The idea of nosing around someone else’s house in the Artists’ Open Houses festival is even more attractive at Christmas because there is the promise of mulled wine.

So tempting is the proposition, says Judy Stevens, Artists’ Open Houses director, that when she used to open her house every November and December, some visitors forgot about the art.

“One year we were so busy we didn’t have time to make any mulled wine,” explains the illustrator and painter. “We had someone come down and say I came especially because you make such good mulled wine. She was terribly disappointed.”

Still, Stevens believes the big draw is that buyers can meet the makers and artists to discuss the work they have created.

And because the Christmas Artists’ Open Houses – in 65 houses and studios over the next three weekends – tends to attract handicraft-seekers (jewellers, ceramicists, rather than serious collectors, it means gifts often come with a story attached.

“It adds something if you know the person who has made it. Also you can ask questions about how they make their work and their ideas behind it.”

The other advantage is shoppers can buy new one-off designs without a retail mark-up because the event acts as a stimulus for makers to produce new work.

“You get unique presents in a cosy environment, not mass produced supermarket gifts in a bland shopping experience.”

For Stevens, however, two large events twice a year (the other date is inMay) mean she has had to take a break from exhibiting.

“I haven’t had time to do my own work and there is not much point having an open house if you haven’t got any new work to show.

“Also, you get to a pointwhere you need a break. It’s exhausting having to convert your house into a gallery, having to do all the cleaning, touch up the paintwork. Sometimes you just think I can’t face doing that again.”

One man who never runs out of energy is Victor Stuart Graham.

The front of his terraced Newhaven home has become a magical Victorian grotto with real goose feather trees.

Among the vintage decor is his work made from driftwood found on the beach, which he converts into quirky scenes. As with many of the Christmas houses, the house will host other exhibiting artists.

Jonathan Aiden, Carol Butler, Wanda Sowry and Rosemary Jeanneret will join Graham.

“It’s worth a visit for the experience,” says Stevens. “There are old German Christmas tree decorations, some of which you can buy and some are an installation.

"And Victor is a great personality.”

Unlike in May, when there are 255 venues, Christmas Artists’ Open Houses doesn’t function in trails. It’s possible in three weekends to start on one side of town and work your way across, taking in all the houses.

Other highlights include number 23, the boiler roomin Embassy Court, Hove,where Circus Kinetica have jewellery made from old clock parts, a pair of life-sized African Cranes and other curios powered by their own energy for sale.

And number 48, Gill Varle & Guests, will see the paper sculptor’s four-storey venue filled with sculpture, art and crafts – including ceramic artist Alice Walton’s bird cages – organised around a courtyard with palm trees.

*Houses open weekends from Nov 26 to Dec 11. More information from