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A Crystal Clear Christmas

Exquisite pastel ornaments bathed in light ensure a romantic Bucks County Christmas

Written and Produced by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Colleen Duffley

    One of seven siblings, Moira Gavin always was the feminine child of the family. Or so says sister Paula, who’s just dropped in at Moira’s Bucks County, Pennsylvania, home to see how Christmas is holding up for our photo shoot, and, we suspect, to do a little snooping along with the obligatory sisterly harassment. 

    As you enter the house, the dining room is to the left, the living room to the right, and the great room straight ahead.

    Photography: Colleen Duffley

  • Colleen Duffley

    Living Room

    “When we shared a room, my half was the clean, minimalistic side, while Moira’s was all flowers and stripes. We each had stuffed dogs. Mine was this huge German shepherd named Adolf. Moira’s was a blue French poodle named Pierre. Nothing’s changed,” Paula, a wife, mother, and C.P.A., declares expansively, sweeping her gaze across Moira’s kitchen with its wreaths, French ceramic chickens, and beautiful old Wedgwood, a collection that long predates Moira’s association with Waterford Wedgwood USA Inc.

    Moira’s antique French table displays a pair of alabaster amps.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Warm Living Room

    Best friends, the Gavin girls enjoy nothing more than the giggles that erupt from telling stories on each other out of school—or out of the shared bedrooms of the past. But the truth is, Moira’s taste has retained a constancy over the years. It’s no longer expressed in fuzzy blue poodle dogs but in a two-story custom-built home with Country French detailing and in antique French furniture that warms up the comfortable new pieces. (“Comfort,” Moira insists, “is the ultimate requirement for me.”) Even her preference in palettes hasn’t altered so much as evolved. “Poodle” blue has taken a sophisticated turn to water tones—pale aquas, turquoises, and clear blues as refreshing as a cold mountain stream. Pottery collections built over a lifetime reveal a passion for the cool colors, as do the au courant clothes hanging in her closet. “These are my badge,” she laughs, caught wearing a cashmere sweater in opalescent blue.

    An antique mirror and collection of ornaments and crystal candlesticks decorate the living room mantel along with holiday greens. The sofa sports a red slipcover for the season.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Great Room

    “I like the idea of having a basically white house as my canvas, so that I can clear out all my accessories and rugs and slipcovers and really change everything with the seasons,” Moira explains. At Christmas, a jewel-red slipcover injects holiday color into the monochromatic taupe-and-ivory formal living room. But as soon as the season is over, “I’m back to accessorizing with turquoises, aquas, blues—my favorite colors.”

    Ebony-stained floors anchor the great room’s 20-year-old sofa and keep the white room from “floating away,” says Moira. The tree separates the great room and living room.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Glimmering Tree

    And thanks to the company that employs her, now she’s even able to weave her pastel palette into her holiday decorating. Her 9 1/2-foot Fraser fir sparkles with 162 delicate Waterford ornaments in Moira’s signature water colors, all backlit by 28 strands of tiny white lights. The tree stands in the great room—“the focus of any large entertaining I do,” Moira says. It is located where the great room opens onto the living room, allowing that more formal space to share a view of its impressive dazzle.

    Moira's Fraser fir is decorated with 162 delicate Waterford ornaments.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Table Display

    “The house was designed so that the downstairs rooms would be open and flow,” explains Moira. The dining room is for elegant sit-down dinners, the living room is for cocktails in front of the fire, “but the back of the house is where I really live. This is where I entertain on a large scale [in the great room], and this is where my bedroom is. And it’s where I always celebrate Christmas with my family and friends.” Every other year, the New Jersey-born gang of Gavins assembles at Moira’s for the holiday. (Intervening years, they gather here for Thanksgiving, so the house is always a hub for one of the two annual festivities.) It’s sibs and their families only, since Moira’s parents are deceased, but she’s still influenced by the Christmas traditions she learned growing up. “I remember my father spray snow on the windows. He would cut out triangles, mask the windows, and then spray on the snow very precisely that it looked like it had settled into the edges. He was so meticulous, God rest his soul.”

