The simplest of festive decorations can sometimes be the most appealing, says interiors expert Katherine Sorrell
Who doesn’t love a natural look at home? And especially at Christmas, when present-buying, hosting guests, shopping, cooking and generally rushing around can all get a bit too much. Keeping your decorations simple and rustic is not only attractive and on-trend, but it also makes life easier and can be extremely cost-effective. Unpretentious and understated, natural decorations suit every home, large or small, modern or traditional, and make a fabulous, timeless alternative to commercialised glitz and glitter.
The centrepiece of this look, ideally, is a real tree, which is best bought from a good local stockist. Choose one that’s as fresh as possible, make a new cut at the bottom, and display in a stand (a wicker basket is perfect) that holds a reservoir of water – it could need one or two litres every day. (Tip: the Nordmann Fir holds its needles really well.) Decorate generously, but don’t overload your tree, and keep to a limited colour scheme (white, red, green and brown are all great), using natural materials (see box). And, if you wish to add a touch of sparkle, twine the tree with small, plain white fairy lights.
Feeling inspired? Spend a weekend making decorations with the family. Garlands of popcorn, nuts and paper strings of angels or snowflakes, or even gingerbread stars, all look adorable, and can be used everywhere in the home. Instead of shiny baubles, how about cutting simple shapes from felt and blanket-stitching them around the outside? Or making a wreath using clippings from the garden? Similarly, you can create wonderful decorations using sprigs of evergreens, ivy, pine cones (you could spray them with artificial snow), rose hips, dried seed heads and twigs (try lashing them together into a star shape). Or dry slices of apple and orange and tie them together with gardener’s string, adding cinnamon sticks and star anise. It will look and smell gorgeous. Of course, if you’re short of time, all these and more can be found in the shops, along with all sorts of irresistible decorations such as birch bark candle holders, driftwood Christmas trees and needlefelted and knitted owls, reindeer and robins.
When it comes to wrapping presents, choose brown paper and string, or lengths of fabric and cotton ribbon, rather than foil that can’t be recycled. Use cardboard luggage labels and bear in mind that children might enjoy potato printing the plain paper for a little embellishment – white paint looks fantastic against the brown. As for receiving presents, there’s nothing nicer than a row of knitted stockings hanging by the fire, perhaps with some printed hessian sacks – widely available these days – for larger gifts.
Fresh flowers are fabulous at Christmas – a gorgeous reminder of springtime soon to come. Hyacinths are classic (and their scent will fill your home), as are amaryllis and poinsettias. They all look particularly special in white, of course. Wrap pots in hessian tied with string or pop groups of them into a wicker basket; you can decorate the tops of the pots with silver moss.
Because this is a look where less is more, laying the festive table is easy. A linen runner or place mats, plain white china, clear glass (recycled and robust or cut crystal for a twinkle, whichever you prefer) and simple decorations such as bowls of pine cones or oranges studded with cloves, and perhaps a vase full of evergreens, twigs and boughs. Cosy, welcoming and unpretentious.
Finally, add candles, small and tall, in rows along mantelpieces, in the centre of the dining table, on simple iron candelabra, in advent displays – anywhere their flickering glow will make you feel happy. Alternatively, tea lights look pretty inside old jam jars, which is safer if you have young children around. Pop a mince pie in the oven and heat some mulled wine on the hob, and here it is – a very merry Christmas.