Susan Branch | At Home with the Queen of Cozy
As the oldest of eight children, quiet holiday dinners were never a part of Susan’s memories, and she loves the shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy of a holiday gathering. To foster that in their own home, Susan and Joe bought old small-seated chairs at the Brimfield, Massachusetts, flea market to shoehorn as many people as possible around the table. With guests so close, conversation spins. “I don’t want plate-scraping noises,” Susan says. “I want lively conversation!”
She cooks the meals at a 1956 O’Keefe & Merritt range, a nod to the one her mother used, where she roasts the cranberries that she combines with orange marmalade for an easy Christmas jam and bakes pans of Christmas cookies and coffee cake.
She even turns the cooling shelf above the stove into a decorative display. Some of the favorite objects aren’t new at all, but repurposed. “Shop in your own home!” Susan exclaims. She likes to gather objects with similar holiday colors and arrange them together. Mother Nature supplies a few additions as well. Supermarket fruit sparkles with sugar in a fast centerpiece. Joe cuts armloads of greenery in the yard to festoon the mantle or to spiff up plain store-bought wreaths. And every year, they hang Joe’s childhood stocking, complete with his pets’ names, noted and then crossed off with marker as the beloved animals came and went.
For Susan, the holidays surround her with the people and things she cherishes, and she wants her guests to feel the same. They do, taking refuge from the outside world in the cozy holiday atmosphere. “I understand how people need to feel as though there’s something steady in the world,” she says. “You can make that for people. You can take them back to a time they feel might have been safer than the time is now, when all was well.”
To see more of Susan Branch’s illustrations, visit her blog at: susanbranch.com
Susan’s Peter Rabbit Room
“Everyone wants to stay in the Peter Rabbit room,” Susan says about the guestroom that displays her treasured collection of Beatrix Potter figurines. “There’s just something so charming about it.” A visiting friend, delighted with her accommodations, gave the room its name, and now other friends request it. It sits high up in the old ship captain’s house, tucked into the eaves. Gesturing to the figurines, Susan explains, “I started collecting these in my early twenties. They were $32, and I would save up my money to buy them.” The collection grew over the years, and when she took a two-month tour of England in 2012—a trip chronicled in her new book, A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (2013; Vineyard Stories)—she paid a visit to Potter’s 17th-century farmhouse in the Lake Country. “All my years of admiration for this woman came back to me,” she writes. “She was the first person I’d ever heard of who made a life out of watercolors, who had hand-written her own books. When I was younger, she was a big help in my search for my future self, in more ways than one.”
Download the instructions for Susan’s Homemade Holiday Gifts!