    Just beyond the tree are an old leather-top bench and a new table set with crystal and sterling candlesticks.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Dining Room

    She also recalls her dad creating diagrams for the placement of holiday lights. “We had special rose lights of my grandmother’s that we hung from a mirror. He had a diagram marked on the back of the mirror so that he would always hang the lights in exactly the right place each year. I’m not that particular, but that’s where I got my sense of tradition and my joy and pride in the holidays.”

    A Waterford chandelier glamorizes the dining room.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Sweet Settee

    It shows. Moira doesn’t do her dad’s artificial snow—she eschews anything fake in holiday decorating—but she’s inherited his passion for getting Christmas right. “I could never draw diagrams and place things the same way year after year like my dad did,” she says. Instead, she allows creativity to have its say. But first, she stocks up on a plethora of wreaths and ribbon, so should the impulse move her, she’s prepared.

    A French settee stands between the room’s bookcases.

     

  • Colleen Duffley

    Open Shelving

    When she noticed that the open-shelved dish cupboard in the kitchen needed holiday cheering, three small wreaths and a spool of gauzy brown ribbon practically shouted, “Pick me! Pick me!” from the brimming seasonal stockpile. A square wreath seemed destined for the entry hall, while above Moira’s bed, a focal point was created using five round wreaths. (It helps to have several sizes on hand!) Matching wreaths suspended from ribbon were the solution for windows in the great room. Moira’s friend of more than 20 years, Rick Janecek, fleshed out those wreaths further, adding a dainty china cup—filled with pinecones—to each one.

    Open cabinets display collections that include vintage Wedgwood.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Green Kitchen

    “We’re the grown-up version of Friends,” jokes Moira, turning toward a kitchenful of her closest buds, including Atlanta designer Gretchen Edwards, who provided the window treatments and the finishing touches after Rick pulled the house together when Moira first moved in five years ago. “I couldn’t have done it without Rick,” Moira insists. “He’s part of a group of us who do everything—cooking, decorating—together.” (The two have known each other since their days working retail in Texas.)

    Moira’s green Country French kitchen opens up to the great room, where guests can sit in comfort and visit with her.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Serene Bedroom

    “He knows my taste so perfectly he just found things for me. I discovered other things, and then we used a lot of what I already had.” The big cushy sofas in the great room, for example, have been in Moira’s life since 1985. “They’re covered in white texture cotton so they go with anything,” she says. “We just put new pillows them.” Rick’s special talent was, and is, in displaying Moira’s existing objets d’art in interesting arrangements. “It’s amazing to watch him work,” she says as Rick snips a single tulip and moves blue vases to a table in preparation for a photograph.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Seasonal Display

    Moira’s favorite finds are old. “Wherever I live, one of the first things I do is set up a network for local antiquing. And whenever I travel, I always keep my eyes peeled for the perfect piece.” Her work takes her to Ireland and England often, so that’s a lot of peeling—and pieces. But she has ample storage space, including built-in cupboards in the great room, mud room, and the butler’s pantry to accommodate new treasures. All are fair game come Christmas, lifted from safekeeping to star in some festive display.

    Moira’s bedroom is spacious enough for a country farm table devoted to seasonal displays.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Feminine Bathroom

    But Moira’s best find was local—Tom Bross, the newest member of her inner sanctum. On hand for the holidays, helping with cooking and cleaning as well as errand running, furniture moving, propping for the photography, or just having fun, Tom won points with this most feminine of the Gavin girls. On November 14, 2004, just in time for Christmas, Moira became his bride.

    Her bathroom continues the soft palette of the bedroom, with a fringed floral armchair and an old painted table that sports art and orchids.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Portrait

    Moira Gavin and designer Gretchen Edwards

  • Rob Brinson