Some tips for creating a big impact in a small space.
I love the holiday season, and I’ve always gone all out with the decorations, the big trees and, of course, finding needles for the next six months. But times they are a-changin’ and everyone seems to still want the feeling of the holidays without the huge amount of stuff or effort. I have so many clients downsizing to condos from large family homes, as well as younger clients who are moving in to their own places, which are smaller. There’s less space to display and to store. And there’s less time to make a huge splash. But we all still love holiday season, right?
Fortunately, technology helps us create big impact in smaller spaces and manufacturers have been quick to respond with great new products. Like strings of lights that have the light embedded into the wire. And trees with bendable limbs that let you create a sculptural form and then detach from the tree trunk for easy storage. So here’s my list for easily creating the great holiday feel without crowding you out of house and home.
First impressions: Make an impression in the front hall with a small tree on the hall console table. For example, Restoration Hardware has faux Norfolk Island pines wrapped in burlap. Or make your own with bare sculptural branches placed in a large glass vase and hung with beautiful glass ornaments.
Faux is the way to go: The fake Christmas trees today look so real you have to touch them to know for sure. There’s no mess from falling needles and they’re environmentally sustainable — no forests have been cut and you can save them for years. The same for garlands and you can place them anywhere – on the banister trimmed with ribbons and ornaments, woven into the dining room chandelier, the pot rack above your island, or on bathroom shelves. Faux wreaths tied with a swag of ribbon and hung in the windows or on the door is pretty and simple.
Illuminate: There’s nothing more magical than a home filled with twinkling lights. The new strings of LED bulbs give off a lot of bright light and take up less space. Get creative with placement – a strand woven around the buffet table is pretty, or strung over your indoor tropical plants. Candles, too, create gorgeous atmosphere, and to avoid any fire hazard (and mess from wax) try battery-operated ones.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire: Well maybe not exactly, but a roaring fire certainly invites hunkering down and getting cozy. And it doesn’t have to be real wood — the new gas models roar just as nicely. For decorating, the mantel is an ideal place to pile it on with vintage ornaments hanging from a string of beads, strands of LED lights woven into a garland or loosely placed boughs, or hurricane candle holders filled with glass balls.
Riots of colour: While nothing says the holidays quite like red — and you can pile it on with red table mats, napkins, candles, bowls of red ornaments, pillows, throws – nothing says you can’t get creative with a different colour scheme.
The nose knows: Pomanders are easy enough to make – simply spike an orange with hundreds of cloves. But essential oils save time. The pine oil added to water can be spritzed on your fake tree. In a burner, try frankincense (great for keeping us calm during the holiday frenzy), or cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for authentic holiday smells.
Homemade decor: There’s something uniquely wonderful about children’s artwork and around the holidays they come home from school laden down with various masterpieces. Those huge snowflakes cut from printer paper? Hang them by florist wire from the chandelier.
At the cottage: If you’re lucky enough to gather family and friends at the cottage, take advantage of nature’s bounty at the door. Get everyone out for a walk, and gather pine cones, evergreen boughs, bare branches, birch bark (as long as it’s already off the tree, or on a branch that’s on the ground), and mix with vintage ornaments on the mantel, tree, dinner table.
Decking the deck: Most homes now have sightlines to the backyard, the deck, or the balcony. Even if you only have enough space for a wrought iron urn, fill it with evergreen bushes or boughs, wrap with a strand of twinkly white lights and hang colourful ornaments.
Decorating your home makes everyone feel good – from the family who lives with you to the friends and family you invite over. I love to entertain but I also insist on keeping it simple, good quality and stress-free.
Personally I prefer dinner parties to drop-in cocktail parties, but at holiday time, people’s party schedules sometimes don’t give them enough time to linger for dinner. So keep it simple with a drop-in. Either way, keep menus to an easy prep minimum.
For dinner, consider potluck. And if you’re short on space, set up the kitchen island as a buffet station and invite guests to eat wherever they can find a spot to perch and where communication is possible.
Think outside the box when you’re planning on a dinner party. I don’t use my BBQ as much in the winter, but if it’s close enough to the kitchen it’s great to use especially if protected by an overhang. I have friends who swear by deep-frying turkey – I’ve tasted the delicious results – and you can do that outside.
For drop-ins, too, a simple menu is best. It’s easier on me, but it also keeps guests from feeling overwhelmed by food; remember most people have more than one holiday event on their calendars. Fresh oysters and champagne, for example, along with a few seasonal favourites like bowls of pears and mandarin oranges and bowls of almonds and cashews. A simple cheese tray or charcuterie platter don’t require a lot of work. The same goes for drinks. Stick with minimal offerings to make it easy for you, as in craft beer and two great wines, one red, one white.
Although I am always one for keeping things simple, during the holidays I do like to go all out and make one special traditional item, like the best ever shortbread from my grandmother’s recipe box. For me, the beauty in cooking is doing a good job and seeing the effect it has on people. Because when my friends and family are happy I’m happy.