A Cottage Christmas

For Dan and Evelyn Buckey, ’tis the season to celebrate with friends and family in one of their favorite places in the world — the village of Lakeside, Ohio.
Lakeside Chautauqua can be a quiet place in late December. The throngs of bike-riding children are gone. The ice cream shops are closed. It will be five months until this summer resort in northwest Ohio resumes its summer programing and the crowds come back. At night, most houses are dark.

But Dan and Evelyn Buckey are clearly at home in their 1920s cottage. A peek inside the enclosed front porch reveals a potted red poinsettia in each of the 12 windows and a white tree sporting brightly colored ornaments. The rattan table is set for dinner, complete with a red tablecloth, gold chargers and Christmas china. A white felt wreath wrapped in tiny white lights and decorated with red ball ornaments and tassels hangs overhead, functioning as a one-of-a-kind chandelier.

The Buckeys own five properties in Lakeside Chautauqua. The largest, a 110-year-old, three-story Edwardian on Lake Erie that they once operated as a bed-and-breakfast, has been their primary residence since Dan retired from his Birmingham, Michigan-based toy import and distribution business in 2001. (“I’m kind of like the real Santa,” he jokes.) One is reserved for the couple’s three grown children and their families to use in the summer. The rest, including the cottage we’re in, are rentals. The couple prefers to observe Christmas and the New Year in this three-bedroom, two-bath abode during the years when the children are spending time with in-laws. Dan notes that it’s cozier and easier to open and close up for the winter before heading south, perhaps to their Cancun timeshare, than the big house. And their affection for Lakeside is deep and longstanding.

It’s our favorite place in the whole, wide world — and we’re all well-traveled,” Evelyn says. “It’s so family-oriented. And it’s a Chautauqua, so there’s a spiritual aspect to Lakeside as well. It’s like the whole world should be. It’s like stepping back in time.”

The Buckeys acquired the cottage in the spring of 2007, after Dan struck up a conversation with the new owner and learned she and her husband planned to demolish the house so they could build a new one. The Akron native was horrified. The 600-square-foot abode was among the first to be built in Lakeside Chautauqua, and once inhabited by his father’s cousin, a Methodist pastor and onetime director of the community.

“Finally, Evelyn said, ‘We need to buy that house. We can’t see them just wreck it and send it to a landfill!’” Dan remembers.

The Buckeys purchased the structure and arranged to have it moved onto a new foundation on a neighboring lot. The next year they hired contractors to double the kitchen and add a utility room and spacious master suite to the back of the house; enclose the front porch; insulate existing walls; and update electrical wiring and plumbing. But they replaced all the windows with custom-made counterparts and retained the board-and-batten walls, yellow-pine floors and clawfoot tub in the bathroom. When a carpenter accidentally demolished a built-in corner cupboard in the kitchen, the couple had it rebuilt. The finishes and fixtures that could not be salvaged — the sink, commode and octagonal tile floor in the original bath, for example — were replaced with modern replicas or approximations of the originals.

“We picked everything that would be appropriate for the period that this was built,” Dan says. Exceptions can be found in the kitchen, where track lighting illuminates sleek appliances sandwiched between banks of white beadboard cabinetry, and in the master suite, which boasts sliding glass doors opening to a private covered porch and a large walk-in shower in the bath.

The Buckeys then decorated the entire house in a black, white and red color scheme. The result is surprisingly contemporary, what Evelyn describes as “Americana with a European flair.” She points out the painting of a cow in the kitchen, the photograph of a series of London phone booths in one guest bedroom, the American-flag window shade in another, the homespun star-spangled quilts and shams on all the beds. Dan admits that comfortably furnishing the rooms proved to be a challenge in this super-sized world.

“In a house like this, you have to buy little things,” he explains. “You can’t use big.” 

The Buckeys accomplished the task with a combination of antiques, custom-made pieces and chain-store finds. In the living room, an Ikea sofa and two armchairs — the sofa covered in a black-and-white floral slipcover, the chairs dressed in black-and-white-check counterparts — arranged around a coffee table with tooled-leather top offer inviting seating in front of the original wood-burning fireplace, while an early 20th-century, wrought-iron bed provides a sound night’s sleep for two in one of the original bedrooms. The other is furnished with custom-made, 30-inch-wide twin beds. The couple hired an Amish craftsman to make an equally narrow pine headboard that matches the one the couple found in a Chattanooga, Tennessee, antique store

 “We did start out with red bunk beds in here,” Evelyn says. “But they’re just not practical.”

“We had one broken arm with a kid falling out,” Dan explains.

If the Buckeys’ own children and 11 grandchildren were in town for Christmas, they’d be in their big lakeside home directing a nonstop celebration filled with traditions. The family would embark on a scavenger hunt around Lakeside Chautauqua, attend Christmas Eve services at Lakeside United Methodist Church, light candles on a birthday cake for Jesus, and don new matching pajamas. The next day, they’d dress up to sit down to a crown-roast dinner Evelyn prepared from scratch.

But the couple doesn’t skimp on decorations just because they’re alone in the cottage. We count three full-size Christmas trees, three crèches, 30 poinsettias and innumerable festive touches, from fresh flower arrangements to the ornament hanging from the center of each ceiling fan.

 “We had to put one [tree] outside because there just wasn’t room for another tree,” Dan says as he gazes at the tree on the bedroom porch. “But it’s lit, so at night it gives you the feeling that there’s another tree [in the house].”

“You can see it from the living room, even,” Evelyn adds.

Dan and Evelyn also host weekends with out-of-town friends and throw dinner parties for up to six locals in the kitchen or on the enclosed front porch. (Larger gatherings require pushing the living-room sofa against a wall and bringing out a collection of cane chairs for before- and after-dinner conversation.) They even continue to start new traditions. The latest is ending evenings by offering each guest a tiny cordial glass of plum wine.

“We tell them, ‘This is your goodbye kiss,’” Dan says with a smile.
Bourbon Brownies
When Evelyn Buckey asks friends and relatives if they’d like her to bring something to their gatherings, they usually request these decadent, bourbon-soaked treats topped with a layer of bourbon-spiked buttercream and chocolate glaze. They were guests’ favorite afternoon refreshment at the couple’s bed-and-breakfast.
For the brownies:
1 cup butter
2/3 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
¼ cup bourbon
For the buttercream frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon bourbon
For the chocolate glaze:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter over low heat in medium saucepan. Remove from heat and add cocoa and mix well with a wooden spoon. Stir in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each is added. Stir in flour, salt and vanilla and mix just until combined. Do not over-mix. Stir in nuts. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan. Pour mixture into pan and spread evenly. Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly from the center. Pour bourbon over brownies while still hot. Allow brownies to cool completely. Combine powdered sugar, butter and bourbon reserved for frosting in a medium bowl and beat until creamy. Spread frosting over brownies. Melt chocolate chips and butter reserved for glaze in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Spread thin layer of glaze over frosting, then allow to cool before cutting and serving. Serves 10 to 12.