From Christmas crackers to candles - Interior designer Philippa Buckley's style tips for festive homes
Not only is interior designer Philippa Buckley an experienced hand at hanging the holly, but a seat at her table for Christmas dinner is in great demand. She lets Caroline Allen in on her seasonal style secrets.
The seasonal signs have been nudging their way into the shops for quite a while, and now it's all about cocooning for Christmas. Interior designer Philippa Buckley of Studio 44 embraces the festivities in style. "Treasured pieces collected over the years can remind us of how reassuring traditions can be and are all part of what makes Christmas so special," she says. "However, every year is different and I like to subtract from the past and add to the present to bring something different, and hopefully make the occasion more memorable for the family and those who visit."
This year she is celebrating with her extended family - and she is certainly an experienced Christmas host. The secret to a sparkling Christmas, she says, is to concentrate on key areas, with bold statements and signature flourishes. "The tree, for me, is the focal point - a symbol of Christmas that comes in so many guises, from the largest green pines to snow white artificial trees. The choice is wide and there's something to suit an array of interior styles and personal tastes."
Her home is modern and minimalist. "With a backdrop of all white, I tend to keep it clean and simple with a hint of sparkle, silver accessories and baubles that will create a festive mood. My tree takes centre stage, with lots of presents underneath," she says.
"I decorate the hall with a wreath and the hall table with artificial stems from Helen Turkington Interiors in Dunville Avenue, Ranelagh. I place three large silver reindeer beside them to create visual impact on entering the hall. The stairs are illuminated with votive candles. I add a few festive pieces to enhance the theme and put away some items that don't contribute to the mood. My time spent designing and making jewellery makes me difficult to please, as I keep going back to rearrange items or edit the theme."
Whatever the type of interior, Philippa says the emphasis should be on creating an inviting mood with the glow of Christmas lights and the enchanting twinkle of softly flickering candles. Dressing the tree is an intrinsic part of the ritual. "I love the sparkle of tiny white lights and a slew of shiny, glittery pieces which brighten the darkest of nights in the depths of winter. It still evokes a sense of joy and acknowledges, for me, that Christmas Day is fast approaching."
The addition of a few special new ornaments every year boosts a cherished collection. Helen Turkington's is Philippa's go-to emporium for decorations and home accessories. "Due to time pressures, I'm not one for making decorations, but I feel the need to add to or change every year - that's the designer in me," she says. "Decorations are a personal choice and often reflect the interior decor but there are no rules."
Simple touches such as rearranging a favourite piece of furniture or the objects displayed on it, and adding some festive trinkets and candles can really make a difference, says Philippa. "Added glitter in the form of gold, silver or white keeps the theme fresh and alive for me. Naked branches subtly sprayed with a glittering finish and arranged in a heavy-based vase can look elegant on a side table or sideboard but the trick is not to overdo it; use key pieces to add impact. Layer up the sofa or a chair with a faux fur throw from the likes of Meadows & Byrne to add texture and a feeling of warmth and indulgence. If you can't light the fire, light lots of candles in various locations to add scent and create a warm glow."
When it comes to the dining table, Philippa likes to set it at least the day before the big feast, using a mix of delph and crystal that adds colour, texture and opulence. "There's nothing more special than sitting down to dinner on Christmas Day at a table that has been dressed with the utmost of attention. It doesn't have to cost a fortune but it's about creating something special that the day deserves," remarks Philippa. "I want the dining table to look resplendent with white china, crystal, touches of silver and large cranberry coloured candles."
For a successful Christmas soiree, it's about the little touches that show attention to detail, she says. Good food, mulled wine, champagne, a party bowl for nibbles, tasteful decorations, candles, and music, but above all, a mix of family and friends who enjoy a good party and the celebration of the occasion. Christmas scents and flavours are all part of the evocative mix.
She often uses a centrepiece of either fresh flowers or sprayed branches, accompanied by a mix of tall candles and votives to add atmosphere. "This year I've gone for two vases filled with tiny battery-operated lights from Ikea, and a silver garland, so they will add to the festive cheer when lit."
Her favourite way of displaying Christmas cards is to place them alongside the decorations on a hall table and side tables, and in between books on shelves to look like miniature pictures. "I only ever display cards I like and every year my son sends me a card with the question: 'Will this be displayed, Mum?'" she laughs.
For a fun element, Philippa recommends themed coloured crackers, and it's worth spending a bit more here, she says. Brown Thomas, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Dunnes Stores, and Ikea are among the happy hunting grounds.
Make sure the front door has got a welcoming wreath. Philippa opts for luxurious texture using what nature has to offer at this time of year - holly, pine cones, ivy and berries, finished off with either ornaments or a bow. "If the budget is limited, make one with holly, ivy and pine cones sprayed with either silver or gold paint. If you're in the market for something specialised, wreaths can be made to order at The Enchanted Florist, Milltown." It's all about seeing the wood for the trees to create a cool Yule.
How will you celebrate Christmas this year?
"With my husband Pat, son Darragh who lives in New York, sister Denise and her family, and my American cousin Caroline who lives in Ireland, and her family. My daughter Zia lives in London and will be spending Christmas there this year. Sometimes we have included people who we've only met the day or evening before as that, to me, is the spirit of Christmas. One year we met two Italian girls at Mass on Christmas Eve who asked us for directions. They were staying at a hostel which they mistook for a hotel. We invited them to dinner and we still stay in touch."
Best Christmas memory?
"A childhood one of seeing that Santy had filled my Christmas stocking and put my presents under the tree. For me, it's the best dream you will ever have."
Favourite city for Christmas lights?
"I was in New York last year and they decorate on a scale I had never seen before. There were enormous Christmas trees in the streets. I loved the displays and the way people decorated their homes. We were fortunate to be invited to some really nice houses for drinks and they were an inspiration."
Best Christmas gift you ever received?
"A ring I got from Pat about four years ago. I had spotted it at the Cobwebs, Galway stand at an antique fair in September. The next day I realised I wanted it, only to phone and be told it had sold that day. I was devastated as it was a unique platinum diamond piece of mechanical jewellery. I asked if it could be copied but they said they had no records. It turned out that Pat had bought it and kept it a secret until Christmas Day. I was thrilled and treasure it."