Top of the tree
Whether you're going for real or just faking it, Gabrielle Fagan reveals how to bling up those Christmas tree branches in style.
Once upon a time, the only stress involved in decorating the Christmas tree was unearthing the bauble collection, untangling the tinsel - and trying to stop the children ruining the effect with their cotton wool and toilet roll creations!
That last bit might sound a bit Scrooge-esque (I admit I sneakily hid my children's offerings on the back branches to avoid hurt feelings and decor disasters!), but nowadays, it's no longer enough for a tree to be simply plonked in a corner of the living room and randomly hung with mismatched or inherited ornaments.
It's increasingly seen as necessary to dress and style this festive focal point to within an inch of its life, and ensure it complements room decor, rather than garishly jarring with it, even if it is only on display for a few weeks.
"I don't see decorating the tree as being something sentimental that we - the family - do together," says designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, voicing the view of many decor devotees, who take their trees very seriously.
"It can go horribly wrong. The children might feel encouraged to start making aesthetic judgements. I keep telling them they shouldn't mistake our family for a democracy. When it comes to the way things look, it's the way I want it!"
Our modern forensic focus on festive decor is reflected in the huge and growing choice of seasonal themes. There are trees galore, whether real or artificial, with the latter often so lifelike, you could swear you can smell the pine. Contemporary versions range from super-slim, silver or natural wood creations, bare of foliage and a world away from anything an old-school Santa might recognise.
Whichever look you prefer, it's time to tackle that tree.
Here are four looks to choose from, with a guide for easily creating each ... Adding cardboard kiddie craft entirely optional!
Wonder of white
A white frosted tree with glass and white baubles will stun with its simplicity. "Icy, neutral tones for tree and home decorations are perfect for creating a chic chalet-style Christmas," says Jane Bailess, assistant buyer for seasonal events at John Lewis.
"Pine cone baubles and ivy garlands bring a natural element to the home, while intricate decorations in mint and white, embellished with white feathers and beaded pearls, are perfect for a glamorous twist on the traditional Alpine look."
TREE & TREATS A Dobbies frosted Grasmere Adjustable Snowy Pine Tree, from £69.99, could have been plucked from a snow-covered forest, and some of their light strings would make it sparkle. 160 Bright White LED String Lights, £19.99, and enhance the starry-night feel with their 10 Paper Star String Lights, £19.99.
Look no further than The White Company, which has perfect White Matte Baubles, £6 each, while John Lewis Croft Collection Frosted Glass Baubles, £10 for set of six, would also be ideal for this pristine look.
Intersperse with a scattering of ornaments bearing images of country creatures, such as a Deer Pebble Bauble, £4, Marks & Spencer. Add to the atmosphere with a John Lewis green Frosted Ivy wreath, £30, and hint at tiny hamlets in the mountains with a Wooden Village Scene Advent Calendar With LED Lighting, £39.99, Wyevale Garden Centres.
A charming down-in-the-woods look will delight children and adults alike.
"A nature theme is one of our strongest styles this season," says Emily Killen, seasonal buyer at House of Fraser. "This rustic colour palette, with brown decorations featuring wild creatures, will create an idyllic festive, rural landscape. This will appeal to those who want a homespun but on-trend look."
TREE & TREATS House of Fraser's Linea 6ft Meribel Pine Tree, currently reduced to £129.50 from £185, would make the perfect perch for a forest glade gathering of pine cone, owl, and deer baubles.
Their appropriately named Enchanted Forest tree decorations start from £6. Its Linea range also has suitable treasures, including a Large Wooden Acorn Decoration, £8, and a Barn Owl Decoration, £7. Dress a mantel with a Linea Lit Village, currently reduced to £24.50 from £35, and hang a pure White Apple Wreath, reduced to £35 from £50. BHS' festive offering is also brimming with wildlife, and a Natural Reindeer, £8, could be the perfect finishing touch.
A traditional setting is easy to create - just keep the colour scheme to green and red, and enliven with fashionable tartan touches.
"This look conjures up treasured memories of Christmases past, with its warm, cheery colours and vintage inspiration," says Joanne Caulkett, M&S online style and living home editor.
"Stick to classic materials, such as wood and glass, then add accents of white and bold red, plus winter foliage to bring a hint of nature indoors. Add a magical touch with a light-up ornament and twinkly tree lights."
TREE & TREATS A bushy 6ft Country Spruce Christmas Tree, £140, Marks & Spencer, would make a grand statement. The Red Orb Decorations, £5 each, and Red Vintage Heart Decorations, £2 each, would look beautiful nestling among its branches.
There's no shortage of glowing red baubles in stores such as Wyevale Garden Centres, which has a Red Teardrop Glass Bauble, £3.49. Tesco's also embraced red for one of its festive themes and its Glass Santa Hanging Decoration, £3.50, is an essential for a truly traditional tree.
Tartan's enjoying a renaissance, and six Gisela Graham Tartan Snowflake Christmas Tree Decorations, £4.50 each, The Contemporary Home, would pay a stylish nod to the Highlands. Hang a red John Lewis Christmas Past Berry Wreath, £35, and you'll blush the same shade as you receive compliments galore on your decor.
Black and gold are perfect partners for sophisticated festive decor, which oozes luxury and atmosphere, and this choice particularly suits modern or minimal decor.
"Go for glamour with gorgeous decorations in burnished, metallic tones, and heighten the effect with baubles in different textures," says Kate Thompson, head of home buying at House of Fraser.
"Black accents give your tree a decadent look and will make it appear dramatic. For ultimate opulence, a cluster of gifts wrapped in metallic paper and arranged around the tree base is an absolute must."
TREE & TREATS Pre-lit trees take all the stress out of draping (and checking) strings of lights, and House of Fraser's Linea 7ft Saltzburg Pre Lit Tree, currently reduced to £238 from £340, is a beauty.
There's a wealth of black and gold baubles to choose from in their Linea collection. A Black or Gold Glitter Star Decoration, £6 each; a Black And Gold Stripe Finial Decoration, or a plain black one, reduced to £7 from £10 each, and a Striped Statement Bauble, also reduced to £7 each.
Banish unstylish pillowcases and instead, opt for a Black And Gold Velvet Stocking, reduced to £28 from £40. Soft, twinkling tea lights will look even prettier in Linea Gold Tealight Holders, currently reduced to £8.40 each. For a final flourish, add a gold 3D Resin Stag Decoration, £12, Marks & Spencer.