Jillian Harris Transforms a Heritage Home for the Holidays
Jillian Harris of Love It or List It Vancouver turns a heritage home in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood into a backdrop for a dream Christmas, past and present.
There’s one surefire way to get an extremely busy, then-secretly pregnant TV host and entrepreneur to take on yet another massive makeover project: get her to fall in love with the house. One visit to scope out an 1890s heritage home at UBC—the stately architecture, the wainscoting, the mouldings!—and it was all over for Love It or List It Vancouver star Jillian Harris. “When I first saw it, my jaw dropped to the floor,” she says.
Built a century before open concept was the mode du jour, the Vancouver home was surprisingly bright and airy, with white walls, natural woods and plenty of windows. Harris was brought in to decorate the house for last year’s Homes for the Holidays tour, and loved how it retained so much architectural character and soul even after extensive renovations to update the bathrooms and kitchen for the homeowner’s modern family and contemporary tastes. The designer had months to plan for the tour makeover but only a two-day window to physically decorate and transform the family home into a winter wonderland. To pull this off, Harris was going to need a little help. This is the part of the Christmas story where her Love It or List It elves come in.
“There were three people that just wrapped presents for two days,” says head LIOLIV designer Francesca Albertazzi, who, along with a team of designers from the show, tirelessly worked 10-hour days (being “hopped up on coffee” helped) to execute Harris’s vision. Luckily, she says, they “had a great canvas to work with.”
The home’s traditional turn-of-the-last-century bones were already layered in contemporary touches, like dusty-blue modern furnishings and vivacious pop prints (from the Tate Modern) in the entranceway, with everything very neutral throughout. Harris’s design concept took cues from the homeowner’s style to create a series of holiday scenes that intertwined both time periods, something the designers got to play up with a duo of show-stopping trees.
In the family room, all the reds, golds and greens of Christmas were layered on every branch of a luscious evergreen, with wooden ornaments and vintage toys adding a nostalgic touch—“the nutcracker just says ‘Christmas,’” explains Albertazzi. Old-timey pinwheels from the Cross Design and just-picked-from-the-woods-style floral arrangements in simple white vessels added a sense of quiet to the room. Milk and cookies on the table, a letter to Santa, a present or two peeking out of torn wrapping paper beneath the tree—all became part of that TV magic the LIOLIV crew does so well: telling a story through strategic details that make you feel like you’ve just stepped into a family’s early morning Christmas, circa 1942, the kids about to run down the stairs at any moment.
“Wrapped gifts can be really cool, kill-two-birds-with-one-stone decor,” adds Harris. Pick paper and ribbon that matches your holiday theme and stack up presents into little vignettes as you go, says the designer; the presents become part of your decor (and beat a last-minute $70 topiary tree any day). Natural boughs, garlands and flowers were a must for the TV host and interior designer, who stuck to fresh-from-the-field mixes of soft sage and blue-hued eucalyptus greens, along with blush-pink florals. (And the by-product is that gloriously woodsy Christmas smell you can’t buy in stores.)
Both Christmas trees came from David Hunter in Vancouver, and the white flocked nine-foot stunner that holds court at the centre of the house was one of Harris’s favourite design moments in the home. There, a tempered colour palette of pale pinks, dusty blues and whites signalled a decidedly sophisticated change in mood to the kids’ Christmas bonanza down the hall. This was surely the adults’ Christmas party space, where streamlined ornaments and delicately gilded touches made the perfect backdrop to grown-up, after-dinner entertaining with ample sparkling wine and sweet pastel macarons.
Natural boughs, garlands and flowers were a must for the TV host and interior designer, who stuck to fresh-from-the-field mixes of soft sage and blue-hued eucalyptus greens, along with blush-pink florals.
In the bright and sparkling dining room nearby, a full dinner spread with a luscious centrepiece of greens, gifts and gold-rimmed glassware was another Christmas moment frozen in time. “Things like the fur on the chair, and those little cloches—everything’s finished. All that’s missing is the homeowner coming back in and sitting down for the meal,” explains Albertazzi. “That really draws people in.”
Upstairs in the girl’s room, delicate blush pinks repeated with twinkling whites and all sizes of plush bunny rabbits; the designers even made sure her sweetest party outfit was hung up, laid out and ready for the holiday festivities.
“You’ve had breakfast, Mom’s cleared that up, she’s set up the Champagne and the drinks for later that evening, and now the kids just need to wash up and get into their little outfits because the party’s going to start,” explains Albertazzi, describing the scene they created.
“Everything’s just to that point where it’s perfect and we’re waiting for the guests and the family to arrive. That was the moment we were trying to create throughout the house,” continues the designer. “As opposed to post-party chaos—which would also be kind of fun to do, too.”
7 Tips to Get The Jillian-Harris-Christmas Look
1. Add antique toys for that vintage look.
Classic pieces like the airplanes and trucks (designer Francesca Albertazzi sourced these from Spruce Collective) help create that childlike Christmas that everybody wants to escape back to.
2. Pare back furnishings.
Christmas trees and their cornucopia of presents require room to breathe, so the designers liberated the house of any extraneous furniture (hutches, desks, side tables, we’re looking at you).
3. Real garlands are a must.
You can’t beat that look that says you’ve gone out into the woods, cut fir branches and woven them together yourself—store-bought will never compare. “Sure it gives you the colour, but not the feeling, or that smell you get when you walk into the house,” says Albertazzi.
4. Mix traditional with modern.
A sophisticated and modern colour palette of ice blues, soft pinks and whites seamlessly added a fresh contemporary layer to the 1890s home.
5. Have a clear concept.
“If you’re picking between 15 types of chairs for your dining table, how are you supposed to pick the right one if you don’t have a concept?” explains Albertazzi. This holds true every day of the year.
6. Itty-bitty lighting can work magic.
When things are already quite busy or you’re looking for a simple way to add a layer of holiday to the space, drape precious string lights on windows or weave them into flower arrangements.
7. Go easy on the glitz.
The designers set the dining table with restrained hits of silver and gold. “We didn’t want it to be too overbearing, so we used gold-rimmed glasses and plates—no giant gold brocade ribbons,” says Albertazzi.
The Homes for the Holidays tour, with proceeds supporting Kids Help Phone, runs in Vancouver November 26 and 27. For more info, visit org.kidshelpphone.ca/event