Interior designer Nina Campbell shares her thoughts on preparing for the festive season.
Entertaining requires space, so, this year, I’m going to create more room by putting a large tree outside in the garden and leaving the curtains open. On the other side of the house, I’m also going to decorate a piece of furniture that I bought from Morocco with a combination of flowering plants and lights; once they’re both lit, it’ll have the effect of making the room feel more Christmassy, less cluttered and will have the effect of drawing one’s eyes outside.
Each room needs a centrepiece of some description, as it creates a focal point for the rest of the decorating. At Christmas, I like to go slightly over the top and have two of these: one over the fireplace and one in the centre of the dining-room table.
Over the years, I’ve gathered a collection of decorations from all over the world that I’ve built up. This year at my shop, we’ve introduced some wonderful, glittery reindeer and snowmen that I spotted in America. A selection of votives and tall, straight candles introduce different heights of light – The Conran Shop (020–7589 7401; www.conranshop.co.uk) has some that are a deep ruby red and pretty pale grey that work really well against the silver.
Because my house is quite small, a priority is opening up the space by pushing the furniture around to create freer movement – the last thing you want is people tripping over things, but, equally, it’s important to retain atmosphere. Arranging seating is important; two people sitting next to one another rarely end up speaking, so use occasional chairs positioned at diagonals to encourage small groups of conversations between three or four people.
I only serve Champagne and wine at parties. Cocktails can get incredibly complicated when people arrive at the same time. I also like to keep the hors d’oeuvres simple: cheese straws, served in glass ice pails with silver tops, go very quickly.
In my view, drinks taste better in glasses with stems. I also prefer using my own glasses rather than a caterer’s and love having a mix of different types (I scour antique markets to find ones that I like).
I’m not keen on tumblers as they require coasters. My favourite designs are by Carlo Moretti, which are handmade in Venice (www.originalmuranoglass.com).
At a recent party in Boston, the hosts had set a huge coffee table in the middle of the room bearing delicious things to eat. People came and went as it suited them and the experience was far less onerous than being stuck with someone throughout dinner. The furniture had been pushed back against the walls and people perched where they could.
This type of entertaining requires a few occasional tables and small trays. The key to getting it right is to ensure that someone (perhaps a few teenagers) is responsible for clearing abandoned glasses and plates so that there’s always space to put things down.
Laying the table
On Christmas Day, I love a mix of red Murano wine glasses and amethyst water glasses or a tablecloth made from vintage saris in deep burgundy, which I’ve had interlined to add softness. For dinner parties at Christmas time, I like a white tablecloth that can then be dressed with gold, more white and polished silver.
I have a collection of stacking ballroom chairs in perspex, with a cushioned seat, that can then be altered to match the everyday dining chairs. Afterwards, they can be put away in a corner or a basement.
Club fenders are another handy way of fitting in another couple of people – a footstool by the fireplace works just as well.
Nina Campbell (020–7352 9518; http://shop.ninacampbell.com)
Susie Atkinson, a designer whose projects include Soho House, shared her best lighting tips with Country Life.
Winter is fast approaching so now’s the time to do a little preparation for the chilly months ahead