A very Nordic Christmas
Scandi style was made for Christmas. See how natural textures, cosy candlelit corners and touches of sparkle fill a south Dublin Georgian home with Nordic elegance. Words by Nathalie Marquez Courtney. Photos: Jack Caffrey/The Pimlico Project
Stepping into Helle Moyna's Blackrock home is like stepping into a real-life Pinterest photograph. The Georgian house is expertly filled with mid-century modern and sleek Scandi design finds. As founder of online design studio and store Nordic Elements (nordicelements.com), Helle knows a thing or two about understated Nordic style.
Come Christmastime, her home, which she shares with her husband David and two sons, Tobias (13) and Marcus (11), becomes a Danish dream, complete with a 10ft tree, candles everywhere and lots of natural touches. It could easily be a hip Copenhagen hotel.
But for Helle, who is originally from Denmark, Christmas is about so much more than on-trend decor. Scratch the surface and you soon see that each of these picture-perfect vignettes is rooted in something much more meaningful. "I just keep it really classic and sort of sentimental, because a lot of the pieces I've collected over the years have an emotional value," she says.
Each decor decision, however Instagrammable it appears, speaks to a Danish Christmas tradition. Every year, Helle creates a festive advent wreath using foraged materials, a few sparkly baubles and four large candles, representing the four Sundays before Christmas.
"The first candle is lit the first Sunday in advent and then the next Sunday, you light two, and then three and by Christmas, you light the four of them," she explains. "I use a big, beautiful engraved silver tray we bought in Lebanon on our honeymoon, add big white candles and put dried orange slices or cones around them. It's really festive, and a nice countdown to Christmas."
Helle explains that in Denmark these advent Sundays are sacred, reserved for spending time with family, visiting friends and the making - and eating - of many homemade treats. "Go into any Danish supermarket and you can buy big blocks of raw marzipan, nougat and chocolate buttons," she says. "Everything is homemade and it all comes out on those Sundays leading up to Christmas.
"Also on these Sundays, you get people together and you have all these templates for Christmas decorations. People just sit around the table, making decorations, drinking glogg, listening to Christmas music and eating homemade chocolate."
Easy does it
For the Danes, Christmas is a time for togetherness and simple pleasures and each piece of decor reflects these goals. "Leading up to Christmas, you go out for big walks to your local woods and collect the moss, twigs and cones you would need to make your decorations with," says Helle. "The decor is all very natural and organic, you would never buy a fake wreath covered in baubles, bows and spray glitter."
Helle and her family still regularly visit Copenhagen in the weeks leading up to Christmas to soak up the atmosphere. "It's very festive, but in a simple, tasteful way," she says. "You won't see any tinsel, flashing lights or anything like that."
Helle's own mantelpiece reflects this more relaxed, natural Danish style, and is decorated with pine cone garlands, paper stars, twigs from the garden or spare branches from the tree and lots of candles.
If it wasn't already evident, candles are a huge element in Danish Christmas decor. Not only do many Danes still light real candles on real Christmas trees (with a bucket of water nearby), they also add them to every window. "I tend to use white or natural candles," Helle says. "They create a nice uniformity and you don't have to worry about things clashing."
Candles act as sweet, simple Christmas countdowns too - as well as the four advent candles, there is also a kalenderlys, a single tapered candle printed with the numbers one to 24, which is burned down a little bit each day leading up to Christmas. Helle keeps one in her dining room and sources new ones each year, which are a huge hit at her Christmas pop-ups, run on the Fridays leading up to the big day.
Like so many decor traditions, they bring back fond memories. "My sister and I used to take it in turns to light the candle at the breakfast table," she recalls. "It was so fun, because it meant you were one day closer to Christmas."
Just as when Helle was growing up in Denmark, these days it all begins with the tree. "When you put the tree in, it starts everything off," she says. "I've never had a fake tree - I love the smell of the real thing too much. It reminds me of home." Her beautiful front room, the oldest part of the house, is perfectly suited to a big tree, usually at least 10ft tall.
Decor-wise, Helle still prefers to keep things simple, with neutral tones as the base and splashes of sparkle. "We have decorations that come out year after year. I might tweak it a little bit, use mainly white and glass, or mix gold in."
But, with two sons, some concessions had to be made. "We actually have two trees," she explains. "The boys have their tree in the family room. We just let them loose at it - every year they go out and choose some fun, tacky stuff."
The true meaning of hygge
You can't talk to a Dane at wintertime without discussing hygge (pronounced hue-guh). A word that loosely translates to creating a cosy atmosphere, it has become a huge lifestyle trend, with books, blankets, candles, mugs and more all being sold in a quest to package its appeal, which Helle fears has muddied its true meaning.
"I went through a department store recently and it was all 'hygge this, hygge that'," she recalls. "But hygge is not something you can buy.
"The word really took off, and I guess that's the power of commercial wisdom, but for us it's just part of everyday living," she says. "You don't actually have to light a candle and put the fire on to do hygge. It's just sitting down, reading a book with your child, or catching up with a friend."
Beneath the photo-friendly trend lies a dedication to keeping things simple. "It's about appreciating the smaller things in life," says Helle. "And just enjoying being together."