Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home
As I said in Friday’s post, it’s still hard to know just what Christmas is going to be like this year. If the infection rate continues to fall we may see life opening up a little more but even so, I think it’s clear that it’s going to be a much quieter one spent at home – if we’re lucky with the people who are closest to us. I know that I’ve found myself thinking more about our house and the way I’m going to decorate it than I have for years. For so long now, the run up to Christmas has been such a mad whirl of events (usually business related ones that I don’t really want to go to) that I’ve been quite formulaic about my domestic efforts. With Mr MC’s presidential functions to attend, I was so shattered by the time we hit December last year that I only put one Christmas tree up which didn’t go down well with the boys. So this year I’m determined that if we’re going to be spending more time than ever before at home, it’s going to feel like an elvin wonderland. Today I’m working with John Lewis & Partners and rather than talking about gifts or party outfits, I’m going to use the time to think about interiors.
Christmas decorations have always been a big thing for us. As you know when we met we were both working at Selfridges and so we spent a disproportionate amount of our year working on Christmas. While I was busy travelling to exotic locations shooting the Christmas magazines and brochures poor old Mr MC spent months locked away in the dark with his team, creating the Christmas windows along with supersized decorations for the inside of the store. Everything was built by them in the Paddington workshops and from March to September he used to walk through the door at night scattering glitter everywhere. The eldest was convinced that he worked in Santa’s grotto – and in a way he did because that fell under his remit too.
Whereas his installations were health and safety tested, the ideas that I used to come up with after working with stylists were always more about instant effect. There were numerous occasions in our early years when we came close to disaster – the time that I coiled ‘Selfridges yellow’ rope lights in our very modern living room and went out leaving them on, only to return later to a house filled with smoke and melted plastic. Then there was the year when both sets of parents were staying with us for Christmas. I ran rectangular vases filled with dishwasher salt down the length of the table as we had on my magazine shoot. As we sat down to eat, I stood pencil thin candles in the salt and lit them with a flourish. The effect was magnificent, it looked like flames over ice… until we realised that I’d bought fast burning tapers rather than candles and within minutes the dishwasher salt went up in flames… which was more of a glowing effect than I’d intended…
In later years came the pet disasters – I’m sure we all have stories of those. There’s the year when I spent ages wiring robins onto each branch of the tree. We came home one afternoon to what looked like the scene of a robin massacre and a guilty looking Gary* with a mouth frothing with feathers. Another year we dashed in with the Christmas cheeses, dumping them on the pew in the hall because we were late to pick up the meat from the butcher. On our return we found him with his head hung low as pools of camembert and stilton vomit fragranced every room.
(*for the sake of new readers I should clarify that Gary was our previous dog – not a guest with disordered eating!).
There are so many stories of Christmas disasters and each time I remember thinking that Christmas was ruined and yet when we look back now, they’re the memories we treasure most. As always, this year I’m convinced that everything will be perfect – and I’m not going to dwell on the fact that we have a young pup in the house who’s never seen Christmas before. So anyway here we go, some thoughts about Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home.
Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home – The Tree
It can be hard to justify new decorations when you’ve lived in a house for a long time. As I mentioned before we have two trees – one for me and the boys and one for Mr MC. You see for him, a Christmas tree is all about aesthetics – it should have a theme, preferably in a single colour and everything should be balanced symmetrically so that it has structure and shape. For the rest of us, the tree is the embodiment of the riot, colour and chaos of Christmas. So, we have one tree in the living room in the old part of our house which we festoon with all of the baubles that we’ve collected over the years along with some really old ones that I inherited from my mum and dad. We add the little Christmas bits and pieces that the boys made with so much care at primary school (and yes they’re a bit tatty now but they’re precious) and on the top goes the 1970s plastic angel that my grandma bought me. It used to crown our tree when I was growing up and every year we used to roll our eyes as she said, “you’ll have that angel when I’m long gone and you’ll think of me.” But she was right, I do.
As you can imagine, for the man who used to be in charge of Christmas at Selfridges, this tree is an annual insult – especially as it’s the one that people see through the window when they walk past. His tree goes in our modern extension at the back of the house and for the last seven years it’s been minimally decorated with just a few Scandi felt baubles that meet his approval. But I have to say that when I look at it, it always makes my heart sink – so that’s the one I’m going to gently ‘augment’ this year.
