Monday 9 December 2019

Deck the halls: Make your home a winter wonderland

Do you haul out the same decorations every Christmas? Ever wonder what a few fresh flourishes would do to freshen your festive endeavours? Emer O'Reilly-Hyland spoke to three self-confessed Christmas aficionadas about how they achieve fabulous festive finesse

Sharon Bannerton
Tara O'Connor and her children
Tara O'Connor and her children

Emer O'Reilly-Hyland

For designer Helen James, Christmas is all about food - for eating, gifting and decorating too! Helen makes ginger thins, star cookies and chocolate truffles and presents them in goody bags from her Considered range at Dunnes Stores.

She hangs simply decorated numbered cookies (the cutters are also part of her range), on the tree so kids who visit have great fun finding their age.

"Little kids are obsessed with their age, " says the mum of three boys, Obi (15), Luan (13) and Cy (5).

Helen and her husband, Mark Geary, host an open house on St Stephen's Day. "I do a big buffet of finger food, sausage rolls, cold meats, cheeses and chutneys, so it's relaxed and informal," says Helen.

Her decorating style is equally informal. Living in the country, Helen hunts for interesting berries and branches among the hedgerows and uses these to create a country casual feel for everything from the fireplace to her tables. "I keep it all green and natural," she says, "and add tangerines and berries for colour."

When it comes to decorating the tree, it's a family affair. "I love opening up that box of decorations with all the memories of years past and the decorations only a mother could love," laughs Helen.

"I used to love perfection," she adds, "then I realised that's not what Christmas is about but as the days go on, I'll tweak the tree," Helen admits with a laugh.


Simmer a pan of water with orange rind, cinnamon sticks, cloves, rosemary - the whole house will smell Christmas-y!



Christmas has changed in recent years for PR guru Sharon Bannerton who she has watched her son Jack grow from small child to strapping, rugby-playing 17-year-old.

For most of Jack's life, it's been just the two of them, so Christmas has centred around his age but now that he's all grown up, Sharon has given her elegant, yet bold style of decorating free rein with a full-on fuchsia and crimson colour combo.

"I work in a creative industry; PR and event management go hand in hand; so parties never faze me," says Sharon, who owns SB Communications PR & Event Management agency and models part-time with the Andrea Roche agency.

Sharon's decorating taste is more New York than Dublin where she lives in an elegant brown stone close to St Stephen's Green. She loves contemporary art and design and you can see it right through the house, from the white cyclamen on the walls outside to her plants all around the house.

Sharon's modus operandi is to decorate the facade with storm lanterns and sparkling lights leading up to her door where she hangs a wreath from the Blooming Amazing Flower Company in Ranelagh.

For 2014, her chosen colour theme is red with pink and her tree is covered in oversized amaryllis and poinsettia silk blooms along with fruit, feathers and fairy lights.

This year she will moved the tree from the hall into her open-plan kitchen so she can enjoy it more. "For parties, I like to be behind the island in my kitchen and run things from there, watching who needs their glass refilled and who needs to be introduced to who in order to get the party going," says the Galway-born business woman.

Sharon loves the idea of people popping into the house through Christmas. "I always have my mum's ham in the fridge and she sends it up from home and all the family use her recipe of soaking it in cider and baking with a clove crust in the oven for 12-13 hours. It fills the house with the most amazing smell and when guests call by, there's always a supply of cold meats, cheese and nibbles so there's always something delicious she can rustle up!

Meanwhile, Coco, her Bichon Frise, holds court to her and Jack's many callers. "I used to get myself in a tizzy worrying about getting it right," she admits. "Now I realise, time is short, I'm very aware of Jack's age so I want to enjoy the time we have together and I'm thrilled that he's so cool about his mum's love of bright colours."


Use vivid, bright-coloured long-stemmed silk flowers on your tree and in garlands and you can re-use them throughout the year in vases. Double up your wreath for duty on the front door and for dinners, you can use it as a centrepiece with a contrasting candle.



For Tara O'Connor, Christmas is all about children, family and friends, and she doesn't hold back on decorating and  entertaining.

Even before her two sons were born, Tara, who has her own business consulting with brands and handling their public relations, had built up a cache of beautiful Christmas decorations from trips abroad with husband, Andrew Reynolds.

Among their many treasures, the couple have a Harrods teddy-bear for each of their seven years together. Their eldest son, JP, (left) will turn four on December 20, so the Christmas keepsake collection keeps growing.

Tara and Andrew will throw upwards of six parties during the festive season, everything from JP's birthday party (with 30 kids!) to Christmas drinks to hosting both families for Christmas dinner, and a few casual lunches thrown in.

"We live outside Dublin in Co Kildare, so we're a destination and I like to make everyone feel welcome when they call to our home," says Tara.

She likes to mix it up and doesn't stick to just one colour theme when decorating. This year, Tara will have two Christmas trees - a 12ft themed purple, silver and white to match her lounge décor, and a red, white and gold themed 8ft in her sun room. She will hang wreaths inside and order a special one for her front door from Ruth Monahan in Appassionata who will also do a centrepiece for her table. Add to that garlands, lights and reindeers and the only thing she's missing is the man in the red suit!

I can't help wondering how she does all this, run her business and still manage to curl up on the couch on Christmas Eve to read The Night Before Christmas to JP and baby Andrew (nine months).

"Planning is key" she says, without hesitation. "I started in September but there's still lots of time to get things done for this year and avoid the stress at the end. I love cooking so I'll pop on some Christmas music and get stuck in and fill the freezer for some of the parties. It's lovely to enjoy the build-up to Christmas and the part I'm looking forward to the most is unwrapping our Christmas decorations and dressing the tree with help from the boys.

"It's what Christmas memories are made of," adds Tara.


Start early with lists/budgets and spreading your shopping over a few weeks,  that way, you're free to focus on having fun with your family and friends during the holidays.



Keep an Advent Bowl - Write names of family members/friends on folded pieces of paper and place in a bowl. Pick a name out each day and think or do something special for that person - lovely things happen!

For me, it's all about light-style. Fairy lights, storm lanterns, candles (scented in the hall), tealights and spotlights: inside and out, in trees, garlands and tablecentres, to create a warm, welcoming (and flattering) glow.

Irish Independent

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