Spruce it up for the hols

EVER walk into a neighbour’s house to deliver a box of biscuits at Christmas and find yourself agog at their decorations?

Whether you go for full-on American excess, a cheeky urban minimalism, or a Scandinavian haven of candlelight, craft and greenery, there are many ways of individualising your home at Christmas. We spoke to a fashion designer, wedding planner, and window display stylist about how they ‘design’ Christmas at home.

Ger Hanley

Ger Hanley is chief window designer at Brown Thomas in Cork City. Once she leaves at night, she’s a dry stock farmer outside Macroom, where she lives with her three children. Ger loves to bring nature into her farmhouse at Christmas. Greenery hangs from the rafters of her house.

She has angels dotted everywhere, not just on top of the tree. “You can position angels anywhere you want. Use more than one angel. Have them peeping out at your guests,” she says.

Her house will have holly on its internal rafters, but also on the tree. “Cut the holly as soon as you see the berries, even if its November, and place it in a bucket of cold water in a dark spot. That way, it will last through Christmas,” she says.

Just like cooks who say that all good dishes begin with quality ingredients, Ger says that if you want your tree to look well, “always pick a tree that is straight and that falls well. Be picky about your tree. It makes all the difference when it’s decorated. A Christmas tree should also be ‘pulled out’ branch by branch. Every last bit of it has to be extended before you start decorating,” she says.

Ger’s tips for decorating

1. Use at least two sets of lights on a tree. Most importantly, begin your lights in at the centre of the tree, near the trunk, so the tree glows from the inside. One set of lights should run up the middle, before you add to the outer branches.

2. Pick a decorating theme. Make sure that it complements the colour of the room in which it will sit. In our house, we have a few trees. The children have one that is full of their own decorations and then I’ll have my own baby.

3. Ribbons, ribbons, ribbons. People love bows, and making your own bows will really add something to your tree. Buy wired ribbon for the bows. Don’t be afraid to add ribbons to your baubles, and to add wired ribbons to the baubles instead of threads. Wiring will help them to sit better on the tree.

4. Your tree should tell a story, so don’t overcomplicate things by telling three stories. Each part of the tree, whether it’s the baubles, ribbons, etc, should all have a connection.

Paul Costelloe

Paul Costelloe admits to “love loving Christmas”. He loves using crystal on the tree to give it glamour and sparkle, and also loves plenty of ivy, laurel and holly. His family make their own wreaths at Christmas, getting out into the fields to find greenery.

“I have great memories of it as a child, myself. I always had to do it in my family, probably because I was the tallest. I remember shaking, reaching up to catch something with my arms stretched out,” he says.

Paul’s family love the tradition of buying the tree. Tree on roof, they all then head to the local for a drink to celebrate Christmas really beginning. Paul says his wife is the final arbiter on whether the tree is crooked or not.

Paul doesn’t believe in the perfect tree, but he believes in a colour scheme for the tree. He couldn’t resist telling us that his new jewellery collection, available in Keane’s and other jewellers, will look magical under the family tree this Christmas.

Paul Costelloe’s tips for Christmas decorations

1. Keep your lights natural, white or cream.

2. Use colour coordinated balls, eg all silver or partial gold and silver. Spread the baubles and decorations out evenly.

3. Ribbons. Ribbons. Ribbons. If you want your tree to look individual, go to the haberdashery and get some great fabric and make them yourselves. Use colours that tie in with your scheme.

4. Encourage your children to make their own decorations over the years. Your tree will then hold memories every year. I might look after the upper part of the tree but the children, when they were younger, would always have looked after the lower tier. The children’s handmade decorations become family heirlooms.

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly, aka Franc, is opposed to an entirely colour co-ordinated Christmas. For him, there’s nothing wrong with mixing up colour, but he loves miniature trees dotted around the house, draped with clear-coloured lights.

“Your main tree should be a talking point, not a perfect feature. This is your home we are talking about,” he said.

Peter, too, is a major fan of the festival, saying it’s the one time of the year that he always takes off to relax with his family.

“I’ve worked with a lot of multi-millionaires, and I often ask them what they would have done differently if they had their time over.

“Many of them have told me that they would have taken time off to enjoy Christmas with their family.

“They are normally so incredibly driven that they had refused to. They will never get that time back,” he says.

Peter says your house at Christmas should be an extension of your family and its personality. It should be fun.

“Fill the house with things you’ve made, things the children have made, these are interesting and unique.

“Our tree tells a story — if we, or I, am away in the winter, we’ll pick up a decoration from abroad or somewhere up the country, and so our decorations often remind us of trips, like a camel we got in Dubai”.

Franc’s decorating tips

1. Our kids love artificial snow on their tree at Christmas time and you can decorate the outside of the house with it this year, too, windows, doors, the lot. Children love to look at snow under light.

2. Personality, personality, personality. The tree should be full of little decorations that you love, not just a generic 20-pack of baubles that you picked up 20 years ago and that you don’t really care about.

3. The house should smell fantastic at Christmas time. Use cinnamon, orange and fruity candles to bring light and fragrance. Candles make a room so inviting. We go mad with candles at Christmas time. It looks magical, yet cosy. Long-taper table candles will also make your Christmas table look very elegant and unique.

4. I love to use lots of fairy lights everywhere. Inside and outside. Hang baubles on trees outside, too. They will look great under the lights by night.

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