Interior stylist-approved tips for prepping the perfect Christmas tree and table.
Interior stylists know a thing or two about decorating and prepping for a stylish Christmas. So is there a right way or a wrong way to decorate your tree and set your table? Traditional or kitsch? Sparse or loaded? Three leading stylists inspire us with their festive plans and expert tips.
“My table this year is one of my most personal settings ever,” says Court. “My daughter has a lot to say about how it looks. She likes ‘fabulous’ [i.e. things that sparkle], so it will be littered with tinsel and the decorations from the tree.”
Court looks to nature for inspiration for her theming, and always incorporates fresh flowers, foliage and flotsam and jetsam found when beachcombing and on bush walks. “I love to have something fresh on the table, like herbs or flowers. I whip around the garden with a pair of secateurs and forage, too.”
A considered mix of well-loved and the new imparts a sense of nostalgia. “The colour palette may shift every year, but there are items that always come out,” she says. “I use a mix of my favourite plates and platters and hand paint the place cards. It’s lovely to invest in linen napkins in a favourite colour that can be used all year long. I wrap a ribbon or some foliage around them to create a table that makes my guests feel extra special.”
And Court’s piece de resistance this year? “I’ve made my own bon-bons,” she says. “They come complete with bad dad jokes!”
Lucy Fenton, Fenton & Fenton
For Fenton, the perfect Christmas table should look anything but, well, Christmassy. “I love a colourful and relaxed table, so I always steer clear of traditional festive colours and decorations,” she says. “The table should set the mood for the day, so it’s important it looks warm and inviting, not staged.”
Allowing personal style to impact every element is key to the perfect setting says Fenton. “I naturally lean towards colour, so I use bright playful glassware, contrasting napkins and placemats, and finish with cute bon-bons. They are always fun,” she says.
When conceptualising her styling, colour comes first. “I always have a prominent colour in mind because it’s a good place to start,” she says. “When styling, I start from the bottom up – placemats, then cutlery, napkins, and glassware. I finish with some festive cheer in the centre of the table as well as greenery or florals snipped from the garden. Always remember to leave plenty of space for the food.”
The secret to perfect table styling, says Fenton, is restraint. “Don’t go overboard. It will only make your guests feel uptight. Have fun and be creative. I love chatting to everyone, so there is never set seating at my table. I want everyone to feel perfectly at home.“
“I love a pale green fir tree,” says King. “It’s so nordic and elegant, but when choosing a colour for your tree, there are no rules. Opt for one you love and that suits your interior. I’ve had pink, black and now white.”
For King, when it comes to plastic versus real, sneezing and sniffles, not pools of dropped needles, dictates. “My family is very allergic so I’m condemned to a lifetime of plastic!” she says. “I’ve learnt to embrace it, but a real tree growing in a pot is my dream.”
First step after fluffing the branches, says King, is to generously decorate the tree with fairy lights, starting from the top and working your way down. “It ensures they are evenly distributed, right back through to the trunk so the whole tree shimmers. Then load your tree with decorations.”
For on point styling, combine inexpensive embellishments with precious, vintage and contemporary styles. “I include golden oldies with new ones,” says King, “and every year I add to my collection, but there is always one constant – the paper angel I made in kindergarten. She is my only tradition. I add her to the top of the tree last. She is the icing on the cake.”
As for the most dreaded tree trimming faux pas? “A mean tree,” says King. “Never skimp on decorations. Christmas is all about abundance and giving, and your tree should reflect exactly that.”
Every year, a couple of months before Christmas, Court begins her search for the perfect tree. “Last year I found a large piece of bamboo that had lost its leaves and was the perfect shape,” she says. “This year, I was at my weekly flower market and found some old pruned fruit trees with perfect vertical branches.”
Court’s growing collection of ornaments is a treasure trove of Christmases past. “There is a lot of storytelling in decorations,” she says. “Every year I buy my daughter Silver some special decorations to mark the year, and it’s lovely to watch her rediscover them. It’s special to keep sharing these stories.”
As well as layering the old with new, Court and her family create their own. “Last year I painted canvas and cut out seahorses that I pegged to the tree,” she says. “This year I copied painted monarch butterflies on to art paper and cut them out and hot glued them to the tree. Our Christmas tree looks like a butterfly migration!”