Few couples face a Christmas dilemma regarding which chimney Father Christmas will come down. But for antique dealer Will Fisher and his wife Charlotte Freemantle, such is the profusion of fine antique chimney pieces in their London home that choosing the right one for Santa was the subject of a long-remembered row.
Fisher felt the drawing room’s curvy Palladian 1740s fire surround, with a frieze of Convent Siena marble, was the obvious choice, while Freemantle favoured the simple Old English-marble one in the bathroom.
She reasoned that this would be the best place to show the imprint of Father Christmas’s boots in the trail of flour she lays on the floorboards every Christmas Eve, to mark his way from the chimney to the bedrooms of Eliza, now 12, and Monty, nine. They take Christmas seriously in this family.
The star of the whole production is their beautiful 18th-century house, in a broad street lined with lofty trees. Fisher and Freemantle are the owners of Jamb, the Pimlico Road shop that sells handsome antique and reproduction chimney pieces, lighting and furniture, in the aesthetic of classic architects William Kent, Robert Adam and Sir John Soane – the instigators of «English country house» style.
The couple’s home is filled with original pieces that Jamb craftsmen have faithfully copied. Fisher has a remarkable eye for antiques, trained from boyhood, when he and his best friend Sam, the stepson of legendary antique dealer Warner Dailey, would help with collections and deliveries during school holidays.
Fisher must also have been the only 13-year-old to have his collection (of vintage box Brownie cameras) sold at Christie’s. He is a perfectionist: all the windows in the house, with their original slim glazing bars, have been reglazed with handmade wavy glass; reclaimed wooden floors have been laid; and the cornicing has been meticulously replaced.
As you walk in, you spot the head of a gharial (a fish-eating crocodile) hanging on the wall, holding an antique witch ball and a large bunch of mistletoe in its jaws. Turn into the front drawing room, where the walls are hung with carved 18th-century marble tablets, and you find a Jamb fireplace draped with slim strands of ivy.
In the main drawing room next door a wood fire crackles, the mantelpiece is piled with ivy, and a vast tree, decorated with vintage satin ribbon, glows with lights, catching the glitter offoxed-glass baubles from the Freemantle family’s collection.
There are shiny tin votive plaques from Mexico, as well as new glass ornaments from Fortnum & Mason. «We try to buy a few – very carefully chosen – tree decorations every year,» says Fisher, «but it tends to be a case of buy two, smash five.» The sofa, chairs and lantern are all Jamb designs, and a marble bust of Greek philosopher Crisipo looks on, scowling, beneath a convex mirror.
On Christmas Day he, along with the rest of the family, will wear a feather headdress made by Freemantle’s sister, the stylist Emma Freemantle, for her website Worn With Love.
Although the tree is bought and decorated in the first week of December, Christmas proper begins in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve, with a loud knock on the front door; when the children open it, they find a new pair of pyjamas for each of them on the doorstep.
Downstairs in the kitchen, which has the feel of below stairs in a grand country house, the cream four-oven Aga cooks both turkey and a rib of beef for Christmas lunch. «It takes for ever,» says Fremantle «Nobody sits down to our Christmas lunch sober.»
Cream tiles, reclaimed from the New York subway, line the kitchen walls; the floor is of hand-cut Purbeck stone; and the tiled central island with a top and drawers in reclaimed teak is lit by Jamb’s Scholar’s Lamp, based on one in the V&A library. The built-in wall cupboards, painted a lovely brownish-yellow shade, have exposed brass hinges.
The same cupboards are to be found in the dining room, where an Arts and Crafts table, designed by Edwin Lutyens for a yacht, is surrounded by benches.
The Painswick-stone fireplace in this room competes to be the one beside which the family will place a carrot for the reindeer and a tot of brandy. Upstairs, the Breche-marble fireplace in the main bedroom is the eye catching centre piece of a calm scheme, with a brass bed, a tall chest of drawers and a curvy caned sofa.
The room epitomises the style that Fisher has pioneered with Jamb and his website Hawker Antiques – using antiques in a pared-back, almost minimalist way reminiscent of how English interiors look in 18th-century conversation piece paintings.
«Preseeents!» say Eliza and Monty, when asked what is the best thing about Christmas. Freemantle remembers creative childhood Christmases with her mother, a make-up artist on films such as Chariots of Fire, decorating the house and making costumes for dressing up.
For Fisher, too, presents made by his father, a university lecturer and painter, are the strongest Christmas memories. «Without getting the violins out, there was not a wealth of money, but a great wealth of creativity,» he says.
«He made a fantastic fort for my brother, with a working drawbridge and a removable dungeon… unfortunately the hamster got stuck in the dungeon for weeks before he was rescued.»
No doubt this house will also be the scene of memorable and creative Christmases for Eliza and Monty to recall in years to come.