A Modern Farmhouse Gets Ready for Christmas

Neutral hues create the perfect backdrop for a mix of new and vintage finds at Christmas time.

Photograph by Ellen McDermott

Long before she bought her house in the country, Kate McCann already had a palette in mind. “I knew it would be something neutral, and somewhat monochromatic,” the New Jersey–based stylist and founder of Grey Dove Design recalls. “I didn’t want too much color. I wanted something soothing and calming.”

Twenty-five years of city life had taken a toll and McCann was eager to find a place where she and her partner, Kevin McAlinn, and their dog, Willa Mae, could relax and recharge. She made good on her vision six years ago, when she found a two-bedroom home on an acre of land in Lakeville. A former barn, the structure had been converted to a house in 1930.

The previous owners had done all the major renovations and by the time McCann came on the scene, the house just needed some cosmetic work. “They had done a nice job, but it was more traditional than I liked. I didn’t want it to feel too country,” says McCann. “I wanted to keep the interiors clean and simple.” She painted all the walls and cabinets white and switched out light fixtures in several rooms, including the kitchen. “The white made everything so bright, at first I thought I’d made a mistake,” she says. “But once I started adding everything in and layering, it felt right.”

Photograph by Ellen McDermott

That layering process included incorporating natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, wool and rattan. Furnishings and accessories are a mix of new and vintage finds. “A neutral background makes room for a mix of eras and styles,” she says. The black wood dining table and benches were custom made to fit the narrow dining room. The living room sofa’s modern silhouette is juxtaposed against a vintage Danish coffee table. “It was originally a placeholder, but I liked it and kept it,” she says.

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, a Noguchi paper lamp tops a midcentury side table and handpainted throw pillows add élan to an antique daybed she bought from the previous owners. “I had buyer’s remorse at first,” she says. “I didn’t think it was my style. But now I’m so glad I have these pre-midcentury pieces in the house. It gives it some warmth.” The overall effect is “organic modern,” and serves to underscore the way nature influences the designer’s style.

When it came time to decorate for the holidays, McCann stuck to the same aesthetic. “I wanted it to emulate the design of the house and not feel too fussy,” she says. “Everyone is so busy at this time of year, it shouldn’t take an exorbitant amount of time. The décor should be fun.”

Photograph by Ellen McDermott

In the living room, a tree in a seagrass container is trimmed with vintage ornaments and white crocheted snowflakes. “I stained them in tea to get that vintage feel and calm down the brightness,” she says. Beautifully wrapped packages are tied with raw muslin ribbon and topped with a sprig of dried berries or eucalyptus. “I tried not to overthink the wrapping too much. I wanted to have fun with it,” she says. She used three different kinds of paper—white, wood-grained and a soft pink with greenery, which she discovered in an Etsy shop. “I thought it was white, and I was so disappointed when it arrived. I thought the pink was too much color. But it turned out okay, and now it’s my favorite paper.”

Elsewhere, the spirit of the holidays is reflected in equally subtle and elegant ways: A half wreath made of olive branches hangs from a piece of art near one of the doors. The fireplace mantel sports a eucalyptus and olive garland that her aunt made; the black candles are an unexpected but sophisticated touch. “It is how I approach holiday décor,” she says. “You don’t have to do what is typically the norm.” McCann carries that philosophy into each room, where a variety of vessels serve as receptacles for casually placed branches of “this and that,” says McCann. “As a stylist, sometimes I get caught up in making everything perfect. Nothing has to be that precious or perfect.”

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Stylish Simplicity.