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Home > Christmas decorations 2008

Forget the gruesome gold, black and purple bling binges of Christmases past. This year, the thrifty-chic zeitgeist is bringing a fresher, more natural look to our preparations, with design gurus proclaiming a return to conifer greens and holly-berry reds: something altogether simpler and more organic.

So, dear Santa, here is this year's decorative wish list. We'd like an unshowy but stylish Christmas. We want to go relatively ecofriendly, heavy on the homemade decorations, less of the bought-in baubles, easy on the budget. On the other hand, we aren't willing to skimp on the evergreen-scented, candle-lit fabulousness of the season.

This is what Theresa Tollemache, the founder of the tableware company Volga Linen, has achieved in what she calls her “dacha”, in the grounds of her Suffolk home. Each year, in what was once a run-down shed used by a carpenter on a former Saxmundham estate and is now part of her property, she gathers her family around her in an intimate, organic Christmas setting.

“The important thing is not to be too precious,” says Tollemache, 60, who runs the family business, which sells finely embroidered linen from Russia through shops in Chelsea and Suffolk. This year, she and her brood of children and grandchildren are eschewing the usual Christmas tree for branches of spruce, Scots pine and trailing ivy, cut from the Suffolk countryside.

“It's nice to be spontaneous, to just use what's available,” she says. “The key is to create different textures from the different greens. Then we simply add a few baubles, which have been in the family for years, to reflect tiny fairy lights. Less is definitely more.”

Her grandchildren, Ella, 11, and Fynn, 9, had vital roles, creating candle displays set in apples and surrounded by greenery, as well as door wreaths made with branches and chicken wire. Tollemache created the spectacular central table display of frosted grapes by dipping them in egg white and coating them in sugar. “The most important thing is that it is a combined effort,” she says. “And the food, of course.”

Another mistress of the natural look is Sophie Conran, scion of the design dynasty, pie-maker, Portmeirion pottery designer and mother of two Christmas-crazy kids, Felix, 14, and Coco, 12. “A lot of our tree decorations I've had for years and years,” she says. “Lots were made by the children, so decorating the tree together is a walk down memory lane. I usually buy just one more every year to add to the collection.” This may sound abstemious, but Conran's central London home will be alive with vibrant colours and evocative aromas.

“There will be holly and ivy with berries, eucalyptus and pine cones everywhere,” she says. “I make pomanders with oranges and cloves, then hang them on ribbons. I go to New Covent Garden Market and come back with armfuls of red and white flowers. And I buy cranberries to thread: they make lovely red chains that are fantastic for decorating.”

Conran's passion for decking her halls with flowers and fruit is right on trend this year. Despite the unrelenting gloom on the nation's high streets, the most fashionable – and expensive – florists have never been busier. Jane Wadham, chosen this autumn to set up shop inside the entrance to the Ivy restaurant's new private members' club (www.theflowershopattheivy.co.uk), says she will be spending every day until the holiday making hundreds of garlands and centrepieces, as well as her trademark square “cushions” of velvety red Grand Prix rose blooms (£76; 020 7735 7771, www.jwflowers.com) .

This floral approach might seem suspiciously pricey, but there are plenty of good deals around this year. M&S will deliver a pair of standard Blue Maid holly trees for £55 (www.marksandspencer.com); in Waitrose, look out for the sprays of fake berries from £4.99.

The fervour for flowers is inspired in part by the latest redefinition of luxury, which is no longer about flashiness, but about savouring the moment; about valuing authenticity over price tag. So says the gallerist and hotelier Rabih Hage, whose new hotel, Rough Luxe, in central London (www.roughluxe.com), illustrates his principles: opulent bed linen and peeling plasterwork, splendid works of art on faded wallpaper, with no glossy finishes or busy ornament. “Time is the real luxury,” he says. “Moments spent with the right people.” I sense that Hage is stalling when I ask him about his decorative scheme at home this Christmas, and he will admit to a tree only under pressure: “Well, yes, I get a tree with my son. But reluctantly.”

For those who insist on trees, they can now be sourced as precisely as our turkeys. The website of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (www.bctga.co.uk) details good nurseries and farms nation-wide that offer cut and pot-grown trees, from Nordmann fir to Scots pine and Norway spruce.

How about top-up tree decora-tions? Most in keeping with the spirit of Christmas present is Plümo's pretty bunting, made using vintage cotton fabrics (£20; 0870 241 3590, www.plumo.com). Lombok is having an antibling moment, with a charming selection of white and transparent decorations: dangly-earring-style shell tree decorations cost £5 for two (0870 240 7380, www.lombok.co.uk). Top all this off with the V&A's giant paper snowflake, the White Explosion Decoration (£18; 020 7942 2696, www.vandashop.com ).

Best by far of the bought-in decorations, for sheer uplifting, party-starting festiveness, are fairy lights. At Habitat (0844 499 1111, www.habitat.co.uk), there is a splendid selection of LED lights, from a basic three-metre string of 100 (Millennium, £15) to the more unusual Tsing paper lanterns (£19). Muji's new Cocoon LEDs are lanterns made from silkworm cocoons (£17; www.mujionline.co.uk). If you are eco-conscious, you'll be pleased to learn that all the good brands make low-energy models with replaceable bulbs – or you could just acknowledge that they really are terribly pretty. Still not convinced? Stick to candles.

Joanna Wood's store stocks mirrored tea-light holders (£12.50) and coasters (£12.50 for four; 020 7730 5064, www. joannawood.co.uk). Graham & Green has mirrored place mats (£35 for four; 0845 130 6622, www.grahamandgreen.co.uk). Keeping your candles alight won't break the bank, either. The Pier (0845 609 1234, www.pier.co.uk) has bags of 50 tea lights for £1.33 – the perfect finishing touch to this year's most stylish seasonal look: Christmas with less glitter, but plenty of sparkle.

Volga Linen; 0844 499 1608, www.volgalinen.co.uk

Additional reporting by Emma Wells

On the table

The red glass stands will glam up your mince pies and Christmas cake. £3 each. Paperchase; 020 7467 6200, www.paperchase.co.uk

Creative bakers will love these snowflake-shaped biscuit racks, £5. Re; 01434 634567, www.refoundobjects. com

Glass tea-light holders (from 34p each) and a Christmas Tea Light Lantern (£6.85). The Pier; 0845 609 1234, www.pier.co.uk

These handmade recycled crackers contain hat, motto and gift. £20 for six. Liberty; 020 7734 1234, www.liberty.co.uk

The Ruby Dining Set, £59 for four, includes dinner plates, side plates and bowls. M&S; 0845 302 1234, www.marksandspencer.com

This 147cm x 250cm tablecloth (£45) with a retro heart pattern has a matching runner (£19). New House Textiles; 01989 740380, www.newhousetextiles.co.uk