Tips for organizing a beautiful Christmas party at the last minute

How to put together a last minute Christmas tree

“I’ve always preferred a branch,” says Sibella Court, an interior stylist and product designer whose Sydney boutique, The Society Inc, is the go-to for nautical-inspired furnishings. “We can see the decorations on it better, and also, our cat climbs among the pines.”

The court finds – or makes inquiries with a florist – a large, flared branch, plant it in a traditional Christmas tree base, fill it with stones (if necessary) and connect part of the branch to the nearest wall with a fishing line so that it stays upright. (She uses a stapler, but says the duct tape would work fine.) [the tree] looks more like reminding us of where we got things, and when she “- eight year old girl Silver -” did [the ornaments]”says Court, formerly the host of ABC’s Catering Australia. His favorite decorations include vintage glass decorations from Germany and handmade decorations by Silver, made from pipe cleaners, pulp and paper.

How to decorate a table that packs a punch, cheaply (and easily)

Can’t find a vase – what now? No worries, says Bess Scott of Paddington’s Bess florist in Sydney. “You can lay things right on the table,” she says, adding that banksias, “bigger, really tough flowers that almost look like Christmas decorations,” are a great choice. They’re also ideal, she says, for decorating the home if you’re going to have multiple functions, as they last a long time. “They will look great for two weeks,” she said. Another affordable option that packs a punch, she says – if you find a vase hidden away somewhere – is Christmas Bush. “They just look really bushy and abundant,” she says, of the small tree which has red and pink flowers.

Interior stylist Sibella Court, left, likes to use easy-to-find natural materials like rocks and wood to decorate. Getting your kids to collect them – her daughter Silver is pictured at right, aged 4 – also helps.Credit:David Hutton / Instagram / Jennifer Soo

Sibella Court also favors natural accents. His choice ? Stones, placed in the center of the table. “I think rocks feature in every one of my books,” says Court, who has written at least eight of them (including A stylist’s guide to New York, Gypsy and Nomadic). “There is something very powerful about rocks. You can even write the names of people on [them] in pencil, as a placeholder. They are just a nice shape. The bonus? The conversations they will spark. “I love to remember, and I love the memories, and I think especially when we can’t all travel, you pick up a rock now, and you’re like, ‘OK, that was when I was in Portofino and the trees were laden with lemons. ‘ I think there is something really beautiful about talking about this stuff.

How to create a festive picnic

With the increase in the number of COVID-19, many Christmas functions will be outdoors this year. But how do you store them, especially if there are no trees around to hang decorations? “I always cut armfuls of eucalyptus and fill old metal buckets [with them]”says Colleen Southwell, a flower artist and garden designer based at a farm outside of Orange in southeast NSW.” I think it’s nice to do something that looks a lot like a Australian Christmas; you know it just feels like home.

Branches can be bought inexpensively from a florist, she says, and after your picnic, if you pour the water from the buckets, you can let the eucalyptus dry, for a dramatic effect. “It turns into all kinds of beautiful shades as it dries and lasts quite a while.” Long ornamental grasses, like Stipa, Calamagrostis, and Phalaris, are also fantastic when placed in vases, she adds.

Make picnics special with affordable fruit infused water and native herbs, like Stipa, Calamagrostis, and Phalaris, and eucalyptus trees like Penny gum, all worn here by NSW floral artist Colleen Southwell.

Make picnics special with affordable fruit infused water and native herbs, like Stipa, Calamagrostis, and Phalaris, and eucalyptus trees like Penny gum, all worn here by NSW floral artist Colleen Southwell.Credit:iStock / Em Wollen

And, adds Chantel Mila, clear water jugs – or water dispensers – filled with water and colored infusions add beautiful color. “We have lemon and mint with water, every year,” she says. “And then we could have another alternative for people, with cherries and watermelon, in these Christmas colors.”

Creative activities for children

Kids jumping around the house, getting hotter and hotter by the minute, having no time to take them swimming because you’re getting ready for Christmas brunch (or lunch or dinner)? Have your kids make the place cards, says Sibella Court. “When we set the table, we have a little fun, Silver is going to paint a little card for each of the place settings.” Have the children help make Christmas tree ornaments, she says. “We collect seashells, can paint leaves, I mean, I love leaves. And then we go get some sea urchins and hang them on the tree. You [just] look in your garden and see what is right.

Last minute gifts

Nothing beats a handwritten recipe that comes with fresh produce that the recipe calls for or the dish itself, says Colleen Southwell. “It can be a copy of an old family recipe that has been passed down, or it can be something that is beautifully handwritten,” she said, adding that a recipe typed on a computer in a nice font works well, too. “It can be a great way to offer something that can be done quickly and inexpensively, but in a thoughtful way. Southwell often donates preserves and chutneys made from plums and apricots from his garden. “It shows that there has been a bit of thought, rather than just something that has been picked off a shelf,” she says.

Last minute gifts can be best when the gifts come in the form of a handwritten family recipe and well-chosen book.

Last minute gifts can be best when the gifts come in the form of a handwritten family recipe and well-chosen book.Credit:iStock / Hardie Grant Books

Those with fancy family and friends might want to emulate Sibella Court’s go-to option. “I don’t think you can get past a good book; it’s for kids or adults, ”she says of her daughter’s gift this year: The John Derian Sticker Book. It contains over 500 stickers by Derian, a New York-based decoupage artist known for his collectable plates made from 19th-century artwork from antique books. (At the time of writing, copies are available for a last minute in-store purchase in Melbourne at Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park and in Sydney at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt and The Art Gallery of NSW Gallery Shop.)

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