Christmas on the Farm

A sure sense of style allows Cotton & Quill founder Mary Catherine Folmar to transform a utilitarian barn-like structure in Andalusia into a charming year-round country home, made all the more magical during the holidays.

Living room
Photography by Jean Allsopp

A little more than four years ago, Mary Catherine and Tyler Folmar purchased 94 acres of forested farmland near extended family in South Alabama as a getaway from Birmingham. With the idea of occasional weekend visits, the creative couple outfitted a pre-fabricated metal farm building as a simple country retreat. “We never intended it to be a full-time residence,” recalls Mary Catherine. “Then Covid happened just as were finishing, and we ended up staying there more and more.”

As the founder of Cotton & Quill in 2012, Mary Catherine has come to be known for the exuberant colors and striking patterns of her hand-illustrated textiles, wallcoverings, and lifestyle brand. Although she credits travels to Europe and Asia as her early influences, she believes getting in touch with the land and rural roots keeps things fresh. “Spending time on the farm is life-changing,” says Mary Catherine. “As a result, Cotton & Quill has recently evolved with more botanical prints and organic forms.”

The island’s blue base (Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore) with white-washed butcher block top anchors the kitchen. In lieu of island lighting, Mary Catherine opted for a pair of vintage crystal lamps finished with blue shades from Lowe’s. A recessed window above the classic farm sink and the horizontal wood paneling add old-world character. A sleek range hood pairs with Quartzite countertops to add a sleek touch. Blue-and-white bar stools are by Kenian.

“I’m surrounded by a natural world that inspires me, and almost anything I need to be creative is right outside my door. The landscape speaks for itself.”

–Mary Catherine Folmar of Cotton & Quill

Royal Doulton Toby Jugs and a wooden advent calendar tree from a recent trip to Williamsburg reflect Mary Catherine’s talent for creating unexpected combinations.

In the short term, Mary Catherine and Tyler are growing more of their own food, encouraging wildlife habitat, and adding greenhouses for citrus and winter gardens. As a lasting legacy, they are planting orchards of apples, pears, peaches, figs, and persimmons and reestablishing stands of native long-leaf pine.

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Every season brings its rewards, and Mary Catherine especially relishes all that the land offers up when Christmas rolls around. “I’m surrounded by a natural world that inspires me, and almost anything I need to be creative is right outside my door,” she says.

Christmas tree
The Christmas tree stands tall in a sunny corner of the living area where sloped ceilings rise to 12 feet. This year’s tree topper is an elf ferry from a great aunt, but some themes are repeated year after year. “My grandmother had a gift shop in Athens, Alabama, and she started giving me Christopher Radko as a child. I’m still collecting them,” says Mary Catherine. Ever balancing high with low, she hangs old-school tinsel and admits there might be a few “knock-off” ornaments hidden amid the branches.

During the holidays, the spirit of Christmas abounds at the farm. A dried magnolia wreath marks the welcome gate, while another wreath surrounding a cattle skull found on the property adorns an old barn. “I love balancing the unexpected with the traditional,” Mary Catherine says. With a knack for merging old and new, as well as personal and professional, she re-imagined a vintage wooden wreath originally from Colonial Williamsburg that had belonged to her mother Mary Nelle Clem. Pleased with the effort, Mary Catherine found a woodworker in Auburn to adapt and craft the form, along with wooden topiaries, and she now sells these through Cotton & Quill. She also produces ‘How-To” videos to create your own.

Dining table
There’s an art to both discovering vintage flea market treasures, as well as embracing new products by other up-and-coming designers that are sure to become an instant classic. Mary Catherine scores in both regards. A few of her favorite new things grace the dining area. The table and matching candelabras are Dunes & Duchess. The red leather tufted ottoman is from Van Collier. The chair from Mainly Baskets is a contemporary take on a traditional Irish high-back chair designed as a cocoon for nestling by a fire. It can easily be moved from dining to living area. The Cotton & Quill Napoleonic Bee in olive on velvet makes the chair uniquely Mary Catherine’s own.

Inside Mary Catherine and Tyler’s unassuming abode, the magic continues to unfold. The couple chose a sleek eye-level fireplace with a herringbone-brick inlay. Vintage gun racks supporting hand-carved walking sticks made by Tyler serve as the mantel, while a wild boar head swathed in greenery and stuffed with an apple is the “piece de resistance.”

A blend of old and new inspires the primary bedroom. Window treatments are a simple pleated design in a fresh pink-and-green floral. A vintage bamboo headboard from Mary & Wilma was refreshed with Woodlawn Blue by Benjamin Moore. A pair of contemporary swing-arm lamps are outfitted with Cotton & Quill shades. Hand-embroidered pillowcases and family heirloom needlepointed pillows dress the bed along with a vintage Suzani textile. Garland hanging on antlers and a portrait above the bed nod to the season.

Framing the interior walls required deep recessed windowsills that add character. “We incorporated tall doors with oversized knobs and added wide trim to create a more custom look,” Mary Catherine says. Everything is designed for ultimate flexibility. “It’s just us, so the dining room table doubles as a desk or dinner for two. But we can also set it for six or push it against the wall as a buffet for casual entertaining.”

Furniture placement defines the one continuous space and creates gracious scale and livability. The once-blank canvas of a pre-fab building is now animated with layers, details, textures, prints, collections, and, of course, color. And best of all, it’s where Mary Catherine and Tyler feel right at home.

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