Deck the Halls
Left festive decorating until the last minute? Don't worry, there is a sleighful of simple ways to conjure a seasonal atmosphere, as Gabrielle Fagan reveals.
If your home's still a festive-free zone, or despite your best efforts, still hasn't got top-of-the-tree style, there's no need to panic. A beautifully decorated home is within reach; all that's needed is a little imagination, a willingness to get handy with some scissors, glue and paper, and a small outlay on a few well-chosen Christmas accessories.
"We're all so busy at this time of year that decorations can be left to the last minute, or maybe have to be kept to a minimum if you're on a tight budget," says Anita Kaushal, interiors specialist and co-author of FamilyLifeStyle Home.
"Luckily, 'less is more' is the recipe for seasonal success, because it's about making beautiful but simple statements. That can be a traditional tree hung with home-made, hand-painted baubles, or simply windows made seasonal with baubles hung on cord, or strings of paper decorations made by the children. Those personal touches won't just add colour and character, they'll make your festive setting unique."
Follow our guide to stunning last-minute touches for Santa-ready rooms.
If you haven't the space for a large, bushy tree, or don't want to make that sort of statement, embrace the trend for slimmed-down 'size zero' trees, with slender trunks and bare branches.
"There are a lot of naked trees around this year," says TV presenter and crafts queen Kirstie Allsopp. "It's definitely a trend, and is for those who are confident in their taste and like something alternative and design-led.
"If you're having a minimalist twig thing, then you put very small, very delicate decorations on it. One of the reasons Scandinavian decorations look so beautiful is because they're so understated, and those Scandi trees really do work well with just a few decorations."
Paperchase's table top-size Minimalist Wood Tree, £30, available in stores, would need only a few baubles and could be perfect as a table focal point. The stationary company's box of 100 Multi Mini Glass Baubles is a snip at just £10. Cox & Cox's Frosted Light Up Trees start from £35.
Ditch tradition and hang decorations on a towel ladder - John Lewis' Croft Collection Ladder is currently reduced online from £75 to £50. The White Company has appropriately fuss-free baubles to suit this look, with Porcelain Bird or Bell Decorations, currently reduced from £6 to £4.20 each, and their woodland-effect Pinecone Bauble Fairy Lights, £35.
Hang 'em High
Set baubles free from the tree and you'll be amazed at their power to bring razzle-dazzle to rooms.
"Buy invisible wire thread, or fishing line, and attach to a window frame so you can hang baubles from it. Or use brightly coloured satin and velvet ribbon, cut to different lengths, and hang them from chandeliers and curtain rails," says Kaushal.
"Be generous for maximum impact and keep to a colour theme - ideally using two bright colours and then contrasting with black or fashionable metallics, such as gold and copper. A tinsel or ribbon bow at each end of a strand adds a luxury touch."
Display evergreen branches in a vase and hang with miniature baubles. An Aged Zinc Florists Vase, £10.50, and Twenty Four Small Red Baubles, £15.50, Cox & Cox. The company also has a funky Wirework Chandelier, £8.50, which could be hung with tiny decorations.
Make it a white Christmas no matter what the weather with window film. The Window Film Company's range of designs, priced from £30 each, includes my favourite, Frostbrite FBX02, featuring star-shaped snowflakes.
Onwards & Upwards
Ensure visitors' first impression is a festive one by dressing the stairs with a garland on a banister rail, or hang cards on a string down its length.
"Equally decorative are tiny gift-wrapped boxes suspended on silk ribbon, and for extra sparkle, spray with glitter paint. Then intersperse with Christmas cards, clipped with pegs, or get children to write their own festive messages, using glitter pens on plain gift tags or luggage labels, for a charming touch," says Kaushal.
"For a different interpretation, and if the tread of the stair is wide enough, have a garland securely anchored on to the wall side of the stairs, and intersperse with battery-operated candles or tea lights."
Get a glow with a 30 Red Berry Garland With Warm White LED Lights, £25, from Marks & Spencer. There's a lovely retro feel to a Christmas Red And White Honeycomb Bauble Garland - Vintage Noel, £7.49, Ginger Ray, which could adorn a banister or a mantel.
Go for jingle bell-style with red and white Christmas Tree Bells, £1 for a pack of 10 from Poundland, to evoke the sound of Santa's sleigh on its way, and 3 Wax Vanilla Scented Battery LED Candles With Melted Edges, £3.99, Lights4Fun. Midwinter Streets Gift Tags, £5.50 for 15, Cox & Cox, would be ideal for festive messages.
Bring seasonal magic to plain walls with festive images which will instantly conjure a winter wonderland.
"Christmas is a time to have fun with decor and play around with colours and effects which you wouldn't dare to try at any other time of the year," says Kauchal.
"If you don't like cards cluttering surfaces, simply cut out a large paper template of a Christmas tree and then mark out the outline on a wall. Stick cards inside it to match its shape for a colourful feature. Alternatively, use lengths of ribbon to delineate a tree outline, and pop a star on the top for a 3D effect."
Escape the bother of falling pine needles with a panel of fabric depicting a Christmas tree, which would make a brilliant tablecloth or could be pinned to a wall. Vinter 2014 fabric, £5 a metre, Ikea.
Alternatively, give reindeer a free rein to prance across your home, with a red Cutout Christmas Sledge Wall Stickers, showing the great man and his team, £14.99, In-Spaces, which also has a Cartoon Christmas Tree Wall Sticker, £19.99.
Rockett St George boasts a highly desirable range year-round but excels itself this season, with a wall-sticker selection including Set Of 6 Reindeer Wall stickers - Gold, £7, or Set Of 20 Snowflake Wall Stickers - White, £12.
Making decorations is one of the traditional rituals of Christmas, and with the current revival for all things craft, they're an essential home-made touch.
"One of the most effective ways to make paper decorations is by using paper from old books, comics or magazines, which will instantly give character and intriguing interest," suggests Kaushal.
"Daisy chains made from old newspaper, sheet music, tissue paper or even tin foil also look pretty. The best thing about the foil version is there's no need for glue, as the foil links can simply be twisted to close, making a chain simple and quick to do."
There's a truly retro feel to the Scandi Christmas Paper Chains, £5.99 a pack, The Oak Room. You're spoilt for choice, inspiration and materials at Hobbycraft, and its Paper Chains 90 Pieces Red/Gold/Green set is currently half price at £1 online.
Paper decorations and garlands look stunning entwined around plain or white china on a dresser. For suitably classic white china, plunder the The White Company's Artisan Stoneware collections; Dinner Plate, £12; Small Plate, £10.