Every Christmas a North Canterbury farmstead is garlanded in a traditional theme that perfectly suits its colonial-era past.
Deck the halls by Rosa Shiels
From a distance, the peaked roof, dormer windows and covered verandah of this old two-storey Ohoka homestead are reminiscent of a scene from an early Canterbury watercolour.
Shut your eyes and you can imagine a horse-drawn carriage pulling up outside to offload a laughing tumble of well-dressed guests and children, laden with Christmas gifts.
But step inside Ian and Juliet Ward's welcoming front door and into the light-filled entranceway, and you are transported forward in time more than a century. There's the familiar seasonal pine fragrance on the air and the house is dressed for Christmas, but this spacious, contemporary interior contrasts with its restrained colonial outer.
In the fresh and bright dining room, with its base palette of cream and white neutrals, the recycled Baltic pine table is set in traditional celebratory mood with lit candles, crackers, and touches of forest green and holly-berry red. Crystal glasses and water jug, and shining flatware catch the light.
"We bought the silver candlestick when we were engaged," Juliet says. "I use the candlestick a lot, because I often have candles on the table. Most things in the house mean something, because we've lived here for 34 years. It's a collection."
Juliet uses a Wedgwood dinner set called Bramble oven to table. "This is a farm, so things have to be a bit practical and all about having to work for the farm."
A delicate oak sideboard and fine oak secretaire - pieces the Wards have collected through the years - display favourite items, and contemporary artworks, such as Angelique Armstrong's vibrant fruit painting, punctuate the setting with colour.
"We always enjoy Christmases," Juliet says.
In times past on this dairy farm, Ian would be milking on Christmas Day, so the Wards have always had Christmases at home. "When the children were little, they always had to wait for Ian to come back in from milking before they could open their stockings," Juliet says.
She likes to maintain her family traditions, depending, of course, on which family members from various generations are attending. Their two adult children both have children of their own and Juliet's mother and an old family friend are regulars at the Christmas table.
"We quite like to go to church on Christmas Day if we can, and we usually have coffee and open the presents before lunch. When the children were little, we always had lunch here and then went to Ian's parents at night, which was still on the same farm.
"Last year, we had an evening meal, which was lovely," Juliet says. "It depends on the weather, really, because I always do traditional food.
The Wards' house is an ever-changing work-in-progress, keeping pace with the needs and lifestyle of a 21st-century family and the generation of grandchildren coming through.
It wasn't always so sunny and open, as Ian Ward, who has lived on the 91-hectare property all of his life, explains. "The house was built in 1880 when there was a lot happening in Christchurch, a lot of houses being built and so on," he says. "In those days, farmers used to have huge spreads, 1000 acres, even out here.
"My parents bought the house in 1944 or 1945 and named it 'Lyn-Lea' (Lynton was my father's name, my mother was Evelyn, and 'lea' means land). It was built to an English plan, with five windows on the south side and nothing on the north side."
In the 1960s, Ian's parents built a more modern brick house elsewhere on the property. Ian and Juliet moved into the old homestead in 1977.
The imposing, featureless northern wall, rising the full height of what should have been the sunny side of the house, was ripe for change. In 1990, they opened it up and added a wing to accommodate a new master bedroom and main bathroom above and the kitchen, dining room and laundry below. Two upstairs skylights light the toilet and steep stairwell, and windows make the most of the views and the light.
The master bedroom on the front of the extension looks out over the lawn to a huge gum, mature mulberry and walnut trees and the pond below. This room is full of light, compared with the dark former master bedroom on the south-east corner. Now a guest room, Ian says it "gets the morning sun and then it's gone".
The roofline on this essentially one-and-a-half-storey house dips in and out of the bedrooms, creating intriguing bedroom spaces.
The tiniest room - "the nursery", as Juliet calls it - has polished floorboards, pink furnishings and full toile de jouy fabric curtains. It's the room for the cot of the littlest grandchild, Ava, until she is big enough to sleep in the cosy single bed tucked against the wall. It's a delightful, miniaturised Wonderland room where a full-grown Alice could fit only after reverting to her shrinking formula
The neighbouring room in blue-and-white stripes is where older grandson Hunter sleeps, next door to his twin sister, Samara, in another pink room, which is part-bedroom, part-office.
As dusk closes in, Juliet lights candles downstairs and the mood of Christmas is heightened. The heart of the home, and the sole original room in the house, is the sitting room. This is where the perfectly conical, ceiling-high Christmas tree, decorated by daughter Kate, takes pride of place in an alcoved bay window draped in a heavy Spanish provincial fabric.
"It's always been a tradition that Kate and Ian do the tree," Juliet says. "They usually get it in and do a lot of the decorating, and I do the rest of the house. I like to put up all my Christmas decorations that I've collected over the years."
Once upon a time this room was Ian's parents' bedroom. During one refurbishment, the original fireplace surround was found languishing out under trees somewhere and reinstated. The reproduction crackle-glaze chandelier works well with the ceiling rose.
Repairs have been done since the February earthquake. "It's all lath and plaster," Ian says, "so there were little varicose veins all across the ceiling. We skim-plastered and refilled it."
Groupings of favourite items and various collectables are found throughout. A clutch of unusual glass paperweights are souvenirs from various overseas trips and these sit alongside an old English sewing box, once belonging to Juliet's aunt.
"The lady of the lamp was my grandmother's," Juliet says. She prefers its frilly presence now that it has been dressed with a new shade.
Juliet makes cushions and reupholsters the furniture every time she updates the interior or as the furniture calls for it.
The television room has a fluffy cowhide underfoot in the distinctive white-stripe-on-black pattern of belted galloway cattle once farmed by Ian. The black-and-white scheme is echoed in their recently overhauled laundry and downstairs shower-and-toilet room, which have black and white floor tiles, white wall tiles and chrome fixtures. Heated towel rails and underfloor heating, along with the radiator system throughout the rest of the house, take care of all temperature requirements.
In the entranceway, where smaller black and white tiles provide a visual link, a painting of North Westland - Chasing Light by Sue Ferguson - hangs on the wall near a mounted 12-pointer stag that Ian's grandfather shot in the 1930s or '40s in Fiordland.
When heavy drapes in the hall are drawn back, they reveal doors that open on to the back lawn, just visible through a wrought-iron garden gate and looking like the perfect pitch for a Boxing Day family cricket match. A heavy arbor of creamy-white 'Albéric Barbier' rambling rose crowns the gate and fluffy pink cherry blossom, in full bloom at the time of writing, fills the vision.
The house and property speak of decades of tender care and attention.
"Mum and Dad met at a community barn dance," Ian says.
Without the wheels and speed of the contemporary era, the bachelors and spinsters of those days came in to the community hall on their horses and carts from neighbouring properties.
"They were both from farming families," Ian says, "and now I farm here and my sister farms the farm where my mother grew up."
"We enjoy the house," Juliet says, "and I'm sure the house loves having people. It always seems to glow when it's had lots of people in it."