t take that long to put it all together. Maybe an afternoon if I really work at it.”