Bargain ways to glam up your home this Christmas
The right atmosphere creates a mood of celebration.
If you're on a budget, Christmas is the perfect time to throw a party. All of us have memories and emotions tied to Christmas and a few well placed touches around the house will quickly evoke a festive spirit in guests. Party and event company Green Ant Events (greenantevents.com), plans creative and stylish gatherings for everyone from none other than the Abu Dhabi royal family to more modest British house parties.
And managing director Joe Blackman says you don't need to be an Arab sheikh to throw a fabulous bash.
"There are plenty of ways to decorate your home for a party on a budget," he says. "The key thing is to think a bit differently. It's about more than just a tree – it's about bringing a festive feeling into the whole house."
Nothing sets the mood quite as well as lighting. "Even having a dimmer switch on your lights can make a massive difference," says Blackman. He recommends that we turn off overhead lights and turn on a lamp or two. Add in as many candles or tea lights as you can (tea lights are a great budget option at 100 for just £1.89 from Ikea, ikea.com).
And invest in a couple of strands of fairy lights. It's worth buying a decent set as you'll be able to use these for parties and decoration year round. Try John Lewis (johnlewis.com) for a good selection from £8 up.
FOLIAGE AND FLOWERS
Blackman suggests using natural foliage as far as possible. "Skip the standard artificial decorations and make your own from foliage. It's free, readily available and is fun to do, too, especially if you have children," he says.
If you have ivy growing in the garden, pick long strands and hunt out pretty leaves and berries. Entwine all these in a string of fairy lights, add a couple of sparkling Christmas decorations then string your creation over a mantelpiece or maybe even trail it along a stair.
If you don't have a garden, visit a local park. Don't pick things that are growing (it's likely to be against the rules) but find fallen branches, conkers, pine cones and leaves and decorate with these. "Twigs tied with ribbon or decorated with baubles can be very effective," says florist Paula Pryke (paulapryke.com)
Don't just decorate a tree. Think creatively and hang baubles on ribbons in front of a mirror or by the window or scatter them down the centre of a table. This year the trend is for traditional and handcrafted decorations, so if you don't have any decorations and money is tight, make your own using salt dough. Bake them and then hand decorate them.
Simplicity is the key to a great table. Church candles or tealights surrounded by simple foliage such as ivy look great on a table. Another great budget idea is to use small or miniature plants as table decorations.
"Succulents are very fashionable and they look fabulous dusted in glitter or even spray-painted," says Pryke. "Even though I'm not a fan of the Pointsettia, I do have a soft spot for the miniature ones and have seven dotted down my dining table with red tea lights this Christmas." Try garden centres or most supermarkets for miniature Pointsettia from about £1.
SCENT and MUSIC
"A key aspect of organising a great party is to consider all the senses," says Blackman. Music is immediately evocative of the season, but make sure you put together a play list that includes traditional seasonal tunes and your every day favourites. Simply having carols on rotation can feel a bit like being trapped in a shopping centre.
Scent is another simple way to remind guests of Christmas. Scented candles are one option – Diptyque's Perdigone is beautiful (from £25 at SpaceNK, spacenk.co.uk) – but if you're on a tight budget go for the Elizabethan approach and stud fresh oranges with cloves and place three or four around the room. Cinnamon and the scent of warm mulled wine will also help get everyone in the mood.
Getting in the party spirit
Make sure that the socialising areas are softly lit, but that where the food and drink are laid out, party guests are able to load up their plates and glasses with ease
Green and pleasant
You don't have to invest in a designer wreath to make a festive impact. Gathering offcuts and ribbons round a bent coathanger looks good and scents the room, too
Baby, it's cold inside
With all those bodies and probably the heating on, too, drinks can quickly get lukewarm and unappetising. Use buckets, bowls and even flowerpots as coolers
Nobody wants the best crystal at what you hope will be a raucous party – look for the best hire deal from supermarkets and off-licences (some let you return it unwashed)
I can see a rainbow
If there's ever an excuse to go to town on decorations, a Christmas party is the time. Get children involved in paper chains, and use to cover any less than perfect corners
Mix it yourself
Rather than spend all night making the drinks yourself, put out a big table with all the goodies on it and allow guests to mix it up themselves (no linen – expect spillages)