Warm welcome

Maggie Stone loves Christmas and a tour round her country cottage reveals why. The home-made wreath, candle holders fashioned from plant pots and fabric bunting are all her handiwork.

Maggie is clearly creative and she, like most artistic people, adores the festive season. It appeals to her highly-developed visual senses and gives her the perfect excuse to make things. "I am very much a Christmas person. I love doing the decorations," says Maggie, a retired psychiatric nurse.

Her home in Huttons Ambo, near Malton, is the perfect setting for the festive season, especially when it's covered in snow and dripping with icicles. Built in 1773, the property is a former inn offering a warm welcome to shepherds coming in out of the cold. It is full of character and has been Maggie's home for over 40 years. "I was born here and went to school here, though it has changed quite a bit. There were more individual farms years ago, whereas now they are owned by conglomerates and there are only four of us older villagers left, including Herbie who runs the shop his parents used to run. There are only about 300 people here and there is a real sense of community. People have moved into the village but they rarely move out."

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When we meet she is preparing for the village Christmas Fair, which involves more making. She's thinking of sewing some hessian bags, stitching some fabric hearts and has a made a couple of prototype table decorations. One is a church candle wrapped in natural greenery from the garden, while the other is a tiny wooden trug filled with three plant pots loaded with gravel that supports a single candle and sprigs of holly and ivy from her garden.

The garden is her pride and joy and the large plot supports everything from flowers to fruit and veg. "It's big and it's magical in the summer," says Maggie.

It's also a showcase for her son's work. James Morris, is an artist-blacksmith feted for his practical and creative designs. Based at a his Sculptsteel forge in Terrington, James makes everything from balustrades and gates to lighting, furniture and sculptures. He made the sign for Maggie's cottage and an armillary orb for the garden. He also designed a canopy for over the door.

"It's for FARTS. That's friends and relatives that smoke. They can go outside and smoke without getting wet," says Maggie. "James has done some amazing work. He's artistic but he is also ultra fussy over dimensions and measurements. He's an absolute perfectionist."

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The garden was perfect playground when he was little and now serves the same purpose for his children, Wilf, two and Toby, one, when they visit. It also backs onto woodland, which is where Maggie gathers natural materials. The Christmas garland on the fireplace is made from holly, ivy, cotoniasta, rosehips and rosemary. One of her wreaths is made from twisted silver birch twigs trimmed with holy, ivy, cones and berries.

The tree is full of favourite baubles and home-made trimmings like the tiny hand-painted wooden signs, while the presents are wrapped in paper from the Little White Company. "I had a fad for bears at one point and the tree was full of bear decorations. I am a bit of magpie when it comes to decorations."

She also loves collecting old tins, which are crammed onto the shelf in the dining room. "I like pictures, old china, earthenware pots, tins and mugs."

Maggie and husband Philip are keen cooks and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and they are planning an unusual Christmas feast. "We might put the turkey in the oven and while its chugging away, we'll go and see James, Kate and the grandchildren in Malton then maybe carry on to Scarborough or up to the moors for a picnic," says Maggie, whose Christmases usually follow a routine. "We usually go into York late on Christmas Eve because the atmosphere is very Christmassy and then drop presents off and come home for the midnight service.

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"Christmas always brings back wonderful memories of when I was a child. The snow would have drifted above the hedges and when I went to bed on Christmas Eve it would be snowing and I could hear the carol singers.

"We always had traditional Christmases and that's something you hanker after when you grow old."

For more of James Morris' work visit www.sculptsteel.co.uk, tel: 01653 648033

YP MAG 18/12/10