The secrets to creating a cosy Christmas interior

Three Irish interior and design doyens share their tips for creating that magical feeling

Sinead Gunnigle table setting. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

Sinead Gunnigle table setting. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

 

Let me entertain you…

Three Irish interior and design doyens, let us in on their secrets for creating unique Christmas tablescapes, and impart their top tips for making guests feel relaxed, welcome and part of something magical…..

Sinead Gunnigle, Owner of Nest interiors, Waterford, lovenest.ie

Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph: Shane O’Neill
Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

Forget the rules
Use everything available to you for your Christmas table! I borrow from my in-laws and collect bits for the table year-round, whenever I see them and not just with Christmas in mind. I’ve found some beautiful pieces in charity shops and we’re lucky in Waterford, as antiques Ireland host fantastic affordable auctions every 6-8 weeks with incredible crockery bargains to be had. I break all the rules when it comes to setting a traditional Christmassy table using red, gold, silver colour themes, I love loads of colours and just go wild with what I have to hand.

Mix and Match
I’ve yet to invest in a really beautiful table cloth, so I start with a table runner, and this year’ it’s a fern pattern – which is not technically festive but as a base layer it works. I have used off cuts of pieces of fabric for runners before too which is much cheaper than an official one. I love a good placemat to add colour and depth to the table -these have a blue fern motif- which is not technically festive but they work. I’ve layered them with beautiful natural rattan charger plates which are versatile for any table and useful in every season.

Sinead Gunnigle table setting. Photograph: Shane O’Neill
Sinead Gunnigle table setting. Photograph: Shane O’Neill
Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph:Shane O’Neill
Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph:Shane O’Neill

Don’t be afraid to mix up crockery. I’ve used vintage Wedgewood side plates, alongside my crisp white scalloped edged dinner plates and I love the contrast! This year I splurged on real bamboo cutlery. I could only justify the price of a four piece setting so I mix them in with normal cutlery. Ditto with glassware and candles – I’ve laid a variety of colours and patterns, vintage and new. With everything else being so colourful, I just use fresh white linen napkins.

Festive flourishes
Finally, a little nod to the main man – chocolate Santa’s from Lidl on the plates with name tags is fun, especially for my kids. If my kids eat all their dinner and sit at the table long enough, they can eat them all!!

I adore flowers and use what I can from the garden or hedgerows. My table is not massive, so I don’t want to overpower it with one large centrepiece instead I opt for smaller vases a collection of mostly vintage ones I have and arrange what I have among these. I also use herbs, mint, thyme and berries of any description that I can get my hands on.

Santa on place setting
Santa on place setting
Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph:Shane O’Neill
Sinead Gunnigle. Photograph:Shane O’Neill

Personalise the place settings
You can go as big and brave here as you want and kids and adults love it when they have their name on a bow, a pine cone, a Santa or whatever trinket you wish to use.

I also try and personalize the crackers and add name tags and wedge in little gifts that I know each guest would like into their own cracker. I don’t produce the crackers until we reach the dessert course and it’s always a great surprise and nice touch at the end of the meal.

Helen Turkington, interior designer, www.helenturkington.com

Helen Turkington. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen Turkington. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Christmas table settings
Christmas table settings

Layer up the glam
For my Christmas table I always start with a white tablecloth, it adds an extra bit of glam for the occasion and also provides a great base to build upon.

I love to use fresh eucalyptus layered down the centre of the table, it’s a very affordable way to provide a bit of drama not to mention it also smells gorgeous! I Word of advice though at Christmas it becomes scarce, so order it ahead of time from your local florist or flower. However if it’s not available, any fresh greenery would work.

Using the rule of three, I group candlesticks of different heights within the eucalyptus, the more candles the better – (provided they are not blocking the guests view) as they provide such a lovely glow in the room. Next I add bit of glitz amongst the eucalyptus to beautifully reflect the warmth and glow of burning candles, such as these glittery reindeer statues, miniature white Christmas trees and extra-large baubles. We also tied oversized baubles to the pendant lantern which almost acts as a secondary centrepiece too.

I jazz up candles or vases by tying a little ribbon and hessian around them to create simple and beautiful DIY centrepieces and for this table I tied double bows using some velvet ribbon for my napkin holders, other years a simple sprig of pine tied with string or ribbon adds simple festive charm to your table.

Add festive friends
“I love grouping things in my interior schemes – be it a collection of large vases, wicker baskets, cushions etc and when it comes to Christmas decoration I follow the same rule of thumb. Like these large reindeers, make a gorgeous grouping even though we did break a few of their legs in transit. The kids go mad for them and they add to the magic of it all.

Helen Turkington. Photo: Philip Lauterbach
Helen Turkington. Photo: Philip Lauterbach
Helen Turkington. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen Turkington. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach

Tablescape faux pas
One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting the Christmas table is using a centrepiece that blocks the view of the person sitting opposite you, so always double check the height of candles, vases, flowers etc. Conversation is a huge part of any Christmas dinner, so while your centrepiece might be beautiful it will be difficult for you guests to interact. And always make sure your guests are comfortable and have enough elbow room at your table. Sometimes less is more so if this means leaving out some unnecessary formal utensils and sticking to the essentials – do!

Helen McAlinden, fashion designer, helenmcalinden.com

Helen McAlinden. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen McAlinden. Photograph: Philip Lauterbach

Less is more
I’m a big believer in taking something away form an outfit or a design, rather than adding more to it and I dress a table with the same ethos. I don’t like to over clutter and generally work with simple a grey and white pallet and have matching Foxford blankets draped the back of the chairs in the same colour tto add a little hygee. But at Christmas, I succumb a little more sparkle and accessories than normal.

I’m not a table cloth fan – too much laundry involved – and prefer to using place mats and a simple grey linen runner with matching napkins. I’ve a set of glass charger plates from Meadows & Byrne which work with any table setting and all colour schemes and a simple grey and silver dinner service from Linea, which is also very versatile at any time of the year. I lay out the full traditional set of cutlery, which is always cobbled together form various sets in the house but I don’t like to overdo it with multiple glasses (they always end up breaking too). A mid-size plain glass that will work for white or red wine and a tumbler for water is all I use.

Christmas table settings
Christmas table settings
Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach

Decorate with nature
My table is long and narrow so I like to run some décor down the centre of the table. Here I used two sets of garland fairy-lights from Penneys as a base and then layered on some greenery from the garden to pad it out and threw in a few pine cones sprayed white and silver. I was bullied into adding a pop of red by my husband, so I conceded with a few fresh pomegranates strategically placed along the greenery.

For the rest of the room I fill bowls and vases with green foliage from the garden, some branches pilfered from the Christmas tree and whatever white flowers might still be in bloom (hydrangeas or white cyclamens) and I throw in some strings of battery operated fairy lights for depth. I unintentionally filled a big serving bowl with Christmas baubles and pomegranates this year when prepping the table and decided I like the aesthetic, so it’s now a decorative centrepiece on the piano.

Candles are a must for creating that cozy atmosphere and for this table I mixed up small chunky ones and tall tapered ones in a modern candelabra from Meadows and Byrne, plus I have lots of hurricane lanterns around the room too.

Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach
Helen McAlinden, Photograph: Philip Lauterbach

Personalise the place settings
You can go as big and brave here as you want and kids and adults love it when they have their name on a bow, a pine cone, a Santa or whatever trinket you wish to use.

I also try and personalize the crackers and add name tags and wedge in little gifts that I know each guest would like into their own cracker. I don’t produce the crackers until we reach the dessert course and it’s always a great surprise and nice touch at the end of the meal.