Christmas Under Glass

The Moore family has the ultimate holiday escape in their backyard: a sparkling new greenhouse.

Christmas Under Glass
Photo: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn; Styling by Brian Carter

As a working mother, Elizabeth Moore knows the value of a peaceful escape. Downhill from her home in Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts, she built one: a wood and glass conservatory just above the high tide line. "When the tide comes in, you can hear it splashing and feel as though you're on a yacht," she says.

Currier & Ives couldn't have invented a better place to celebrate Christmas. Filled with pots of paperwhites, a tall fir tree, and boughs of cedar, it's a fragrant holiday retreat. Thanks to a heating system that runs beneath the limestone floors, it's also warm, even on the coldest New England days.

Local architect Stephen Holt helped the Moores design and build the conservatory on the site of an abandoned shed and greenhouse. Standing upon a low, shingled base, the glass building opens onto a stone patio with stunning harbor views. Inside, built-in furnishings have an elegant nautical feel (pillows on the sofa recall signal flags), underscored by yachtlike mahogany walls that wrap the tiny kitchen. "I studied a lot of interiors from yachts and ocean liners," Stephen says. "It seemed fitting, because in the 1920s many large yachts came into the harbor here."

Hidden surprises and fine details distinguish the space. A wooden cornice with carved molding hides blinds that can be lowered to block bright sunshine. Folding shades built into the ceiling provide additional protection. It's particularly beautiful at night, when nearly invisible lamps suspended between fine lengths of wire bathe the conservatory in a warm glow. Stephen designed clever folding dining tables that hook onto the walls, as they would on a yacht, and open to seat up to 10 guests.

When Elizabeth was pregnant with her fifth child, she dreamed of building a scenic retreat where she could listen to the waves and stare out at the water. "I remember thinking back then that I could come here and put my feet up." This Christmas, surrounded by her family, with tree decorated and presents wrapped, she'll do just that.

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