Christmas is a wonderful time of year, full of cherished moments with family and friends and lots of fun and festivities. Yet, it is also a time of year that creates incredible amounts of waste that has a huge impact on the environment. In the UK alone 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away annually according to Imperial College research. Astonishingly 226,800 miles of wrapping paper, which is enough to stretch nine times around the world, ends up in landfill; along with 125,000 tons of plastic wrapping.
Also, most Christmas decorations like tinsel and baubles are made from plastic, which is a huge environmental problem and will end up forever in landfill or the ocean. Plus, I know everyone loves a sparkly Christmas, but don’t forget that glitter is actually a micro-plastic, the worst kind of plastic. It currently accounts for 85% of plastic found in the environment and it is so small that tiny organisms, especially aquatic life, can consume it. Therefore, through the food chain, it eventually ends up back on our plates. So if you prefer your seafood plastic free, read on for some fun, beautiful and earth-friendly ways to decorate your Christmas table or your home for the festive season.
The Neutral Look - This calm and delicate table combines natural grasses with paper, linen and ceramics to create a muted, textural look. This might be the most complicated table, but definitely worth a go and of course you can pick and choose which elements to recreate.
Table covering: Lay a linen tablecloth (this one is from Griege). Investing in linen is something you will always value. It actually gets better with age, so you will quite possibly end up handing it down to your children. Environmentally, it’s also a much better option than cheap polyester as when polyester is washed it releases microfibers into the water, which then ends up in our precious oceans.
Place settings: These beautiful handmade ceramics are from London-based designer Andrea Roman. I love collecting handmade plates and bowls as over time it means you have a kitchen filled with unique treasures. You are also supporting local businesses and investing in life-long pieces which results in less waste and feel good vibes all round.
Centrepiece: Arrange paper book trees down the middle of the table in alternating sizes. Have a 'making party' with friends and some mulled wine, and grab some old paperback books, any will work. If you don’t have any books in your own collection that you no longer use, pop to your local charity store & pick up a few for pocket change (while also benefiting a charity). Simply follow the easy steps on this video to make. Finish off by topping the trees with a star, find out how to make these - First step here. Second step here. I also made some paper snowflakes and baubles - you can cut these from scrap paper, old Christmas cards or used packaging. Watch this video on how to fold and cut out a snowflake and this post for instructions and a printout for the baubles.
(NOTE: when hanging things use cotton thread instead of plastic string - things like fishing line are again a nightmare for poor aquatic life and birds. Alternatively you could use cotton ribbon, wool yarn or hessian string- all natural materials.)
Adding texture: I am a huge fan of foraging and harvesting what is growing in the garden or around my local area. Gathering locally means you’re not buying flowers that have travelled hundreds of air or land miles and have also most likely been sprayed with pesticides. It also means you’re cutting out the plastic they come wrapped in. So grab your secateurs and head out for a walk, enjoy the fresh air and see what lovely foliage you can find. To create this eye-catching hanging centrepiece I used Pampas grass which grows wild and free around the UK and has these beautiful fluffy plumes from October to February- perfect timing for the festive season. Using cotton yarn I tied the pampas grass stems to a bamboo stake and then hung the it from the roof rafters. Alternatively, if you can’t hang them, throw a big bunch in a tall vase for a striking centrepiece and enjoy their feathery wild loveliness. I then picked apart small pieces of the grass and laid them around the bottom of the paper trees and on each plate.
The Colourful Look - This table is super easy and quick to create and will add a huge amount of vibrant colour, texture and rustic charm to your table.
Table covering: Use a roll of recycled paper as a table runner. This serves multiple purposes; 1) it uses recycled paper, 2) it protects your table from food and spills, and 3) it makes clean up super quick - just roll up and put into the recycling (although if your lucky enough to have very clean dinner guests you can keep the paper and use for something else like wrapping presents). I used a roll from Paperchase.
Centrepiece: This step is by no means essential, but if you can get your hands on some tree slices they add a lovely rustic touch to your table. Look out for them at your local flower markets or nurseries or keep your eyes peeled for tree-chopping neighbours and ask for some trunk slices! As well as being pretty, they also serve as trivets to protect your table from hot dishes. We then added a stunning handmade salad bowl from Ghaz Ceramics to the centre of the table. Feel free to use any fruit or salad bowls you love.
Add foliage and colour: Again, go foraging for some foliage - this time you’re on the look out for greens - especially pine, to give that extra Christmassy feel. It also smells beautiful! Lay small branch pieces in alternative directions down the middle of the table. For colour, add some seasonal produce- pomegranates, clementines, persimmons and artichokes are all in season this time of year and perfect for the table! I even used some pink radishes to add further pops of colour! Any type of hardy, thick-skinned fruit or vegetable will work. Just don’t put anything soft like berries on the table as it won't last. Scatter and nestle it all amongst the pine.
Place settings: Once again, I'm advocating the investment in locally made ceramics. These beautiful plates are by Edmund Davies. A trick to slowly building a collection - buy all your plates in neutrals and whites, so that even if they are all from different makers they will mix and match beautifully. Add a pomegranate (or clementine) on each plate to add more colour. If you want to designate seats you can always write names onto the pomegranates as cute ‘place cards’. If buying new glassware, again please consider buying handmade to benefit artisans and the planet. These glasses are from Greige and are handmade in Portugal and come in all sorts of colours. Otherwise if you don’t have enough glassware for everyone, head to your local charity shop where you will find many bargains and then mix and alternate the different glassware along the table (same goes for cutlery).
After your meal, do not throw away your decorations, as you can eat them! Give your guests a little bagful to take away too.
The Dark Look - This table is great for a moody dinner setting and again is super simple to create.
Table covering: Opt for a dark coloured tablecloth - again try to opt for a linen or cotton tablecloth instead of cheap polyester. Try Greige for some lovely table linen.
Centrepiece: In the UK alone we consume 35 million bottles of wine over the festive season so this is a way to re-use some of these (and not just for Christmas). Collect bottles in varying colours and shapes, then soak in hot water to remove the labels. Wedge in some taper candles - if the bottle opening is a bit small, melt down the ends a little then twist in. To get the drip effect you just need to let the candles burn down and drip. Then simply re-fill with new candles when needed. Finally, nestle some foraged pinecones around the wine bottle candles.
Place settings: For this one I have created a more formal setting and layered dinner plates with entrée plates and soup bowls plus linen napkins for extra texture, all sourced for Greige and Ghaz Ceramics. Again don’t be afraid to mix and match your plates and bowls - just adhere to a similar colour palette and it will work beautifully.
We hope these ideas might have inspired you in some way! If you do create anything inspired by these ideas we would love to see - so please tag @91magazine and our stylist @laurenbeckerstylist. Many thanks to all the lovely makers and local shops that got involved in the project.
All Photography by Veerle Evens