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Decking their halls with dazzle

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The Horber family loves Christmas. Their house in Stouffville makes that beautifully, dazzlingly, festively clear.

With baubles and branches, wreaths and reindeer, candles and cushions — not to mention countless Christmas trees in sizes tiny to tall — every room radiates holiday spirit.

Catherine-Lucie Horber, husband Marcus with their children Madeline, 10, and Olivier, 4, in their living room decorated in rose-gold tones for the holidays.
Catherine-Lucie Horber, husband Marcus with their children Madeline, 10, and Olivier, 4, in their living room decorated in rose-gold tones for the holidays.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

“It’s whimsical and fun,” explains Catherine-Lucie Horber, who spent days enhancing her home for the holidays. “It makes things different from the rest of the year.”

Horber, an interior designer, and husband Marcus live in the 11,000-square-foot, contemporary country manor with their children Madeline, 10, and Olivier, almost 5.

Catherine was born in Montreal to French parents and Marcus was born in Belgium to Swiss parents, who now reside in the couple’s attached 2,400-square-foot, in-law suite.

The multicultural family has continued the older generation’s “magical” Christmas traditions “to keep the flame alive with our children and ensure (the spirit) gets passed on,” Catherine says.

One of those rituals is Marcus’s treks to the woods for a tree, which started when he was a child.

“We head to our local, traditional tree farm … equipped with snow pants, toboggan and tree saw to pick it out,” he explains.

THEN: "I'm like Clark Griswold," says Marcus Horber, out hunting for the perfect tree with wife Catherine-Lucie and then-baby Madeline in 2008.
THEN: “I’m like Clark Griswold,” says Marcus Horber, out hunting for the perfect tree with wife Catherine-Lucie and then-baby Madeline in 2008.

“I’m like Clark Griswold,” Marcus jokes, referring to Chevy Chase’s bumbling father figure in the 1989 comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “The tree has to be the right shape with no holes in it, seven or eight feet tall, and a balsam fir.”

Decking the halls, and adjoining rooms, doesn’t require making a list and checking it twice, according to Catherine.

“I just go with the flow. I have fun with it,” says the avid Michaels shopper who stores her ever-expanding collection of decorations in what young Madeline calls her dad’s “sausage room” — the cold cellar.

Catherine, whose GTA-based firm Royal Interior Design Ltd. does residential and commercial projects, says she usually advises clients to keep the same theme throughout “for flow.” But this year she broke rank with her own advice and opted for a different theme in each room of her home.

Holiday magic hapens ? in tones and shapes that work with the Horbers' existing decor ? on tables, counters and available surfaces.
Holiday magic hapens ? in tones and shapes that work with the Horbers’ existing decor ? on tables, counters and available surfaces.  (Rene Johnston)

The living room, for example, is a “winter wonderland” showcasing a pair of snowy-looking trees and arrangements of shimmering balls in golds, rose golds and white.

In contrast, the kids’ main-floor playroom is toned down in old-world style, incorporating elements of nature in a red-and-green colour scheme.

“I love vignettes,” Catherine says, explaining the how-tos of a tabletop arrangement in one hallway. Created around a trio of different-height trees and lustrous ornaments, the display takes its colour cues from the aqua-and-teal painting above it.

The same hues appear in the family room where an artificial tree laden with oversized adornments erupts in a “whimsical explosion of colours and textures,” says Catherine.

Oversized ornaments and a teal colour scheme are Catherine-Lucie Horber's choices for this year's Christmas tree in the family room.
Oversized ornaments and a teal colour scheme are Catherine-Lucie Horber’s choices for this year’s Christmas tree in the family room.  (Rene Johnston)

This Christmas may be the family’s last in the custom-built residence the couple designed themselves eight years ago. Catherine and Madeline’s passion for horses and riding has triggered the need for a new house with a barn and pasture.

A trio of realtors from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada has been tasked with finding a new family for the Horbers’ current home.

With multiple indoor and outdoor amenities, it’s the “perfect house” for entertaining in style, winter or summer, says Paul Maranger, co-listing agent with Christian Vermast and Maggie Ma.

On Christmas Eve, the family will join Marcus’s parents for a European feast of homemade onion soup, salads, cheeses and charcuterie with Austrian linzer torte for dessert. Christmas Day will see them host a sit-down dinner for 20, starring Marcus’s brined and sausage-stuffed turkey on Catherine’s dressed-to-the-nines dining table. Festivities will include a gift exchange, movies and non-stop classic Christmas music.

Madeline, offering a preview of her frothy, sparkly holiday dress that matches the living room decorations, is excited about the gathering.

Madeline, 10, in the kids' room that features a tree in traditional Christmas colours and shapes.
Madeline, 10, in the kids’ room that features a tree in traditional Christmas colours and shapes.  (Rene Johnston)

“I like it when the whole family comes and eats and celebrates together,” says the youngster who started her holiday events in November when she took part in a craft show and sold handcrafted bath products and T-shirts she makes in her arts and crafts room at home. Part of the proceeds goes toward a gift for a disadvantaged child.

Catherine built her own business “from humble beginnings” 10 years ago after spending 11 years in the marketing sector of the corporate world. Now, Royal Interior Design donates full design services every year to a family in need, whether it’s a struggling single parent or new immigrants.

Catherine says she’s teaching her children that “hard work pays off … and when you are blessed you need to give back.”

And what better time to celebrate those values than Christmas, according to Marcus.

“The whole holiday for us is about relaxing and enjoying family — giving thanks.”

Presenting Christmas

OUTSIDE: Reindeer ? including a life-sized twig creature with a collar of stockings ? decorate the Horbers' front step.
OUTSIDE: Reindeer ? including a life-sized twig creature with a collar of stockings ? decorate the Horbers’ front step.  (Rene Johnston)

Designer Catherine-Lucie Horber shares her tips for holiday decorating:

  • Combine similar objects of varying heights in groupings of three.
  • Hang wreaths in windows for quick and easy holiday decor. Or use a wreath to adorn the base of a lamp.
  • Create a centrepiece or accent by filling a bowl, vase, tray or glass jar with Christmas balls or other seasonal items.
  • Dress up a hallway, corner or bathroom by assembling a vignette composed of different sized objects in colours pulled from their environment.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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