A few tips for effortless and stylish seasonal decorating
I officially allow myself to start thinking about Christmas the moment Halloween is behind us (since having children Halloween has suddenly become high on the agenda).
However, in reality Christmas and the holiday season is at the back of my mind throughout the entire year. Shopping for a living does mean that I’m one of those people who buy as they go. And whether it’s February or August I’m constantly picking things up for family and friends ready for the annual exchange of gifts.
In contrast, getting the house ready and decorated is only allowed to happen in the month of December, usually half way through, and usually any planning involved is very much last minute if at all.
People often ask me how I do it despite this apparent lack of forethought. To be honest there are no hard and fast rules. I know I am lucky in so far as I have collected many treasures over the years and my first rule of thumb is that I try to use what I already have as much as possible, even if it’s as a base for something new.
My second rule is go for “less is more” or “more is more”. Don’t get stuck in the in-between trap. Considered minimal or deliberately opulent both work brilliantly. Something in the middle not so much.
The first thing I do before going to dig out all the decorations in our “bauble store” (otherwise known as the pile of boxes in the garage) is walk around the house and pull out anything that can be freed up and used to fill with seasonal sprigs, flowers, lights, baubles etc. Bowls and platters that already sit happily in your home are a great foundation for seasonal decorating. You don’t need seasonal versions of items you already have on hand. Think out of the box, use champagne coolers (Ikea do a great one!) and load up.
I tend to stick to the same theme throughout the entire house. I like to make sure every room has decoration, whether a little detail or a direct repeat of the same.
If you live in a big house go for multiple trees. And if budget doesn’t stretch then go for matching foliage over a mantle or mirror instead. I once styled a client’s house for Christmas and we placed a tree in every bedroom dressed just with warm white fairy lights. I realize this is nothing radical in terms of decoration tips. But what made it work so beautifully was the constant repetition.
Repetition is absolutely key when it comes to design and no more so than when it comes to seasonal decoration.
If you think you need ten of something buy 30 (or even 50). I am not joking. Buying many of one is always better than buying a few of many. Trust me it creates continuity and without fail gives the impression of understated and relaxed luxury. Mixing and matching is also so much more successful if you have many of one item and you mix it with more “manys” of another.
On the subject of fairy lights, these should not just be reserved for the tree(s) I use them on mantle pieces, stairways, over mirrors, around bedposts, in foliage, under conches and in bowls. And I always use exactly the same lights everywhere, warm white (no flashing). When the house is lit with fairy lights it’s amazing how it becomes magical. For extra impact use mirrors, and not just mirrors that are hung on the wall. Try plain mirrors on table and sideboard surfaces to reflect the light for magic overload.
If you have no room for a tree or you don’t have a mantelpiece, use a fallen branch. As a teenager I picked up a branch that has now hung in our house every Christmas ever since. It has been hung from the ceiling, over a modern “hole in the wall” fireplace, above the Christmas lunch table, above the front door, on a plain wall, over a mirror – the list goes on. It has been strung with fairy lights, glass baubles, small gifts. It’s staggering how versatile my simple brown branch has been.
I tend to keep things neutral and natural, adding trends in colour or texture.
I spend money on pieces that I know are going to be with me for years and spend little on annual additions that I know are very much “of the moment”. I add to my baubles collection every year, buying clean basics in bulk rather than a pack of these and a pack of those. You’ll find treasures in the most unlikely of places. Many years ago I picked up some hand blown white glass baubles from Habitat. I must have about 100. They have been a base for decorations ever since and have travelled round the globe with me having now featured in our last five homes. I also buy one or two of what I call Heirloom pieces. One for each of my children. These usually end up on the children’s tree.
Giving the children their own separate tree to decorate solves the problem of what to do with all those inherited. gifted, sentimental decorations. The children’s tree in our house tends to end up in the kitchen and it’s a case in point of “anything goes”. Along with helping them make their advent calendars for each other (we choose a different theme every year) decorating their tree has become a not to be missed for anything else annual event.
When choosing flowers, fauna and foliage I once again opt for a mass of one variety rather than a little of a lot of different varieties. I go for a different main flower every year. Orchids, heathers, simple gyp have been favorites over the years and again all in quantity and repeat throughout the entire house.
When we are really busy at PAPER+WHITE I enlist the help of my fantastically talented friend Mathew at Dickinson & Doris to help with our house decorating. Mathew and I met over 15 years ago and have worked together countless times (in fact so many times I have lost count). He brings with him, not only his beautiful friendship, but also his amazing talent (as well of course as flora and fauna). And together we and the children just play at making magic together.
And for my final tip, which is more of a general design tip and not exclusive to decorating for the holiday season: whenever I design a home, whether mine or a clients, I try and find a place for what I call a central table. This is usually referred to as a library table and can be placed anywhere in the house albeit a hallway or centrally located room is preferable. What I love about library tables is that you can dress them seasonally. At Christmas they call out for perhaps another tree. At Halloween or Thanksgiving, a pumpkin display. At Easter huge vessels with spring blooms. At family birthdays, loaded with cards and gifts. If you only have the time or inclination for just one project make it this one. It’s the perfect considered and effective way to set the tone for whatever the season.
4 of the best places to shop for decorations this 2018 season
Anthropologie for the expensive and the unusual - the heirloom type stuff, I purchase one or two per year and just keep adding each year.
Cox and Cox for the quirky and on trend (big for London buses and London themed decs this year)
Rowan and Wren for the tasteful, laidback and vintage inspired.