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5 Simple But Special Ways to Decorate for the Holidays

Holiday decorating can be over the top, but you don’t need to string up miles of lights or blow your budget on tinsel. Today in How We Holiday, five pros share tricks for adding the right little touches in your home.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Bring Nature Inside, by Alexis Anthony

I usually travel home to Florida a few days before Christmas, which means I get the last-minute bargain tree at the lot. Our ornaments are mostly made from things I can find in nature. Pine cones and oranges really epitomize Northern Florida; one year, we collected a bunch of shells from the beach and had a fun afternoon painting and gluing them on hooks. I also attach hooks and ribbons to pine cones—some years, I get adventurous and spray paint them either white or gold. I like to fill out a wonky tree with dried flowers and branches: baby’s breath looks like snow on branches; dried branches look great either natural or spray-painted; and dried eucalyptus adds dimension with another shade of green. I also like to use ribbons as decoration: as a garland, or I’ll tie bows and use bobby pins to attach them to the tree. The ribbons can then be rolled up and stored to use for something else later, and the ornaments can be composted along with the tree.

And the next year, we’ll gather up friends and family to go out hunting for materials, and we’ll do it all over again.

Alexis Anthony is the Art Director for Food52. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Make It Personal, by Virginia Sin

I love cooking and having friends over, and my favorite part is setting the table. I use my SIN porcelain paper plates—if it’s a potluck, we’ll just put out a pile so people can help themselves. I also decorate and style the table with things that my friends make—I’ll use tumblers from Farah of Light and Ladder, or things from my friend at BTW Ceramics. Even though some of these people have moved away, I’m able to say, Oh, my friend made this. It feels like they’re still having dinner with us.

I’m a very sentimental, nostalgic type. My grandpa passed this year, and the things that I wanted were all of the dishware that he and my grandmother used. It’s this original china porcelain, where there are indentations of rice pressed into a pattern, so there are certain parts that are more translucent. It has some chips and cracks in it, but I don’t mind.

Virginia Sin is the founder and creative director of SIN, an American-made home goods company.

Appreciate The Big & The Small, By Emiko Davies

In Italy, it’s traditional to decorate the tree on December 8th—it’s actually a public holiday. The kids don’t have school and everyone stays home to kick off the season. We go to my Tuscan mother-in-law’s home to set up her tree and presepe, a replica of Jesus’ manger. My daughter loves it and usually helps her nonna decorate her coffee table with small figurines, straw, little animals, and lights. All around Italy you can see these nativity scenes in churches and community spaces—some have moving parts, while others are made of incredible materials, like pasta.

I have a small apartment and try to keep decorations simple. To limit clutter, I like hanging wreaths and bunting. They don’t take up much floor space, but they still feel festive. I hand-make wreaths out of bay leaves or rosemary from our garden, or olive branches from a nearby abandoned grove. Recently, while visiting Puglia, the farm where I stayed made hundreds of simple, beautiful wreaths out of red chili peppers. They look divine, even when dried.

Emiko Davies is an Australian-Japanese cookbook author who has lived in Florence for over 10 years with her Tuscan-sommelier husband. Her second cookbook, Acquacotta: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany’s Secret Silver Coast (Hardie Grant Books), is out now.

Create Your Own Rituals, by Paul Lowe

I love to have a fresh tree; there’s no better smell. I don’t really decorate it—I put a star on top, and that’s it. I just want it in the house for the smell. It’s the same with flowers: I love to use hyacinths and bulb Christmas flowers, and I’ll have a large bowl of oranges that I put cloves in. And we drink glogg, a mulled wine with spices, that smells amazing when you heat it up.

Working as a stylist for many years, I was always starting to do Christmas in July—and you get tired of it. You get tired of tinsel and glitter and pine cones. But I still want all of those other things around me—especially the music. I have a tradition every year where I put on good old-fashioned Christmas music, like Frank Sinatra, and I get drunk and I wrap presents. It’s a nice time for myself, and it also reminds me of everyone I’ve had in my life that’s not here anymore, so usually I cry a little. I send my fiancé away, and I wrap and drink and cry. The smells, the tastes, the childhood memories: that’s what the holidays are all about.

Born in Oslo, Paul “Sweet Paul” Lowe is the creator and Editor in Chief of the quarterly Sweet Paul Magazine. His Grandmother Mormor and Great Auntie Gunnvor instilled in him a love for cooking and crafting that has carried over to his career in New York.

Celebrate what’s meaningful, by Sumayya Usmani

I grew up in Pakistan, but when I moved to the UK about twelve years ago, I started to get into the whole Christmas spirit. There’s something quite special about those lovely, spicy candles that you get in the markets this time of year. I also love festive greenery and plants: things that are living and real, rather than the tinsel and shiny stuff.

Over the course of the year, my daughter and I will pick up things from nature—twigs, dried flowers, pine cones—and make our own little decorations together. They become these lovely mementos. The holidays become a time to ponder and look at how your child has grown up, and to make beautiful things together. That’s my favorite way to celebrate.

Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Sumayya Usmani is an internationally published food writer, author and cooking teacher. She’s currently based in Glasgow and London, where she spends her time writing and teaching about the rich culinary heritage of Pakistan.

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