Christmas decorating traditions are such an important part of the season. Regular living rooms can be transferred in a few hours (or perhaps many) into wintery havens in which to wile away the chilly days.
And, of course, no one does Christmas decorating better than the pros. The skills of interior designers—those of balance, proportion, texture, colour, etc.—seamlessly transition into the art of decorating. Read on for interior designers Charu Gandhi, Karen Howes and Natalia Miyar's top Christmas decorating tips.
Do you have any tips for choosing a Christmas colour scheme? Does it have to match your room's decor?
Karen Howes: I tend to do more traditional decorations in my entrance hallway and staircase and on our main Christmas tree as I love the vibrancy of red and green and then each room of the house has a slightly different theme. We have a simpler twig branch style tree in one area with very simple glass heirloom ornaments that we collect each year from Tiffany, tied with gorgeous blue ribbons, whereas in our family room we have a nature-themed tree with glittering silver owls and baubles in shades of frosted green and silver. The kitchen window is always dressed with branches of frosted red berries and then we have a large lit doll’s house cabinet on our landing that we call “The Mouse House” and at Christmas it even has a miniature wreath on the door and a family of Christmassy winter mice playing inside. It’s a favourite of all children that come to the house at Christmas.
Natalia Miyar: I change my Christmas colour scheme each year. My taste is always evolving and I like to try something different. I do like rich jewel tones for Christmas; garnet red or emerald green usually make an appearance somewhere. I work with a base of natural greenery and some soft metallics—golds, copper and pewter—so it’s easy to add a pop of the jewel tone I’m loving this year. You can tie in your decorations with your room decor with accent colours but it’s not necessary and sometimes it feels quite contrived and too matchy.
Charu Gandhi: We think it's lovely if the space and the tablescape [coordinate] as a part of that flows. That doesn’t mean it has to match, but picking up some connection, theme or making a conscious contrast that somehow actually works is great. In terms of choosing a colour scheme, start with the mood you want the setting to evoke, locate some images that capture this idea and then decide on the central piece [or pieces]. If you already own them, then work around them, or choose the main thing you have fallen in love with and build a scheme around that. Colours are an important factor, but then you can weave in texture and pattern.
What are some of your favourite festive themes and colour combinations?
KH: Fresh greenery in classic red and greens from the garden is always lovely, such as armfuls of trailing ivy and branches with winter berries, but if you don’t have these then the faux frosted alternatives are equally as beautiful. And I love the simplicity of white and silver frosted decorations, glittering stags and snow globes.
Each year I am tempted out in the sales to invest in adding to my already burgeoning collection of decorations and normally I try to add to the colour schemes I have and build on these. I then have to smuggle them past my husband and up into the loft before he notices and each Christmas he finds that he is bringing more boxes down!
NM: Lately I’ve loved working with variations on the classic red and green theme in different or unexpected shades and combinations. I use a generous natural greenery base—lots of fir, pine, holly—as I like natural scents and textures. It’s important to remember all the senses, not just the visual, particularly at Christmas. I have ornaments that I’ve had for years and that I pick up when I travel, usually in metallic shades so I can use them every year.
CG: Rustic neutrals; metallics; traditional tartan; burnt orange, copper and ivory; [and] peach, olive green and yellow.
Image Credit: Elicyon
Should Christmas decorating be confined to the living room? What are some ways one can trick out the rest of the home?
KH: Absolutely not—Christmas is a time for exuberance and excess! One of my favourite traditions is hauling the decorations down from the loft and filling the whole house with trees, twinkling lights and garlands.
I love my house to feel festive throughout and so I take decorations through all the main spaces downstairs highlighting key focal areas such as the front door, hallway and stairs and then do a lighter touch in the bedrooms. My daughter always has a small Christmas tree in her bedroom, which she decorates herself with all her mixed multi-coloured decorations that she adds to every year and it is magical for her to fall asleep whilst looking at all the colourful decorations and lights. She also puts out all her room decorations and this is one area that I am not allowed any stylistic input on!
Start by setting the tone right from the outside of the house and front door. I like to frame my front door with a lit garland around the outside and then a beautiful wreath hanging on it and lanterns and seasonally planted baskets either side.
I have numerous indoor wreaths which look gorgeous hung on top of mirrors and internal doors with wide red or navy satin bows. It is also nice to dress mantelpieces with swags and hearths with different heights of candles and lanterns. Next, dress the staircase handrail with lit garlands and frosting and LED candles in lanterns.
A top tip is to use rechargeable batteries throughout the house in timer candles which can be set to come on for 5 hours every evening at the same time and give a lovely warm flickering glow.
NM: I personally like to feel Christmas in every room. The entire house should look festive and inviting and smell like Christmas. In my entrance, I pile lots of pine cones in a beautiful bowl. In other rooms I use flowering amaryllis which is a strong symbol of Christmas for me. I use Diptyque pine-scented candles, but there’s a great variety of Christmas scents that are equally wonderful. The house should smell of wintry woods, log fires and forest pine.
