There's no time like the holidays for get-togethers, and if we had our druthers, the Keals would undoubtedly be part of ours. The offbeat foursome of Barbara, a feltmaker, her husband Rich, a carpenter, and their boys Isaiah and Abednego, lives in the hillsides of Sussex, England, where they handcraft the fantastical hats and furniture currently on display in our Rockefeller Center gallery. And though it was their one-of-a-kind work that first caught our eye, it's their spirited stories and ideas on gathering—shared here by both Barbara and Rich—that make them the kind of family we'd truly love to celebrate with.
What is your idea of the perfect gathering?
"It would take place up on a hill or by the sea, and would involve a fire. We both come from large families, though in slightly different ways: I am one of nine children and Barbara grew up in a community of about 16 people, so we always invite everyone and have many friends we consider to be family, too." — R.K.
Of all you've hosted, which was your most memorable gathering?
"Breakfast the morning we set off to pilgrimage from London to Rome on foot. The table was filled with good food and steaming jugs of hot chocolate. When the time came to be on our way, everyone accompanied us to the door, helped put on our packs, handed us staffs and waved us down the street—the start of a 96-day walk." — B.K.
What roles do you typically take when playing host?
"We both like to cook, but Barbara is more absurdly excessive. She has a penchant for massive sculptural cakes. Chocolate and cream Andes Mountains being grazed upon by marzipan Alpacas, for example." — R.K.
"Rich is a hero of washing up and is always in high demand from visiting children. He usually has a game up his sleeve—the kind they'd never be allowed to play at home—involving wooden slides and sofa cushions." — B.K.
Barbara, tell us about your first get-together with Rich's relatives.
"I met them at his uncle's 60th birthday party, and we took the opportunity to announce our engagement. They are not a particularly tall family, so my 6' 4" height was some surprise. Forever slightly mischievous, Rich's brothers lined up and took turns climbing on a chair to give me a welcoming kiss on the cheek." — B.K.
Family and storytelling go hand-in-hand—is there a particular story that's told at your gatherings?
"Remembrances of a deeply rural life are strong in Rich's family: his grandfather steering the horse-drawn plough, his grandmother walking over the hills to school and the handmade Christmas presents their children received—a doll for each girl and a wooden toy for each boy." — B.K.
Last but not least—Rich, finish the following:
Our gatherings are never without..."big hairy ears and Harveys beer from our town brewery. We pass by each day on the way to our workshop and take deep breaths of the hops smell."
Guests are always asked to bring..."a willingness to embrace our chaos."
The music most likely to be on rotation is..."in winter, probably Hautbois, Stella Splendens or The Madness, if Isaiah has his way." — R.K.