Not every Christmas has to look the same, so try something a little different with your decorations this year
December is upon us already and with it the unstoppable juggernaut of Christmas.
Overwhelmed and under-prepared? A Christmas Calibration could help a lot. Here’s how it works. First, break down the overall production into individual tasks and write them down. Then assess them one by one. Are they giving you energy or draining your energy? Then, adjust the plan accordingly.
Where the seasonal rituals are a source of joy and delight, keep them in place. Where they’ve become a wearisome trudge, ditch them and do something else. Christmas is all about tradition, but not all Christmases have to look the same.
This year interiors consultant Niamh MacGowan is going treeless. “I love the tree and I love the ritual, I really do. But the last few years were very quiet and that brought me to think about alternative ways of decorating for Christmas. It’s very easy to do the same thing every year, but it’s another avenue of creativity to do something different. Also, a Christmas tree is just in one place. I like to do every room.”
This year, she’s decorating with foraged evergreen branches, fairy lights, and clusters of giant honeycomb paper baubles hung from the ceiling.
Paper decorations being on trend, you’ll find them everywhere. Expect to pay less than a fiver for a 20cm ball-shaped decoration at Woodies Party Shop and between €5 and €15 for a tasteful tree-shaped decoration at Dunnes. The honeycomb format is useful because they fold away flat for next year.
In another departure from tradition, MacGowan has dyed her tablecloth black.
“I always start off with natural off-white linen,” she explains. “It looks wonderful for a few years but you always get to the point of stains that won’t come out, so it goes in a dye wash.”
The black fabric makes a dramatic backdrop for tablescaping with linen napkins (also dyed) in Burgundy red and, instead of napkin rings, tied with a generous length of plum-coloured velvet ribbon. This base layer will be built up with strings of ivy down the centre of the table entwined with dainty fairy lights.
All of this is offset by a scattering of hobnail glass tea-light holders (less than €1 each from Sostrene Grene), each lined with velvet moss and holding a tea-light. “Any holders will do, so long as all of them are glass. Use velvet moss rather than sphagnum, which is too frothy and flammable, and buy the eight-hour tea lights. Otherwise you’re setting your party on a four-hour timer.” Finally, for a bit of height, add a few candles in brass candlesticks and remember to leave room for food.
In most people’s listings of their Best Christmas Ever, the Christmas of 2020 is not a contender. At best it was a damp squib, sandwiched between lockdowns. For many it was very much worse. But for Pat Murphy of CK53 Design, it was the year Santa’s reindeer stepped in to save the day.
Murphy lives in Kildorrery, Co Cork, where he used to run a butcher’s shop. The business had been in his family for generations, but closed in 2007 due to changes in rural living. Murphy took a job in a local town. He also set up a woodworking workshop in the deserted abattoir.
“Woodwork had always been a hobby of mine,” he says. “I’m entirely self-taught. I learnt a lot of what I do from YouTube.”
In September 2020, with the country in and out of lockdown, he quit his day job and became a full-time maker. He named the business CK53 Design. “The building used to be licensed by Cork County Council and my licence number was Cork 53, or CK53.”
It was a scary moment. “I thought — ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’” Then, the magic happened. Murphy joined a Facebook group designed to help Irish shops and posted a picture of three little wooden reindeer.
“Within an hour my phone had started pinging and I started getting orders out my ears. I’m sure I sold 400 sets between then and Christmas. My wife had to take a week off work to help me.” Now he’s moved into a fully insulated workshop and is about to take on an assistant.
“My wife Sharon is a physio and she’s told me she’s overqualified for the polishing and packaging.” He makes and sells useful homeware items as well as Christmas robins (from €13) and the original reindeer family (€55). “It was the reindeer that really set me on my course,” he says. You can also find his work at Irish Design Shop, in Dublin and online.
Sustainable production by Irish designer-makers is what Irish Design Shop, owned and run by Clare Grennan and Laura Caffrey, is about. A series of Irish linen decorations, for example, are made in Belfast by fashion designer Katie Larmour.
“She uses discarded sequins and linen remnants from her clothing range, so she’s using up studio waste,” Grennan says. At €22.50 each, these are expensive decorations, but it’s hard to imagine a cheaper item that’s handmade by an Irish fashion designer. “It’s an alternative to going into a supermarket and buying a box of plastic baubles. And they’re nice enough to use as gifts. Buying a special decoration for someone is becoming a thing.”
Other decorations include a crocheted Christmas pudding (€15) from Ankas Crochet. “They’re made by a busy grandmother in North Dublin. Once people find that it’s a real granny making them it’s even sweeter.” You can also buy a handmade Christmas pudding decoration (€8) from Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic at Dunnes.
Irish Design Shop’s feel-good decoration of the year, in my opinion, goes to Christmas Doors from Gerald’s Gems (€8 each). Made of painted wooden lollipop sticks, reclaimed buttons, and a sparkly wreath, they’re the work of Gerald O’Regan, a young entrepreneur from Clontarf.
Born with Down syndrome, O’Regan began making the decorations with his grandad as a Transition Year project. Now aged 19, he’s won several national and international entrepreneurship awards. “Gerald donates €1 of every sale to Down Syndrome Ireland and the Irish Design Shop will match that donation,” Grennan says. “Having the decorations in our shop was a big boost to his confidence. It’s not a school project anymore. This is just the start of his ambition.”
Creative Home Consultations with Niamh MacGowan cost €85 per hour, with full details on niamhmacgowan.com. See also ck53design.ie and irishdesignshop.com.