Homes Photo Credit: Phil Crozier

We Love This Natural, Nordic-Inspired Look for the Holidays

Designer Sarah Ward’s talent for creating warm, intimate spaces is unfettered by size, space or season.

If Sarah Ward’s house is inviting year-round, it’s entirely irresistible during the holidays. After all, if a host actually wanted her visitors to leave—ever—would she park a basket of soft blankets beside the sofa? Or hang fluffy boughs of fir, light candles, pull delicious homemade things out of the oven, encourage a lapdog to curl up beside them, and stoke the flames of seasonal nostalgia? Nope, she wouldn’t. We hate to presume, but we’re certain Ward will be disappointed if your December visit to her home in Calgary’s Bankview neighbourhood is anything short of languorous.

Ward is a master of conjuring warmth and elegance out of unlikely spaces of all sizes. You can see her magic touch in full effect at Donna Mac, a one-year-old upscale diner on the ground floor of a new building in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. The restaurant pivots on shareable, small-plate comfort food; Ward’s bright, human-scale design manages to both capture the coziness of family-style dining and respect the establishment’s shiny new digs and fairly experimental menu.

“I love that Donna Mac has a 14-foot ceiling, but it feels intimate in that room,” she says. “I used a lot of wood and natural materials to create that feeling.” It’s a room that could easily exude cool slickness, but Ward’s integration of inviting, eye-level textures and tactile details such as cork and various fabrics keeps things cozy. Large fixtures add volume and air to the space without overwhelming it—a feat Ward likewise pulled off with her revitalization of the huge main floor of the 101-year-old National Hotel in Inglewood, now the Nash restaurant.

In contrast to those relatively large public spaces, Ward’s home—an early 20th-century bungalow set high on a leafy street—is a tiny gem. This is where the designer’s talent for combining colour, unpredictable pattern and deeply personal objects is most apparent; her eclectic choices never veer into fanciful or precious, even in a month when one’s cherished seasonal pieces have potential to add a challenging layer to every room.

“I think when you’re a kid Christmas is a magical thing, but as adults we’ve lost most of that,” says Ward. “At Christmas, you can pretend it’s still there.” To her, that pretense means indulging in her nostalgia for a subdued, slightly antiquated 1960s-era palette. While she tweaks her holiday decor from year to year, Ward generally finds perennial joy in silver tinsel, gold accents, a sweet snow globe, frosted pine cones and a forest of tiny bottle-brush trees reminiscent of early stop-motion movies (perhaps one starring a young buck named Rudolph). Other than that (and a decorated tree or two), her holiday fare is subtle. “I prefer a natural, Nordic style, and I like a lot of greenery—fir, eucalyptus—especially because it’s so brown and white outside.”

Many of Ward’s year-round decorative objects double as seasonal pieces—or vice versa—including a beechwood wreath candle stand. Her faux zebra trophy is at home in any season (Ward shows remarkable restraint in not adding a set of reindeer antlers).

Above all, it’s food, wine and people that bring Ward’s house to life over the holidays, when she looks forward to “indulging” in elaborate meal preparation for loved ones. “My parents still host turkey dinner, and I never want that to change, but I also love to entertain family and friends at my house,” she says. “The nostalgic side of me loves the tradition and ritual of sharing meals at home.” Lucky for us, Ward’s inviting design extends far beyond her own walls.

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