The traditional white-clapboard exterior of Kristin Nicholas’s 1751 farmhouse betrays no sense of the merry and bright holiday decor within.
By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
Nov 29 2015
The traditional white-clapboard exterior of Kristin Nicholas’s 1751 farmhouse, nestled in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, betrays no sense of the boisterous visual party within. Outside, there are stone walls, weathered sheds, and pastures. But inside is a happy riot of color, with brightly painted walls, jewel-tone furniture, kaleidoscopic kilim rugs. It’s a fanciful place, an adaptation to the stark and stony winter landscape where Kristin and her family manage a flock of 300 sheep on their farm. “In western Massachusetts, from the end of November really until the end of April, there’s just gray everywhere,” she says. “For all those months you have to do something to make it joyful and happy.”
And so the center-chimney Cape in Leyden that she shares with husband Mark Duprey, daughter Julia, and a bevy of animals isn’t just the heart of Leyden Glen Farm (whose atmosphere she lovingly calls a “circus”)—it’s a beacon banishing the early-winter darkness.
Color is Kristin’s signature statement, saturating all her creations: textile designs, oil paintings, pottery, knitwear, the hand-painted dining-room walls. When the holidays come around, her exuberant spirit is reflected in every corner, as is her decorating motto: handmade, colorful, cozy, and very, very sparkly.
“My holidays are about color and texture and making things,” says Kristin, whose latest book, Crafting a Colorful Home (Roost Books), was released early this year. “To me, that’s home—having a lot of handmade things around you.”
The holidays are also a breather for the family after the summer farmers’ markets and the autumn harvest. It’s a chance to savor time with friends in this tightly knit farming community, to recharge before winter lambing begins. Kristin sets an easygoing tone at Christmas, using armloads of greens from the yard, favorite sheep-themed decorations, hand-knitted stockings, and strings of twinkling lights (which stay up until April). Stacks of thick woolen afghans invite a put-your-feet-up mood. Nothing is fussy or hands-off—Kristin wants her guests to relax.
Her love of craft has deep roots. Smitten with fabric as a young girl in New Jersey, she loved the details in her German-born grandmother’s hand-embroidered sheets and afghans. At 13, she spent 50 precious cents at auction for a quilt so filthy her mother wouldn’t let her bring it into the house. With determined cleanings, the quilt was restored; it remains a treasure. Later, in college, she signed up for some textile classes and “the world opened up to me,” she says. Now she designs knitting and embroidery patterns, wallpaper, pottery, fabric, and a line of yarns. Living in a remote corner of New England, she’s had to adapt her business, welcoming students to the farm for classes and retreats, and teaching classes online through the site Craftsy. “I like to teach people that they can do this, too,” she says. “It’s all easy. I have no patience for anything too fiddly.”
Every year, Kristin and her four sisters hold a post-Thanksgiving crafting party on Black Friday. Gathering materials in the woods, they invent fanciful creations, such as the tiny houses crafted from birchbark and recycled boxes that they still make every year. Using acorn “wreaths,” bits of evergreen adornment, and sparkly glitter, the homes would suit any woodland fairy.
It’s one festive way of staying connected to the land, even in winter. Kristin has always felt that pull. She loved her dad’s tales of childhood summers spent on his grandparents’ farm. “I thought it sounded fascinating,” she said. “I was sucked into the romanticism of it.” But it was Mark who enchanted her with tales of his country hometown. “In our first conversation he said, ‘I come from the most beautiful place in the world,’” she says. “So I knew it was pretty around here, but the first time I came, I fell in love.”
And so she has made a home here, where comfort and joy reside long past holiday season. A soft plaid blanket embellished with one of Kristin’s wool flowers waits to be draped on a lap; piles of pillows made from patterned remnants invite serious nesting; brightly painted lampshades reflect muted light. “It all adds another layer of warmth,” she says. “Color is really enveloping. It makes you feel safe and cozy and warm.”
Learn how to make Kristin’s birchbark houses.
To learn more about Kristin and to read her musings on design and farming, visit: kristinnicholas.com.