MILL BAY — Who says you have to put up an evergreen tree and cover it with tinsel to make your house look Christmas-y for the holidays?
Certainly not Beverley Robinson.
She is a master at setting the scene using everything from white boas on her dining table to giant wreaths on her garage doors, huge balls of greenery in outdoor urns topped with frostings of fresh holly berries, and “necklaces” of glistening balls hanging from window frames.
On her mantle is a life-sized carved-cedar bear cub, with a floppy-hatted St. Nick riding astride — he obviously doesn’t need the traditional sleigh, either — and her foyer chandelier is laced with green and silver garlands, hanging ornaments and fresh mistletoe for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
She has so much yuletide cheer gear, one wonders where she keeps it all: “That’s why we have a barn,” she admits. “My husband just loads up the Kubota (mini tractor) and hauls it all up there after the holidays.”
Beverley and Allan moved to the Island from Mississauga, Ont., in 2000 and purchased 10 acres at Mill Bay for a country retirement home.
“We lived for 2 1/2 years in a 1927 cabin while the house was being built, and my sister Barb and I did our magic. We tore up carpets, painted floors, painted everything actually. … It was very rustic, lots of termites, bees, rats, but it was fun.”
She and her twin sister Barb Mill — who just turned 70 and celebrated with their daughters by having a quartet of bracelets tattooed onto their wrists — have long been besotted with interior design.
Their retirement fun includes a project they call The Twins Touch, “a new look with nothing new,” which sees them doing home makeovers for friends and neighbours using whatever is already on hand.
The resourceful twins don’t charge a dime. “We do it for fun,” and have a steady stream of customers including a golf club that needed the stage set for its holiday season.
Design is nothing new to this family.
Beverley and Allan’s three children are all creative and involved in various design businesses. Barb’s daughter Leslie Harrington is an internationally renowned authority on colour, and one of Oprah’s often featured experts. (See related story, Colour Oracle, page E9.)
“My sister and I grew up with a very talented mother. We got the knack from her,” said Beverley. “It’s in our genes. My sister, nieces, daughters — we’re all the same.”
Allan never worries if he doesn’t like something Beverley has concocted: “I know she will change it soon. She is constantly moving things around.”
That’s why their floor is so scratched, quips Beverley.
“I love to decorate, organize cabinets, bookcases, cupboards,” and their four-bedroom, five-bathroom house is immaculate.
She is a virtuoso entertainer, too, and used to run a bed and breakfast: “Friends told me I’d burn out after three years, and I did. We were very, very busy. One couple came from England the first year for a week; the second year they came for two; and the third for three weeks, during which time I made a different breakfast every day for 21 days and served it in different locations around the house and property.
“When they said they wanted to come for a month, I closed the B and B.”
The extra space comes in handy now when their three children, their spouses and seven grandkids come to visit. Once, Beverley even turned her crawlspace into a picture-perfect dorm for the grandkids. She put a sign on the door saying “Grandchildren only” and the youngsters were thrilled with their little hideaway.
Allan pointed out he and his wife, married 45 years, had very different views on the design of their retirement home.
“I wanted rustic, she wanted contemporary. We worked with two different architects at first and the discussion and plans went nowhere … but then we found Wil Pereeboom (of Victoria Design Group) and he was a godsend.”
Beverley agreed: “He was amazing. After only one hour of talking to us he nailed it. His drawings were almost perfect right away, and every room has a view of the ocean.”
The result is an inviting, open, timeless country home where decoration is Beverley’s domain and Allan is in charge of systems. The mechanical engineer explained they wanted a single-level home but decided to take advantage of the sloping property to add “some supposedly cheap rooms underneath.”
The house has a geothermal system, “with three-tonne water-to-water heat pump” which reaches about eight feet below low tide, radiant heat in all the floors, six-inch-thick walls, a heat recovery system and concrete tile roof. Allan estimates the geothermal system will likely pay for itself in another five years.
But he is perhaps most delighted with his three-car garage with wooden doors made by Real Carriage Door Co. of Gig Harbor, Washington. The double doors don’t roll up. They swing wide soundlessly, and remotely, thanks to a single overhead track that divides into a “Y.” (See video online.)
Mind you, Allan wasn’t allowed to park any of his vehicles there for several weeks after it was built. His wife had to decorate it first and christen the space by turning it into a bistro and inviting friends and relatives over for a feast.
Some of Beverley’s holiday design tips:
• Wrap suspension rods with white boas and hang decorations from ribbons in windows.
• Line up small decorative trees on a dining or coffee table.
• Greenery is the most important accessory and she uses the artificial kind, for safety and convenience. “I like the smell of fresh pine, but you can’t bend and mould it.”
• Don’t over-decorate and when in doubt, take pictures. “When you see a picture of a room, you will know what to change; you can spot clutter and any design mistakes.”
• She decorates with gold, silver, white and just a little red “as a pop.”
• Festive tree ornaments are decorated with guests’ names at the dining table.
• “When you see something you love, buy it. It will always fit in with your decor.”
• Hang net lights outside windows on little hooks. “It’s so simple and effective.”
© Copyright 2013