It started with a simple Christmas tree lovingly decorated by her mom in the lounge of their modest inner-city Pietermaritzburg home. Today Jeanne Clark’s Christmas decorations are the talk of the town
Monstrous wreaths, larger than life dogs with gigantic red bows, fresh poinsettias sprouting from pots, towering Christmas trees, cherubs, angels, baubles, candles, festive cushions, teddy bears, train sets and life-size Mr and Mrs Claus figures.
Everywhere you look there’s a nod to the holy season at the Clark’s stately Mount Edgecombe home. It is an enchanting wonderland meets London or New York-at-Christmas high street retail store – and more.
Quite literally jaw-dropping. I feel like a kid in a magical Christmas candy store where fairy tales do come true.
“I am a strong Christian and have always loved Christmas,” says Jeanne. “Being able to express the joy of the season through decorations has been my passion for as long as I can remember.”
Perhaps it’s because Jeanne and her husband – business magnate Ivan Clark (whose memoirs, The Bricklayer’s Son, have recently been published) – both “came from nothing” that the joy of going over the top at Christmas has such child-like appeal.
I remember as a young girl gaping in awe at the Christmas windows of iconic stores like Harrods, Selfridges and Galeries Lafayette. The Clark home takes it to another level, especially as each item in every room – yes, even the kitchen and guest loo get the festive treatment – has been lovingly collected and curated over the years.
Each one has a story and a memory for the once-upon-a-time 18-year-old who met her husband on a blind date and has been with him ever since.
“It will be 50 years next year,” says Jeanne. “We’ve been blessed with three children – Andrew, Catherine and Nicole – and eight grandchildren, and a life that has taken us around the world and given us such great opportunities.”
Jeanne says many of her decorations come from her dear friend Gillian Kaatze. “She was an interior decorator and lived all over the world with her husband who was CEO of Sun City,” says Jeanne. “She had a shop in Ballito where I bought a lot of my decorations, most of which were imported from America.”
She also remembers Ivan bringing home Christmas boxes and toys for the children when they were younger. “He often went to a particular shipping building in England and next door was a 365-days-a-year Christmas shop. He always bought something from there for the kids and me.”
Jeanne has also shopped at various Christmas fairs in the United Kingdom and America where, she says, they go “really big” on Christmas.
This year she has toned down her decorations by only doing two trees – one in the beautiful entrance hall flanked by wreathed staircases, and another in the informal lounge in the kitchen.
“I would normally do six trees, each with its own theme and colour palette, but because we’re not having Christmas at home this year, I decided to keep it simple. A lot of the decorations are still in our Christmas storeroom.”
Traditionally Christmas Eve was celebrated with a formal sit-down dinner at their home with family and friends. “For the children we always had a proper Santa Claus on Christmas Day. He had a sack filled with gifts for everyone and while we had lunch there would be a clown and jumping castle to entertain the kids.”
Even though they will be spending Christmas Eve at their daughter’s house with lunch at the Oyster Box on Christmas Day, Jeanne couldn’t resist decorating the snooker table with a magical train set for the grandchildren.
“I am so fortunate to live in the home of my dreams and to be able to share my fascination and passion for Christmas with a lifetime’s collection of joy,” she says.