Dawn Ward - Christmas decorating with the Real Housewives of Cheshire favourite
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 December 2019
Interior designer and Real Housewife of Cheshire Dawn Ward believes that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and this all starts at the front door.
Dawn Ward is quite possibly one of the busiest women in Cheshire. Just a short visit to her grand home, near Alderley Edge, leaves me reeling.
There is a camera crew here, filming a piece for the Philip Schofield show, How to Spend It Well At Christmas; her personal assistant is trying to speed up a delivery of clothes that's running late; her Christmas decorators, Liverpool company The Festive Decorators, are checking in for her approval on their work; her housekeeper pops in and out, quietly going on with her work; and her make-up artist waits patiently while Dawn moves from one group of people to the next. 'Is it always like this?' I ask. The response is an eye-roll from her PA; 'It never stops,' I'm told.
When she's not filming, Dawn - who has a reputation for being a formidable businesswoman - also juggles projects for her interior design company with her newly launched PR and marketing agency.
Dawn and her family - husband Ashley, retired footballer, and four daughters Taylor, Darby, Charlie and Aston - live in a beautiful country house, built in the late 19th century and positively packed with Victorian Gothic glamour. It's inarguably stunning at any time of the year, but at Christmas Dawn steps up the glitz an extra notch. 'For me, Christmas is all about family,' she says, 'And especially the children. I have four of them and so like the whole house to feel really Christmassy.'
So how does an interior designer brief her decorators?
'It's all about first impressions,' Dawn says. 'I'm not one for clutter, lots of little trinkets and such - it has to be big and bold. When the door opens to my home, you know immediately it's Christmas-time at Warford Hall.'
The entrance to Dawn's home could have been designed specifically with Christmas in mind, with a stone archway just begging to be given a lift with scarlet baubles and lights. Add a spectacular wreath and job done, you'd think. But no, Dawn adds a touch of whimsy in the form of two super-sized Nutcracker soldiers that certainly add weight to her preference for big and bold. Next, as the huge wooden doors open - a garlanded open fireplace, and the first tree. 'I have a lot of trees!' Dawn laughs. 'It's a big house and needs a lot of filling! We have very high ceilings, so we need big trees and I always love to load them up. Choose your colour scheme, then start with the lights and just layer up as much as possible. Unfortunately I have an allergy to Christmas baubles, something in the glue affects my hands, but I work closely with The Festive Decorators, agreeing my colour schemes and then directing exactly how I want it to look.
'My youngest children have trees of their own, in their bedrooms, which they can decorate however they wish, but I hide when they do it, as the interior decorator in me just screams, "No - it's not symmetrical!"'
The first tree to greet visitors is a vision in scarlet and silver, with lights glowing from within and baubles and bows of all shapes and sizes. This colour scheme is carried through into the main hallway, from which a grand staircase leads and in which a beautiful open fireplace stands. Both mantle and staircase are garlanded with colour, and candles flicker on the hearth.
But don't feel that you have to stick to one theme throughout: Dawn's changes in her kitchen with a move to softer shades of gold and ivory - another fabulous tree taking up space in the snug. The wood panelling gives it the feel of a chic Val d'Isere ski chalet. You can only assume a fair amount of après ski goes on in this space.
'I love the smell of mulled wine,' Dawn says, 'But I don't like to drink it! I always serve it though, as I think it makes the kitchen smell amazing. People can often forget fragrance when planning their Christmas décor. For me, the scents of Christmas are as important as the sights. I have scented candles and diffusers throughout, with proper Christmassy fragrances. It's all about creating an ambience.'
So what's the ambience like on the day itself? How does Dawn, whose love of family is well documented through the hit ITVBe show, Real Housewives..., do Christmas?
'It's very traditional,' she says. 'I will spend all of Christmas Eve chopping veg and preparing for the next day, then we all go out for a pub dinner. We love a proper country pub! Afterwards, we all get our pyjamas on, open a bottle of Champagne and gather in front of the fire with a tin of Quality Street to watch a film. I am quite strict with my kids about sugar - but at Christmas all rules can be broken. It's their one little window of the year when they can just eat what they want. One tradition we have is that I have a little personalised box for each of us, which I fill with little gifts and treats and that we open on Christmas Eve - the kids get more excited about this than the big presents next day! We leave out a glass of port and a mince pie for Santa, then head to bed.'
On Christmas morning the family gather for bacon sandwiches and presents.
'We don't spoil our children through the year,' Dawn says. 'I think when you've got a lot of nice things in life it's harder to make your children appreciate this. But at Christmas my husband is a nightmare… they have so many presents, because we just want to make it magical, that one day.
'I'm an only child and I wanted children all my life, so for me Christmas is huge. I want to make it special so that they'll only ever want to have Christmas at home, with their mummy!'
Christmas dinner chez Ward resembles that of pretty much every family's across the county. Roast turkey - husband Ashley's speciality - with giblet gravy, a roast rib of beef with red wine shallot gravy and all the traditional trimmings.
'There are usually about 18 for lunch,' Dawn says. 'I love to create a really cosy, warm ambience in the dining room. Tall centre decorations, lots of candles, beautiful glassware, flowers and quality crackers - it's all about creating the right atmosphere.'
Afterwards the family plays board games - although Dawn has banned some over the years, as competitive instincts can lead to rows. 'Ashley and I can fall out!'
It sounds all too familiar.
Indeed, the Ward family Christmas looks just like every family Christmas - lots of love, lots of laughter and lots of time spent together - and lots of sparkle and shine.