The Christmas Farm

Anne and Matt Ware find a longed-for Currier & Ives lifestyle in Durham.

By Meadow Rue Merrill
Photographed by Erin Little
Styled by Janice Dunwoody
Six years ago, Anne Ornatek and Matt Ware went house hunting — or, to be more precise, farm hunting. Ornatek had two images in mind: In one, their families were gathered around the table for holiday celebrations. In the other, she and Matt were gliding on skis over fields and through woods, their dogs bounding through the snow alongside them.

“I always had a dream of living in a farmhouse, and he always had a dream of living on lots of land,” Anne says. Their dreams began to come true when they pulled up a long gravel driveway in South Durham and saw an 1824 Colonial house and three-story, gambrel-roof barn. “It was the marriage of everything we hoped for.”


One year after moving in, the couple built a dance floor in the barn and invited friends and family to their wedding. A few years later, they welcomed their daughter, Grace. All the while, they were steadily — and pluckily — transforming the house into the home of their dreams (during the renovation of the ell, where the kitchen is located, Anne cooked their meals on a panini press and washed dishes in an upstairs bathroom).

The Wares selected materials that complement the house’s historic architecture, such as wide plank pine for the floors, slate (from Sheldon Slate Products in Monson) for the countertops, and beams salvaged during the renovation and reused to build the kitchen island. Big W’s Carpentry, of Raymond, did most of the construction, including building the cherry cabinets.

New England Joinery, of Monmouth, built the dining room table — big enough to seat 16 — from reclaimed barn boards. Anne rescued mismatched chairs from her in-laws’ farm and painted them a unifying mossy green. Likewise, she chose furnishings from many different sources, putting an emphasis on comfort.

Among the benefits of living in an old house, the Wares have discovered, are the people who drop by unexpectedly to share their connections to the place. One woman who came to their door was born in an upstairs bedroom. Another visitor recalled an exceptionally cold winter when he helped carry chicks from the barn into the parlor.

The Wares have named their home “Snow Meadow Farm” after the Snow family who lived here during the latter part of the 19th century. But among family, it is simply “The Christmas Farm.” That’s because each December, the Wares cut a tree from their woods and gather kin to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s very Currier & Ives, with our nephews and nieces skating on the pond,” says Anne. “We always take a walk in the woods, and there’s sledding. It’s the kind of place where I enjoy having guests.”

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Meadow Rue Merrill

Meadow Rue Merrill is a Down East contributing editor.