Monday 17 December 2018

Nine ways to style your house for Christmas

How do you add festive glitz without going over the top? Stylist and interiors experts Jo Linehan and Caroline Foran share their décor tips with Liadan Hynes. Photographs by Caolan Barron

Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan of Gaff Interiors put on the glitz.
Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan of Gaff Interiors put on the glitz.

When most of us make the annual trip to the attic to dust off the Christmas decorations, what we're looking at is a jumbled mix of the shiny, the sentimental, and the randomly purchased over the years. A Christmas tree in the living room is usually the star of the show and the focus of our decorating efforts, while the rest of the house can be overlooked. Rarely does the colour scheme stray from the traditional red, green and gold.

But it doesn't have to be like this. According to Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan, the pair behind Gaff Interiors (, a new website that offers practical advice to those working within a limited space or budget: "The world doesn't have to revolve around the Christmas tree, which is nice, because it's suitable for people who may not have space for a tree."

CDrinks trolley, €399 at; glassware, €1.70 at
CDrinks trolley, €399 at; glassware, €1.70 at

Caroline has just bought her first home, and Jo is currently renting. This, along with their combined backgrounds in the areas of beauty, fashion, interiors, set design, lifestyle, and health, both in online and in print journalism, makes them well suited to running a website that offers smart solutions and ideas that tick all the right style boxes.

"We've got great taste but no money," laughs Caroline, summing up their approach. The website offers lots of suggestions for making the most of what you have and appeals mainly to first-time buyers or renters.

The Gaff Christmas décor philosophy taps into the notion of Hygge, this year's biggest lifestyle trend, which advocates making your home cosy throughout the winter months. "Some things can look great all year round," says Caroline, whose home is scattered with twinkly fairy lights, cosy faux fur throws, sheepskin rugs and candles which add to the festive atmosphere, but also lend a general sense of snugness.

"What people don't often consider with Christmas is their soft furnishings. They can be really comforting and cosy, you want to snuggle down and watch Home Alone with your glogg."

Christmas crackers, €60 a box at; placemats, €3.16 each at
Christmas crackers, €60 a box at; placemats, €3.16 each at

Jo also advises rethinking the balance of how you decorate your home. "If the main space that you use is the kitchen, then that should be the place that you decorate," rather than focusing on one corner of the living room.

"We're more into having different areas, and bringing a whole vibe into your house," explains Jo. "And working with the space that you have, rather than trying to shove a Christmas tree into it," adds Caroline.

They warn against bringing in a completely new style for Christmas. Instead "incorporate pieces that are obviously festive, but that also complement your home, rather than going completely against the existing décor," advises Jo.

For many of us, reds, silvers and golds, with lots of tinsel, tends to be the favoured colour scheme. But the duo have eschewed this traditional palette in favour of a Scandi look of pale pinks and grey. Highlights of gold run throughout - candles, cutlery, yellow lights and even the brass edging of some furnishings, keep the theme from looking cold or sterile. The use of natural fabrics and foliage; wood, twine, fern, also softens the effect.

Gold coloured cutlery, from €1.24 at; Christmas cake by Avoca.
Gold coloured cutlery, from €1.24 at; Christmas cake by Avoca.

Here, they offer their decorating tips for achieving a modern, fresh look that won't blow the budget, and will take you past Christmas Day.

1 Go alternative

If you don't have the space, or the budget, for a traditional tree, think outside the box. Caroline and Jo used a wooden cross decorated with lights. Other suggestions include arranging fairy lights or Christmas cards on a wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. Dunnes Stores is selling a space-saving half Christmas tree, where the back is flat and can be placed against the wall.

2 Light up

Fairy lights are not just for the tree, or for Christmas for that matter. String the delicate twinkly strands from bookcases, mirrors, along your dining table as part of the place setting, in coloured glass vases, and by the front door on potted plants. The battery-operated variety is widely available now - they tend to be more delicate and mean you aren't tied to where plugs are located. Look for the variety with copper wires which can be bent into various shapes.

3 forage for decorations

Appassionata Flowers is their go-to for professional arrangements, but any walk this year will have you spoilt for choice when it comes to branches, pine cones and other foliage that can be incorporated into place settings, dressed in vases, or used for the wreath. Plus it adds that delicious whiff of Christmas. All very budget-friendly, and the colours - green and brown - will go with any interior palette. Use twine to tie it all together.

White Christmas tree ornaments, €2.75 at; fairy lights, €15 at
White Christmas tree ornaments, €2.75 at; fairy lights, €15 at

4 Keep it natural

Go for natural fabrics, avoid the traditional overdone look in favour of cute paper decorations (see Danish store Tiger for ideas) with a garnish of natural foliage. Use novelty cutlery. A mirror placed down on the table with fairy lights on top makes a lovely light feature.

5 Bring in the hostess trolley

The hostess trolley is back and it brings instant character to a room. It can be used to stack anything from drinks to books or music systems for the rest of the year. It's easy to decorate - just scatter a few baubles - and is a good way of delegating at least one task from the main host as guests can help themselves to drinks rather than having to have their glasses refilled. Any kind of table that you can set up with drinks and appetizers will fill the same role.

6 Don't wrap, box it

If you're in a rush, buy small cardboard boxes in which to present your gifts, rather than going through the hassle of wrapping. Any children on your list will consider this a gift in itself.

7 dress your door

Set the tone with a gorgeous wreath. Buy a base and make your own with ivy, twigs, moss and cones - it'll look and smell good. Use twine, which looks great, to hang your wreath on the front door by wrapping it around the wreath, pulling it over the top of door, and taping it down inside. Themed Christmas doormats are another nice, festive touch.

8 engage the senses

Nothing is as evocative or creates an atmosphere like scent. Pile pine cones high in a pretty bowl and set on your hall table to greet guests. Invest in a fragranced three-wick candle with significant burning hours - light and enjoy.

9 Have fun

Scatter a collection of whimsical, cute decorations around the house and as part of your table decorations, or look for funny cards for your guests. Don't feel you have to follow a look or colour scheme slavishly - have fun with it, be tongue in cheek. Use what you like and work with what you have.

  • INSTANT HYGGE: Want to Hygge up your home for Xmas? Visit the Nordic Elements Christmas pop-up for cool decorations, candles and high-design interior gifts. Thursdays to Saturdays, 9.30am to 3pm at St Mary’s, Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin
  • STYLE SECRETS: Pick up tips on giving your home the Christmas factor, plus creating seasonal drinks, at interior stylist Niamh MacGowan’s Country Christmas masterclass on December 3 and 10 at Hunters Hotel, Rathnew, Co Wicklow. Tickets, €65 (includes slap-up tea and glass of fizz)

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