Take a Sunday drive along the winding roads of Westport, Weston and Wilton in fall. The trees are a masterpiece of red, orange and yellow leaves. Catch sight of a historic Colonial with three pumpkins on its porch steps and then a Victorian with an apple tree in the side yard and pots of mums along the walkway. Area homeowners know about living the good life in the turn of seasons: family traditions, fall food, and, of course, embracing New England beauty. Here's your inspiration to create a warm, welcoming home.
This 2005 shingle-style home, designed by John Fifield, is anything but demure. At 6,600 square feet, this Chestnut Hill home luxuriates in its woodsy setting. The owner says she most appreciates that it is "very bright and airy.” She explains, "There are many windows at the back of the house facing the wetlands; the display of color there can be pretty impressive. I also love looking out front as the grasses take on the fall tint.”
With the perfect setting to enjoy the color changes of fall, seasonal decorating is a snap. "I keep things pretty simple, so fall 'decorating' is usually a few pumpkins on the steps and a giant mum in the planter on the porch. If we have people over for dinner, I try to get a giant spray of golden shower orchids (Oncidium Orchids) and put them in a tall vase. They feature all of the fall colors but are a bit out of the ordinary."
What makes the house a home? Food, of course! "Sunday night is Special Dessert Night in our house, and come fall, no one minds if the oven heats up the house," says the owner. "Two of my favorites at this time of year are Nigella Lawson’s Plum and Pecan Crumble and Julia Child’s Freeform Fresh Apple Tart."
This 1959 Cape Cod is a petite 1,229 square feet and only six rooms. Yet, it's eye-catching, with an abundance of personality. Landlords Jane Green (who sometimes uses the place as a cozy writer’s retreat–her latest novel is Family Pictures) and Ian Warburg hired Joe Laria to handle the renovation. “Every builder that looked at the house said it was a teardown, but we were convinced we could preserve the size and make it beautiful," says Jane. "The biggest transformation, and the one I love the most, are the French doors lining the front of the house, opening up onto a raised grass terrace." Indeed, part of the allure is its setting near Compo. "The beach in fall is lovely—the summer crowds have gone, there’s a nip in the air, and a brisk walk with the dogs on a day when the sun is shining bright and clear, is fall perfection."
As the season changes, Jane switches up the decor easily. For example, she lists, "Baskets filled with logs, throws on the sofa in warm honeys and caramels. Baskets by the fireplace filled with gourds, and bird’s nest-like twig baskets surrounding white pumpkins. Birch vases filled with creamy pale orange roses, or piles with oranges and pumpkins." For entertaining, she uses either large glass vases filled with cranberries and walnuts or hazelnuts, burgundy candles of assorted heights, and cake plates dripping with lush purple grapes. "I love baskets filled with pumpkins under the porch so the water doesn’t get to them, and on old houses, tiny little gourds above the front door," she adds. "I’m not a huge fan of chrysanthemums so I tend to avoid them, using old wooden troughs filled with dried heather instead.”
Keeping it simple works beautifully. "A blazing fire and a few scented candles are all we need, plus extra-deep squishy sofas and lots of pillows to sink into with a book and a glass of wine," she notes.
Part of enjoying the season is sharing it. "We gather people in our home, everyone congregating round the kitchen island helping to cook, sitting by the fire," she says. “The rustle of the leaves on a walk through Trout Brook, then home to a big fire and comfort food like casseroles and stews.”
For a taste of enjoying fall the way Jane does, she graciously shared her recipe for Pumpkin Gingerbread.
Jane Green's Pumpkin Gingerbread
This Pumpkin Gingerbread trifle is insanely delicious, and too dangerous to make more than once a year. I often buy a gingerbread mix which cuts the preparation in half, and doesn’t make any difference to the flavor, however if you want to make the entire thing from scratch, here is the recipe:
Ingredients for the Gingerbread:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
- Butter and flour a 10” Springform pan. Heat oven to 350°.
- Stir together flour, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt in a container.
- Mix sugar with oil, juice, molasses, eggs, and fresh ginger in a large bowl. Mix in crystallized ginger. Stir in flour mixture. Pour into prepared pan. Then bake for an hour. Cool this for ten minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely.
Pumpkin Custard Ingredients
- 3 cups half-and-half
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups puréed pumpkin, or about 1 1/2 cans
- Scald the half & half in a heavy saucepan (which means take it to the edge of boiling, them remove from heat).
- Beat eggs, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Mix in pumpkin and half-and-half. When it is smooth, put it in buttered baking dish, which you then put into a bain-marie: put dish into larger baking dish, and fill larger dish with hot water to about 1” below the rim of the custard dish. Bake this at 325° for 50 minutes and start to check it. You want a set, firm custard, then a knife inserted into the center should come out clean. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
- To assemble your trifle, get your trifle bowl out—I do have a couple of gorgeous crystal bowls left over from my wedding gifts all those years ago, but glass is fine too.
- Whip one quart heavy cream with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, then fold in 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, and set aside.
- Get 1/2 cup of gingersnaps or gingersnap crumbs.
- Spoon 1/2 of the Pumpkin Custard into the bowl and layer 1/2 of the gingerbread over that and 1/2 of the whipped cream over that. Do it again. Top the final layer of whipped cream with gingersnaps, or gingersnap crumbs, and, if you like, drizzle with Calvados.
©Photographs by Olson Photographic