CG: You can bring the festive warmth into other spaces. Light a Christmassy smelling candle in your powder room. A throw on your bed that picks up on your living room theme. And, of course, a wreath on the front door so you set the scene from the outside in.
Image Credit: LuxDeco
What is the trick to styling a Christmas tree like a pro?
KH: Choosing a tree always signals the start of the Christmas period for my family and is a real tradition. Never be afraid to ask to see your tree out of the net if you are buying a real one so you can check the shape is regular and even.
Lights always must go on first and getting an even spread is really important. I prefer warm white lights which give a soft golden glow, rather than the harsh light of bright white LEDs. In my opinion one can never have too many lights on a tree so definitely go overboard, but remember to plug in halfway round to check that you have an even spread of light!
Then start adorning the tree with shimmering baubles and ornaments, hanging the heaviest decorations on the larger branches at the bottom of the tree and then working your way up to the top, with progressively smaller ones as you go, this will prevent the tree looking top heavy and will give a proportionate spread of baubles. I generally like to balance out the extra special baubles so that they are visible and odd numbers always seem to work best. Short lengths of ribbon tied into bows make an elegant alternative to wire hangers for ornaments. I also like to add in some faux branches of frosted holly and berries for an extra layer of texture and fullness.
NM: I used to trim our family Christmas tree with my grandmother. She would direct me from the sofa where she sat patiently unravelling ornaments from the previous year. She taught me that the trick to a great tree is standing back to squint and make sure you have an even distribution of lights. With a glittery base of well-placed fairy lights (wrap the branches to hide the wires) you can’t go wrong. I lay out the ornaments organised by colour to make sure I distribute them evenly around the tree.
CG: Pick a great tree (whether real or faux) and think of it three dimensionally—bottom up and around, and think of the weight of items. Planning the tree base and lighting is a key start. Once you have these set up, you can start to imagine how the tree will come together decoratively.
People often forget how much the material you use to hang your decorations impacts the tree. You can either choose a transparent thread so it recedes into the background or make a feature of the material.
Most importantly, turn the styling into an occasion in itself so that you create fun memories. I feel that if you enjoy the process then the tree looks great no matter what.
What does your Christmas decor look like this year?
NM: This year, like so many, I am longing for comforting traditions. I will be using lots of shades of vibrant greens, emerald, eucalyptus and moss. I want to bring a sense of calm into my home after a challenging year so my decor will be rooted in the vibrant green shades in nature.
CG: I am planning to create quite a fun theme this year—we all need some light heartedness—with a mix of ceramics, hand blown glass, scalloped patterns & edges and bright pastels. Staying in is the new going out!
How does one create a festive table spread which feels different to a regular table setting?
KH: I like the dining room to have a frosted winter wonderland feel so my dining table is laden with different height vases full of frosted branches wound round with fine wire LED battery lights and hung with special ornaments which sparkle and glow. I go all out on my festive table setting and it gives me a huge amount of pleasure to dress the table for Christmas day with miniature nutcracker toy soldiers tied to napkins with red ribbons, home-filled crackers and layers of plates and under plates.
NM: Lots of greenery and lots and lots of candlelight. You can use the same plates and cutlery but by adding a sprig of fir or a pine cone at each setting you transform the table. I include food references for the season—dried fruits, fresh fruit, foliage and berries.
CG: I love using a tablecloth and just doing more of everything so a charger plate, and a plate for mains and starters, more glasses... Think of your table as an elevation and create different height points from your florals to your candles, glasses and even serving dishes.
I tend to avoid Christmas crackers as I think they are quite wasteful so instead we write wishes for the coming year for the other person on tags and pass them around the table as a surprise or some other alternative to the crackers. I really enjoy using pieces from my travels. I have a set of beautiful brass elements from Sri Lanka that “march” across the table sometimes or my silver pumpkins from Cambodia act as a type of cracker. I place each one on a plate with a small surprise inside for the guest. Using velvet ribbon to tie linen napkins adds a luxurious softness. I particularly like the ribbons from Berisfords.
Last but not least is the use of flowers, vegetables and foliage. You can use all or one. I think the freshness and movement that they bring to a table cannot be replaced by anything else.
Can you share your favourite go-to holiday dinner party menu?
KH: It’s always got to be a classic Christmas turkey and roast potatoes, with all the trimmings! My husband’s family are Italian and it’s the one day of the year that no rosemary is allowed!NM: I entertain year-round but I particularly love dinner parties at Christmas. It’s the one time people throw away the rule book and treat themselves. I like to serve lavish food—champagne and smoked salmon blini to start, beef Wellington... Finally an enormous cheese board followed by a chocolate tart. I love classic dishes at Christmas.
CG: We don’t tend to do a turkey for Christmas—we tend to do duck or goose on the day. My husband is Polish so, as per tradition, we celebrate on the 24th, Christmas Eve, with the typical 12 dishes in total, none of which can include meat. I don’t do the cooking myself. I always outsource it secretly so I can focus on the decor and prep.
I like a very colourful table with a variety of textures, so I tend to throw in some fresh dishes like a fig and pistachio salad, or beets and goat cheese salad. I think a sharing menu is so much more fun.