Interiors stylist Mary Norden – who helped bring our Christmas campaign to life – reveals her tips for creating a fuss-free festive feel at home.
Set your theme
The golden rule for decorating and preparing for Christmas is: choose a theme and stick to it. You don’t want an overload of too many styles or ideas. It will just look a mess. This year, you could opt for a glamorous beaded look with plenty of sparkle and metallic touches, or you might prefer the more rustic, natural look with an abundance of faux greenery. And remember, it’s the little finishing touches that everyone loves – the imaginative details and the way presents and decorations are displayed that will make a Christmas more memorable. Making an effort to create original ideas is time well spent.
Add wow factor
Whether it’s the wreath on the door, the magical Christmas tree, the adorned mantelpiece, or the festive dining table, it’s worth making that extra bit of effort. After the front door, the hall is the next place you really want to make an impression and get everyone into the Christmas mood. Place large lanterns at the bottom of the stairs or smaller ones on table tops; pile a basket with cones sprayed silver, or in a glass vessel – the bigger the better – add masses of baubles and coils of fairy lights, and don’t forget the scented candle – of course, the essence of Christmas is Winter.
Think beyond the tree
Decorations are not just for trees. I like to hang decorations from doors and cupboard handles, in front of mirrors and at windows. It could be one simple star, or a mixture of baubles and other festive decorations tied together with a length of ribbon into one glorious bundle. Alternatively, decorations can be simply scattered over table tops, along mantels, and piled high in glass bowls.
Decorate with greenery
Some wreaths are almost too beautiful to leave on the front door. Instead, hang inside where they will create a focal point in a room, and where they can be appreciated. Hang on walls among pictures, above fireplaces, on cupboard doors, in front of mirrors and windows – this sparkle wreath is perfect. If you have the space, rather than one large wreath consider using two or three smaller ones in a row. Wrap garlands around stair banisters or drape along the edge of a mantelpiece or a door. I like to use several garlands with extra lights and decorations for a truly sumptuous effect.
Create a twinkling atmosphere
No Christmas is complete without lots of candlelight and garlands of fairy lights. Better still, try a pre-lit garland for a ready-to-glow look. If you have your main meal towards the end of the day, when it’s dark, aim to have lots of candles, not just on the table, but elsewhere in the room. Add some baubles to the table to help reflect the light. Drape fairy lights over mirrors and along mantelpieces, as well as using them to fill glass vases. Battery operated fairy lights are brilliant as you place them just about anywhere. And don’t forget to stock up on plenty of extra batteries for lights and matches for lighting candles. This might seem obvious but in the madness of it all, easy to forget.
Prep in advance
The dining table is the place where friends and family guests will spend much of their time on Christmas Day. It’s the big event. Although setting the table is likely to be the last of your tasks, it’s most definitely worth making the effort to create something special. It doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate, and can be done cheaply and simply.
When decorating the table, prepare as much as possible a day or two before, putting candles into holders, checking glasses and crockery making the table centrepiece, and even tying and decorating napkins, ready for each place setting. Check through all table linens, wash and iron, if required.
Dine in style
It’s wonderful to have a generous white tablecloth for a big meal, such as Christmas dinner – it creates a sense of occasion. If this is too much, lay the table with a simple narrow runner up the centre. Mats are not only practical, but help to frame each place setting. They do add an air of formality, particularly when combined with a tablecloth. Choose beaded mats for that touch of festive sparkle.
Add personalised settings…
I like to put in each place setting a little surprise. People love the unexpected. It might just be a miniature box or bar of fabulous chocolate, a scattering of glitter snowflakes, a tiny envelope, card with a personal message or name tag displayed in a lovely card holder, or a beautiful bauble tied with a name card, and finished with ribbon tied into a bow. If you’d rather keep it simple, tie rolled or folded napkins loosely with a generous length of ribbon and slip a sprig of ivy or rosemary, under the bow.
…and a centrepiece
A table needs a focal point. It might just be a candelabra, a couple of elegant candlesticks or a fabulous wreath with a lantern or thick pillar candles placed in the centre (another alternative use of a wreath). Another effective idea is to use a glass cake stand and pile with baubles and fairy lights (choose the ones with batteries).
For a round table, a single centrepiece is ideal. On a long narrow table, you may want to repeat a series of candles or arrangements throughout its length. Miniature Christmas trees alternating with candles look wonderful and couldn’t be easier. Or for several smaller arrangements, tie remnants of Christmas wrapping paper around jam jars, securing in place with string, raffia or ribbon, then fill with festive foliage. Consider using mirrored chargers to place your displays on, particularly those with candles. The lovely reflections with add extra twinkle.
Remember to keep any arrangements low, otherwise you will block the conversation across the table.
Display presents & cards
It’s not only the way presents are wrapped that is important, but also how they are presented. The obvious place is under the tree, but I also like to use all sorts of different containers for stacking gifts into, from log baskets and wheel barrows for larger presents, to bowls for smaller ones.
I think the nicest way to display cards is to peg them to a length of braid or ribbon strung across a wall. You could also add a few small Christmas decorations to hang among the cards.
Don’t forget the finishing touches
Create pretty vignettes on sideboards and tables, and along mantelpieces and shelves. Fill glass vessels with baubles or foliage, and group together with candles, either on sticks, or in metallic holders, and add a scattering of Christmas decorations. Fill pretty cups, elegant glasses or tiny baskets with sweets and chocolates, ready to be passed around either with coffee or for refuelling during party games.
Scent the house, particularly the hall, but don’t be tempted to burn a scented candle in the room during the meal, instead use unscented pillar candles and tea lights. No scented candle works with food. If you must scent the room, do so earlier in the day.