The interiors mood this Christmas
You’ve probably noticed from magazines and newspapers that the mood for interiors at the moment is based around the theme of sumptuous embellishment. Walls are dark, often covered with richly patterned wallpaper and sofas are piled high with textured cushions and throws in velvet, fur and homespun knits. It reminds me of the theme of decadence that was prevalent during the TB epidemic in the Victorian era. If you look at the art and interiors from that time (Pre-Raphaelite would be the nearest UK equivalent) everything was dark and claustrophobic, mirroring the fact that so many people were cloistered inside – and there’s a similarity with our current circumstances there.
It’s a very dramatic look but I can’t help thinking that as soon as we vanquish this virus there will be a move towards everything pale and clean again with light and airy colours. So I’m suggesting caution around heavy redecorating schemes, it’s wiser to opt for less permanent forms of embellishment such as cushions, throws – and glorious Christmas trees.
As you know, every year John Lewis & Partners come up with a series of strong themes and if you have a mismatched approach to Christmas as Mr MC and I do, it can be a way of finding harmony. This time the Christmas team at JL&P have taken their inspiration from art movements. I particularly love the Bloomsbury theme…
… and confess to adding a cat that reminds me of my Rosie to my collection (for my tree)…
… along with some books – for obvious reasons.
There’s also an Art of Japan scheme for lovers of Christmas red
… and this is where I get distracted because as soon as I spotted it I had to buy this bauble for the youngest. When he was little we often used to walk past a display that had one of these cats and he always waved back at it. I wondered if he’d have forgotten but he smiled as soon as he saw it.
Mr MC’s favourite this year was the Pop Art theme…
… and this dinosaur has joined our main collection too for the eldest – and you’re beginning to see why Mr MC calls mine the ‘mad tree.’
If you’re a thematic sort of person you can browse through all of the different Christmas themes here. I also find it can help if you filter by colour too so that you don’t go down too much of a rabbit hole.
Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home – upgrading an existing scheme
When it comes to Mr MC’s tree, to keep him happy I’m going to stick to his red and white theme and rather than adding any more baubles to the ends of branches, I’m going to boost it by adding some depth. I’ve bought the slim garlands below to boost the circumference:
I’m going to add a few of these robins further into the branches (and hopefully they won’t appeal to Ted as much as they did to Gary). I know Mr MC will approve because robins make him think of his dad.
And then I’m going to use my mum’s trick of placing Christmas crackers deep in the branches to catch the twinkle of the fairy lights. I always festoon an extra set of lights around the bottom of the tree and on Christmas Eve when I put the presents out, I wind them around so that the paper glistens.
And that, for this year, will be as far as I go – slowly slowly as they say! If you’d like more ideas on how you can update your tree without blowing the budget, you can find a guide from JL&P here.
Amplifying the Christmas table
The next focus for me this year is going to be the table – and there will be no dishwasher salt in sight even though I don’t think it’s flammable any more. Every year I mean to set everything out on Christmas Eve but by the time we get back from the panto the evening is always packed with the last minute things that I need to do. In the end I usually end up delegating the task to a boy on Christmas Day and the result generally depends on how keen he is to get back to his presents. This year the cosy dining room that we usually keep for winter breakfasts will (yes it WILL) be restored to use. The ceiling was plastered on Saturday, now we just have a long wait for the floor sander… and then the decorators… and then the curtains but we should just have it done in time. So, we’re going to have Christmas dinner in there for a change which is nice because it’s old and characterful.
I think for all of us the food that we serve and the time that we spend together eating it is going to be more of a focus than ever. This means that I’ll be looking for a table setting that lasts longer than the fresh greenery that I sometimes bring in. It also needs to be easy to move so that I can clean around it. I’ve been known to drive everyone mad by covering the table with tiny gold stars and then insisting that they’re individually wiped and put away on Boxing Day.
The simplest way to decorate the table and still have room for serving dishes is to festoon the middle with fairy lights, interspersing them with tiny trees or glittering baubles. Obviously you need to think about the colour of the cable as well as the lights. These gold lights with their warm white bulbs would be lovely, they’re also available in silver if you have a cooler theme.
You could then weave in tiny treescapes like this (although they’re selling fast so be quick). There are single trees too so it’s a buildable scheme.
