Interiors: A magical setting for Christmas

The table was laid, the tree sparkled and there was tea by the fire before bedtime. Alanna Gallagher and her team of elves sets the scene for a very special evening


We’re told it is the most wonderful time of the year but let’s face it, most of us hardly have time to keep our homes tidy never mind turn them into winter wonderlands. Distractions abound. It’s party season and precious free time might be better spent at events than stuck at home untangling tinsel and lights and wondering where the tree fairy has gotten to. But a home decorated with heart and some ingenuity will make memories for children, and thrill adults alike. The trick is to not to overthink it, to do a bit of planning and to have a lot of fun along the way.

To start with, make your home smell Christmassy by choosing a real tree, says Orla Keane, a stylist and lecturer in interiors at DIT, who with Sarah Lacey and Daniel Rogers decorated the tree (pictured) with bronze and silver baubles from Arnotts. “A warm take on woodland featuring hanging berries, flowers, owls, elves, acorns and pinecones in bronzes, metallics and mercury glass is very now,” she says.

“When dressing the tree start with the lights, Keane advises. “Then hang the biggest decorations first and fill in the gaps with smaller baubles.” Decorating can often turn into a very adult pursuit so make sure there is something on a smaller scale for the little ones. Have a second tree that can go in a bedroom and let them pile on the glitter and baubles.

Children really make Christmas, says Peaches Kemp of Feast Catering. “A table or trolley, groaning with goodies will make for a day they will never forget.” Light empty fireplaces with lanterns filled with kid-safe battery-operated nightlights. Dim the lights to let the Christmas tree shine and pile up the cushions so that extra bodies can sit on the floor here, there and everywhere.

If you have a gang coming for dinner ask everyone to bring some of their good pieces, cut crystal, the family silver, cutlery, candlesticks and dinner services that spend most of the year in a dark press. Bring the best of these together to create a mismatched ‘harlequin’ finish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, is the advice of Tara Fay of Xena Productions. “This makes everyone invited feel as if they’re playing a part. Delegate the dressing of the table out to a family member and ideally dress it on Christmas Eve so you’re set.”

If you have the space, you can set up your table well in advance and just close the diningroom door. It can take far longer than you might think to add finishing touches.

Table too small? Faye recommends investing in a sheet of MDF, cut to size and hinged in the middle so you can store it down the back of the couch the rest of the year . Put it on top of the table and it makes instant extra place settings, so long as there’s no dancing on the table.

For a larger gathering hiring in is an option. Accommodating extras is as scalable as the space you have, says Gavin Diffilly, MD of Caterhire, which can supply everything necesary from cutlery and glassware to linen and tables and chairs. His rule of thumb is to allow two feet for every extra guest. Catherhire’s banquetting chairs are slimmer in width to accommodate more bums at the table. With a big table there is space to have a dramatic centrepiece or two. However, bear in mind that people want to see and talk to each other so keep greenery low.


Sweet memories

Make children feel at home with a mini tree, €49.99 set in a zinc bucket, €24.99, a decorative fresh garland, €49 per metre, all The Garden, embellished with edible goodies like gingerbread men and cellophane bagged marshmallows and Liquorice Allsorts. A Vinter wreath, €17, Ikea, a hostess trolley €120 and bellboy stand €450 both from The Store Yard, Portlaoise add pops of kitsch colour.

A selection of seasonal gingerbread men, complete with holes so you can hang them, and iced biscuits and meringues from Feast Catering, sit on a vintage-inspired two-tier cake stand, €25, Carolyn Donnolly Eclectic at Dunnes Stores, a white stand from Avoca, €32.95 and a selection of milk glass cake stands from Borrowedblueboutique. com.

The fantasy marbelised cake topped with red meringue kisses, and sugar dusted cake pops are both by Lucan-based company The Cake Cuppery. Brass lantern, €160, KA International, and child-safe LED string of lights, €24, Marks & Spencer; Kartell gnomes, €249 each at Arnotts, double as stools or tables; salt and pepper shaker with legs, €25 Eden Home and Garden.

James (10)wears Tiberland shirt, €50 from Arnotts; Cliona (8) wears a Leigh Tucker blue velvet Willow dress,from €30 at Dunnes Stores, with metallic cardi, from Avoca; Iseult (6) wears Leigh Tucker Willow dress, from €30 at Dunnes Stores. The other James (2) wears Losan shirt, €28, Arnotts. Large letter style notebooks spelling out Noel, are €14.95 each from Avoca.


The Christmas table 
Tactile velvet tablecloths, from Caterhire, in grey set a wintery tone while linen upholstered chairs from Ventura Design, €350 each, and deep cushioned silver cross-cross back Chameleon chairs, also Caterhire, help accommodate everyone. On the table is Hibiscus dinnerware by Wedgewood. Side plates, €34 and dinner plates, €48, sit atop beaded glass chargers, to rent from Caterhire. 
Vintage style cutlery by Newbridge, €380 for a 24 -piece canteen; silver candelabra, €250 the pair, from The Store Yard where we also found the miniature deer €275; stag candlesticks, €30 each, Marks & Spencer with white and cream candles from Tiger, €1 for two.
Bring in colour to add warmth with Waterford Clarendon hock glasses, in ruby and cobalt, €212 per pair. They share the table with ruby red Vinter champagne flutes, and matching water glasses, all €3 each, from Ikea. 
Crisp, hand-stitched, linen napkins, from Caterhire add the finishing touch along with bespoke stationary from Appleberry Press. Appleberry will design and customise menus, place names and themed chair tags that can be downloaded to print. Handy when you have to keep warring factions at opposite ends of the table. 
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