The chicest way to deck the halls (sustainably) this Christmas

·8-min read
 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

OK, so it might not be the Christmas we all wanted. Silly season might be feeling more like sneezy season and that Christmas Eve pub trip might be off, but there’s still one part of the festive period that Omicron can’t take away: that bit behind closed doors.

Order in the crackers and dig those dusty decorations from the attic - Christmas this year is all about getting cosy and being grateful for what we do have. In most (lucky) cases: an oven, a sparkling tree, and a dining table calling out to be spruced up with candles and Christmas cutlery - even if it’s not for as many loved ones as you’d hoped.

Stuck for inspiration? London’s chicest interiors experts have some suggestions up their (sequinned) sleeves - and they don’t mean running out to the nearest supermarket and filling your basket with tinsel.

This year, the key to Christmas decorating is to be kind to the planet and use what you already have, whether it’s sweet-smelling saffron buns or twigs from the garden. From sustainable table-scaping tips to sprucing up the plants you already have in the house, here’s how to deck the halls in a kinder, greener way.

The dining room: Beata Heuman

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

As a mother, I’m very aware of creating traditions for my children like my mother did for me. Something I get from my mother is the idea that less is more when it comes to decoration. And Christmas decorating doesn’t have to be about buying lots of new plastic items.

I’m Swedish, so baking is a big part of my family Christmas - and food makes one of the most powerful decorations of all. It’s sustainable because you’re making it anyway, and it evokes all the senses, not just sight. I always make these Swedish saffron buns called lusse bulle - making them is nostalgic for me, and the saffron makes them bright yellow so they look beautiful on the table. They smell amazing, too.

Talking of senses, decorating doesn’t just have to be about things you can see. For me, it’s about anything that changes the feeling of the space: candlelight, playing music, warming some mulled wine that gets the smells going. Sound and lighting are such a simple way to change the mood. A room in candlelight feels very different to a room lit with spotlights. We have a traditional candle-holder with small brass angels that plays the sound of bells, and a German wooden candlestick we bring out every year. Buying something classic that you can reuse year-after-year is so much more special than buying new candles every Christmas.

Nature is another fantastic tool for Christmas decorating. A friend of mine from Italy uses olive trees, something a lot of Londoners have in their garden. It’s become a bit of a tradition for my family now, too - we cut big branches off the olive tree in the garden and hang them from four hooks in the ceiling. It’s such a simple way of using something a lot of people already have to create a really interesting effect that’s quite natural.

It’s not really the season for cut flowers, but something my mother always did at Christmas was buying some single hyacinth bulbs in early December so they’re flowering by Christmas and smelling beautiful. It doesn’t take up much space and it’s not expensive - I get a real kick out of seeing them grow.

Do... keep all your Christmas decorations. It’s much better for the environment and helps to spark traditions - bringing out my traditional candleholders and baubles every December is one of the most special parts of Christmas. We’re slowly building a collection of precious pieces that we can bring out year-after-year.

Don’t... just go to traditional decorations shops. Garden centres and nurseries often have lovely collections - that’s where I’m getting my baubles this year - and museum shops are another great spot for finding something a bit different. The V&A shop has an amazing Christmas collection and I saw some really fun items at the Science Museum last weekend.

The table: Alice Naylor-Leyland

 (Alice Naylor-Leyland)
(Alice Naylor-Leyland)

I couldn’t see my mother or my sisters for Christmas last year so the real joy of this year will be sitting around the table with them. That’s what we learnt in lockdown: the dining table was the one place you secured everyone in one space. It’s nice to make a bit of effort there.

For me, Christmas tablescaping is about having those centrepieces you bring out every year, then changing the colours or theme around it. I find it really charming bringing out those friendly faces year-in-year-out: that nutcracker I bought four years ago with my daughter, the little wreaths made from preserved boxwood that I bring out every year, rather than fresh ones which die.

 (Alice Naylor-Leyland)
(Alice Naylor-Leyland)

All you then have to do on top is add a little layer of newness - one little special item, candles and lanterns, or even just the colour scheme. I’m actually very into blues and greens this year. It’s a little bit off-piste, but actually easy to use throughout the ear. I’ve made some green reindeer with blue nutcrackers and have some glass emerald trees, which I’ll be able to use again in the new year and in autumn... There’s a multi-use feel to it.

As for floral decorations, you don’t have to use fresh flowers - there’s so much flora and fauna that you can just find outside, which looks really lovely indoors. Spraying twigs works brilliantly - I tend to get some twigs from the garden and spray them gold and silver and it brings a lovely tonal feeling to the room. Bowls in the middle of the table filled with nuts and pinecones also work well. I even think bowls of limes look beautiful - it adds texture.

 (Alice Naylor-Leyland)
(Alice Naylor-Leyland)

Do... plan the table early. If you’re a busy person, prepare your table on December 20 and then don’t think about it. I’ll know what plates I’m going to use, set them aside, and try not to get the kids to eat off them the night before, then it’s a much more enjoyable day because I’m not wasting time thinking about the table. That’s the nice thing about the table - you can get it all ready in advance.

Don’t... overthink it. There’s no wrong when it comes to tablescaping at Christmas - whatever you do or whatever traditions you have, it will look right.

The living room: Bay Garnett

My main advice when it comes to Christmas decorating is to buy really special decorations that’ll last you a lifetime. I’ve had the same ones for 20 years and there’s something really lovely about getting the decorations out and spotting one you particularly love. Everything comes with memories attached. It’s the same with the tinsel, which I’ve had for ages – every year it gets thinner and there’s a knot in one end, but it’s personal.

Obviously, you’ll occasionally have to replace things that get broken - Selfridges and The Conran Shop are two of my favourites - but it’s all about well-chosen investment pieces: treat decorations like you would a really special piece of clothing.

I also love Christmas flowers – I have some gorgeous red berries and holly that I’ll be putting out this year. Fresh flowers – poinsettias, pot plants. Ultimately, go with whatever is fun, whatever is easy.

Do... replace items occasionally, but invest in statement pieces that’ll last you, rather than buying new items every year.

Don’t... be too serious about it. Go for whatever feels fun.

The tree (and the garden): Alex Eagle

Lots of my family’s decorations have been handmade by the children, and most of our toys on the tree are felt - I love the padded fabric ones. They’re all things the kids can unwrap on Christmas Day, then they can go on the tree the next year and be played with all year round. We also have some iconic decorations from my studio, including one that says ‘I mean the dream’, and we reuse old crackers as decorations on the tree. We have some Skye McAlpine marble crackers, which I love.

As for the tree itself, I don’t know why the tradition is still to import temporary trees that we then get rid of. I prefer adding fairy lights to existing trees and plants - fairy lights give them a twinkly silhouette and make anything feel more special.

I also like using the garden as much as possible. Putting a sheepskin over a chair outside looks fun and cosy and makes it a lovely spot to have a mulled wine or hot cider – or even just a cup of tea. December is often actually quite mild, so it’s a really lovely time to be outside before the cold really sets in in January.

Do... get the children involved. Handmade tree decorations are some of the most special.

Don’t... limit yourself to just the Christmas tree. You can decorate other trees and plants in the house and garden too.

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