The holiday season is a perfect time for people who love entertaining and festive decorating to open their hearts and homes for a worthy cause. And for some gracious homeowners, it's an opportunity to show that charity really does begin at home!
Cooking for a cause
Inviting eighteen guests to a gourmet dinner is no big deal for Lesley Holmes and her husband Bill Kitchen who are passionate entertainers. Of course, it helps that they will have a professional chef in the kitchen and they live in a splendid new home on Dows Lake that fits the bill for a grand event.
What is a big deal for the couple, who are active on the charity circuit, is that the dinner will benefit the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation in its development of the region's first centre for cancer survivorship. By taking part in a Celebrity Chefs Club dinner, they invite paying guests to eat, drink and be merry in the spirit of giving.
"Having lost three of our parents to cancer in three years, this is a no-brainer for us," says Lesley. "It's so easy to open up your home for an event that raises money for a fabulous cause - it turns an evening with friends into so much more."
When the chef performs his culinary magic in their designer kitchen, he should feel right at home with the high-end DCS appliances which include a six-burner gas range nestled into a stone wall. "We both love to cook, so a lot of our building budget went on the kitchen and it's spectacular," says Lesley who has a family of two young kids at home and two older adult children.
The modern two-storey house was finished earlier this year, and the open-concept main floor design is ideal for entertaining large groups of people. A high wall of windows that soars to the second level offers an amazing vista. Guests who want to stay close to the kitchen can opt to hang out in the large living area, or the adjoining gathering room with a fireplace and a walk-in wine cellar which stores about 1,600 bottles and features a barrel ceiling.
For those who want to be in the heat of the action, a long 10-foot island topped with Brazilian river rock is an ideal spot to sit and sip. From here, guests can not only learn some cooking tips but also admire the gleaming white cabinetry and many special features of the kitchen, such as the handy warming drawer.
As an added bonus, Lesley plans to decorate early for the holiday season with a 12-foot Christmas tree. She wants to create a welcoming ambiance for the dinner where she will use her own 20-place dinner service. Everything else, including the chef's time, the serving staff, all the food and wine, are donated, so that 100 percent of the proceeds go directly towards building the Wellspring Ottawa centre.
Geoffrey Morden, the new executive chef at the Ottawa Convention Centre, participated in the event last year and is looking forward to offering his time and culinary skills at his next Celebrity Chef assignment. He explains that the menu is determined through dialogue with the host and by the facilities in the home.
"It depends very much on what the hosts want to do and who the guests are. As a fundraising event, there is a strong social element to the evening and last time I suggested a cooking demonstration prior to the actual dinner. So, the guests had cocktails while I prepared some hot appetizers."
He adds that there is no fixed plan on what type of meal is served. The objective is for the guests to have fun while the chef supplies, prepares and serves the food and drink, then cleans up and disappears without any mess or fuss.
Another lovely, but very different, home on the Rideau River opens its doors to charity as part of the 8th annual Homes for the Holidays. One of six homes on the tour, which is a major fundraiser for the Hospice at May Court, this unique residence combines an eclectic mix of modern design with an English cottage décor.
Margot Rayburn moved into the cozy house six years ago, shortly after it was extensively renovated and remodelled. She thinks the older 1970s home was originally a cottage and it retains that feel even with a contemporary, open-concept layout that relocated the kitchen and added a new staircase to an upper level extension.
The main floor is very open and easy to view which works well for the tour. With access to the loft-style addition, visitors will view virtually the whole house which will be fully decorated, along with the exterior of the home.
"I'm so thrilled that Joanne is doing the decorating," exclaims Margot in reference to the owner of Mill Street Florist in Manotick. "She loves the house and was excited about decorating here because it's small enough to put something in every room."
As a preview of what is planned, the florist decorated the cast-iron wood stove which is set in a wall of red brick that rises up to the loft level where a balcony overlooks the main floor. She adorned it with topiary trees, a large fresh garland and a big green bough that hangs from a high wooden beam.
The fireplace is located in the black and white kitchen, standing in the middle of an open area which contains a dining room and small living space. Dark ceiling beams, extensive wood framing, rustic-style furnishings and a more formal, but comfortable, corner parlour give the home a warm, inviting ?appeal.
Described as a passionate collector of antiques, art and artifacts, Margot jokes that her home is a bit like a flea market with the display of all her treasures. She was flattered when her friend Liz Kaulback, the marketing co-chair of Homes for the Holidays, asked to feature her home on the tour and says she was only too happy to help out.
"It's such a wonderful cause and May Court is just the most beautiful place. Anyone who has ever had someone spend their last days at the hospice just cannot say enough good things about it."
Party with a purpose
For years, The Ireland Fund of Canada's annual fundraiser was a black-tie affair with a sit-down dinner at a big hotel. But, with gala costs escalating and ticket sales falling, the organizing committee decided to take the party home for 2010 and accepted the generous offer of Sean and Jamillah Murray to host the Emerald Evening at their luxurious house in Rockcliffe Park.
The spacious home was transformed inside and out to showcase an evening of Irish hospitality and entertainment. From the Guinness bar in front of the marble fireplace in the living room to a poolside wine and martini bar next to a stage with live Irish music, the guests had a ball! Irish dancers performed on a professional stage built in the home's lower level, silent auction items were displayed throughout the home and multiple kitchens catered to a full house of delighted guests.
Jane Daly, co-chair of the Emerald Evening, called the event a massive success and estimated that the majority of guests formed a new generation of supporters to the cause. "The overwhelming sentiment from partygoers, new and old, was that a cocktail party at a private home encouraged more socializing." She added that the donated venue and catering services increased the proceeds which benefited St. Patrick's Home Foundation and The Irish Cultural Centre.
Everyone wins when charity starts at home - the generous hosts and sponsors, the supporting guests and visitors and so many worthy causes!