9 Christmas decorating lessons from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

In the run up to Christmas 2021, Country Living visited Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in his new studio in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. We chatted to the Changing Rooms presenter and flamboyant interior designer – known for his bold style and eccentric use of pattern and texture – about all things Christmas.

“Christmas is an incredibly important moment in your year. It’s a time to recharge yourself ahead of what’s going to be a very, very cold and grey January and February. So do make sure you enjoy it,” Laurence reminds us, before we get into the nitty gritty of baubles and garlands.

He wants us to remember that, ultimately, we are the bosses of our own homes and we should decorate in a way that’s right for us, not what’s right in terms of trends and traditions.

Photo credit: Alun Callender

Photo credit: Alun Callender

“The absolute secret to getting Christmas right is to do it in your way. Don’t feel that you’ve got to be something you’re not at Christmas. Don’t feel that you’ve got to do the whole Dickensian red and green thing.

“Christmas can be your colours. Christmas can be your things. I think it should always be something that you drive, rather than something that drives you.”

With that empowerment in mind, here are nine valuable Christmas decorating lessons from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, from colour schemes to forgotten places to adorn…

1. Don’t feel like you need to tick every Christmas box. Do what’s right for your home.

“Don’t feel you’ve got to do everything. One of the things that we struggle with in our house is the fact that the ceilings are very low so, actually, Christmas trees – which are very Victorian and about high ceilings and verticality – have never really worked,” admits Laurence about his family home in the Cotswolds (see pictures here).

“It was liberating about five or six years ago where I just said ‘okay, we’ll do garlands.’ Garlands are much more traditional and would have been exactly what they would have used in the 17th century. So always find a way of making sure that you tailor what you’re doing to who you are, and the way that you live.”

Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun

Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun

Read: 14 Christmas garlands to make your home merry and bright

2. Leave enough time to get it right

“I think the big thing about Christmas decorating is to make sure that you’ve got enough time to do it properly. Never try and condense it into an afternoon. You’re going to be living with these decorations for probably six weeks these days. Take it slow, think about it,” says Laurence.

3. Organise your decorations before you hang them

“With things like Christmas decorations, I always like to (as if you’re doing a cookery show) have all your different options laid out,” Laurence advises. “So you know how many dangly ones you’ve got, how many purple ones you’ve got, how many baubles you’ve got…”

4. Always turn the lights on before putting them on your tree

“On a practical level, always put the Christmas tree lights on the Christmas tree lit. Never do them dark, because otherwise you suddenly realise you get these great clods of illumination in one corner.”

Photo credit: Sally Anscombe - Getty Images

Photo credit: Sally Anscombe – Getty Images

5. Go for spring bulbs

“I think Christmas itself can always feel very claustrophobic. We’re very lucky living in the country – you can go for walks, you can open the door and actually be part of nature – but I will always use things like spring bulbs as a very important part of my Christmas decorating schemes, particularly on windows sills,” says Laurence, in a move away from what we might expect from Christmas flowers and foliage.

“I love the fact that you plant those up several days before Christmas Eve, and yet they’re still going beyond New Year’s Day. You have that sense of spring arriving, that sense of optimism and moving forward that really cuts through the smell of claustrophobia… and sprouts… and granny. She can always smell very bad at Christmas.”

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6. Go back to the original purpose of a Christmas tree

“With Christmas trees, the real secret is to understand that, originally, there were no such things as Christmas tree decorations. The decorations were the presents themselves. You see Victorian etchings where they had a small Christmas tree in the middle of the room on a table, and they’d hang the toys from it, or they’d hang the jewellery. I really like that and I think to give your Christmas tree a real sense of personality is very important,” says Laurence with a sense of nostalgia.

“I even mean incorporating your children and your grandchildren. They always come back from school these days with little things that they’ve made. My mother was ruthless about that kind of stuff. I’d come back from school and she’d go ‘pot boiler, pot boiler, pot boiler. We might keep that one. Pot boiler, pot boiler…’ I’m a bit like that with my children and my grandson. But I think that the idea of making sure that you’ve got a degree of personality to a Christmas tree is very important.”

7. Get the right kind of real Christmas tree

“If you’re going real, always pick a Christmas tree with very broad needles. They retain much more moisture for much longer and are less likely to drop. Also, try and find one based on height and never forget that most of the height is taken off in that long skinny thing that sticks out of the top like an antenna. Make sure that you’re going to love your Christmas tree every bit as much once you’ve cut that off, because half the time you need to cut that off to just make sure you get it in.”

“Keep your Christmas tree watered. Even if it’s just sitting in sand, which I always like to do, keep it in sand and just keep watering the sand because it will keep absorbing moisture and last a little bit longer.”

Photo credit: Photographer: Rachel Whiting. Stylist: Ben Kendrick

Photo credit: Photographer: Rachel Whiting. Stylist: Ben Kendrick

Read: Rent a Christmas tree: How tree renting works, where to rent from and choosing the right one

8. Colour scheme

One of the things I really enjoy about Christmas is finding a colour scheme that is romantic. I think Christmas should be romantic and nostalgic. I think nostalgia is a very important part of this particular festival.

“I really like the idea of using pink and soft green as an antidote to the knee-jerk red and green of those holly colours. Giving it a pastel look gives it a sense of flavour. It gives it a kind of a sugared almond, Nutcrackery-ness that can fit very well, particularly into a mid-century modern or Hollywood Regency kind of environment.

“Pattern is very good at Christmas as well. Never underestimate the impact things like wrapping paper have on the way that your Christmas decorations look.”

9. Don’t forget the staircase

“I started garlanding the staircase, which feels a bit American, but actually it is much, much older than that. In many ways, it really heightens the kind of theatre of Christmas.

“We now all live together – I’ve got both daughters, their husbands, grandchildren – and that sort of sense of going upstairs to bed on Christmas Eve through the garland is a very evocative moment for all of them.

“It’s probably the place you wouldn’t necessarily think to decorate, because it’s not part of the real celebration focus. But actually, the staircase is something that’s become incredibly popular.”

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