JL&P have done this along the whole length of the table on a bigger scale than I’m suggesting here and you can see what a lovely effect it has.
Alternatively you could intersperse the lights with some of the animal decorations such as these reindeer… actually both trees and animals would be nice (bear in mind that the deer is 19cm high and the trees are 26cm)
There are lots of other creatures to browse though here or you could just use shiny baubles with your fairy lights instead. The good thing about a table scheme like this rather than the usual fresh flowers is that it lasts and so you can bring it out year after year – or reconfigure it somewhere else because Christmas hotspots are another thing that I’m thinking about.
Creating Christmas hotspots
Decorate dressers like this but don’t forget corner spots – I think this is a brilliant use of a simple star light to brighten up an otherwise dark corner:
Coffee or bedside tables can house little tableaux too. A vase with a stick of greenery from the garden that has a few baubles added is all it takes but note that the vase and candle below are both metallic so that they pick up the light (I’m smiling as I type this because some very old friends of mine worked on these JL&P shots and I know their ways so well).
Here’s another example of the way you can use quirky little details in unexpected places in addition to your main scheme. My bird phobia is much better than it used to be but I think I’d prefer the cheetahs and chameleons to the parrots. You have to be quick with the quirky decs though because these have all sold out already.
And this is such a stunning way of decorating a small space like a hallway. All you need is a classic garland, a selection of baubles and lots of florist’s wire – it’s much easier than it looks. The neon star on the small table is great value and again brings light to an awkward space.
Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home – micro-events
So yes, we’re going to have to work a bit harder at Christmas this year to make it stand out but if we do, it’ll be worth it. I’m hoping to spend lots of time sitting around the table because that’s where our best moments always seem to happen. I’m planning to lure the boys in a few different ways. Firstly with food occasions – we really enjoyed the rum evening that we had during the first lockdown where we cooked different types of Brazilian food to go with the eldest’s cocktail recipes. This time I’m thinking we’ll try some of these easy ideas on different days and make mini occasions out of them:
- Sake and sushi
- Fondu and burgundy
- Charcuterie with sherry
- Another Latin American night but with tequila this time
- Pasta and cantucci with prosecco, sugared almonds and marsala
- Sausages and sauerkraut with German beer
- Gyros with retsina
You’ll notice that all of these are quick to pull off and yet they make a change from the usual Christmas fare. Each time we sit down to one of these meals I’m planning to bring out a different game. We’ll play our old favourites but I’m also adding a few new ones to the mix and I’m thinking about getting one as a present for each person, choosing it so that it will appeal to them specifically but still be a gift that everyone can share.
The eldest has kept on mentioning this since he played it with friends in the summer…
This one appeals to me because the youngest has a running joke that ‘old people’ (us) don’t get memes – bear in mind that it says it’s an adult game though.
Colour Brain will be the fast fire one for Mr MC…
And for the middle son it would have to be this Mega edition of Monopoly that is exclusive to John Lewis & Partners, even though I swore last year that we’d never play it again because it tears us apart as a family. I’m wondering if my soul would be soothed by the fact that you can be the JL&P van – much more exiting than an iron!
And of course a jigsaw puzzle with all of the pieces laid out always draws people to it. I bought this one during our flurry of jigsaw love in the last lockdown but we didn’t get round to it so I’m looking forward to getting it out at last.
And there’s one last thing to tell you about which are the measures that JL&P have taken to improve the sustainability of their Christmas offerings. They’ve removed all glitter and made sure that all of their wrapping paper is 100% recyclable but I just wanted to show you the lovely reusable gift bags that they’ve developed with designers such as Preen and Giles Deacon – so much better than having bin bags full of wrapping paper that so often can’t be recycled.
And that’s enough from me today on the topic of Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home. I hope it’s got you in the mood for planning a smaller Christmas that’s perhaps richer in experiences. If you’d like more interiors inspiration you can look through the winter edition of JL&P’s At Home magazine here. I’ll be moving onto gift ideas next week but in the meantime their Christmas gift guide is here. Have a good week – with all of this planning to do lockdown will be over before we know it.
Disclosure: ‘Christmas 2020 – how to make it feel special at home’ was commissioned by John Lewis & Partners but as always, I had full control over everything that I decided to talk about. Thank you for supporting the brands that have enabled me to keep on bringing you Midlifechic throughout 2020.
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