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How to have a bright, merry and sustainable Christmas

By Mo Zeitouneh

The festive period is often about indulgence, and sustainability can be quietly overlooked. “It’s an important time to look inwards,” says designer Malvina Stone. “Consider what is natural, local and speaks of an Australian Christmas, like spinifex balls dangling from ribbon, wreaths of olive branches and gum leaves, and gifts enduring with sentiment rather than expense.”

Taking a sustainable approach at a time of excess isn’t impossible, say designers who believe we can be as OTT as we wish and still be kind to the planet.

Let the festivities begin.

Branch Out

A real tree is the more sustainable choice. Photo: Dave Kulesza

Christmas’ centrepiece needn’t be a tree as tall as the ceiling. A vessel filled with spruce or a twisted branch can form the structure for displaying handmade and heirloom baubles.

“Growing up, we used dried banksia or eucalyptus,” says Robert Gordon creative director Kate Gordon. “Start a family tradition of foraging branches that have fallen in a storm. It’s all about creating memories.”

Artificial trees are made from plastic, and unless yours is recycled, it’s time to “go green”, says Kip&Co designer Alex McCabe. “Real trees are biodegradable and can be turned into mulch or wood chips whereas artificial trees take centuries to break down.”

Fenton and Fenton designer Lucy Fenton agrees, saying: “A tree with roots you can replant is always the most sustainable option.”

Stone’s Christmas tree, a Norfolk pine, resides in her coastal garden.

“I decorate with velvet ribbons and old baubles; nothing new or garish,” she says. “Our street is lined with pines adorned with old cray floats spray-painted red.”

Ditch the tinsel and trim the treewith paper stars and treasured ornaments.

“Choose handcrafted ornaments in wood or recycled glass and use last year’s decorations,” McCabe suggests. “It’s a great way to reduce landfill and your carbon footprint.”

Set the scene

Add a wreath to the front door to hint at what’s to come. Avoid plastics and glitzy materials and opt for dried florals, elevating their natural tones with dried citrus, berries, and coloured ribbon.

Entryways, fireplaces and staircases look magnificent twined with leaves, ivy and LED fairy lights or arranged with swathes of foliage and flowers for a feeling of abundance.

Or get the kids busy making paper chains and hang ribbons like wind streamers from the ceiling and bannisters.

“Be informed by the environment,” Stone suggests. “I forage for greenery for my gate wreaths, pick figs and leaves, and tie velvet ribbons to a sheoak tree that blows in the breeze.”

Top table

Preserved flowers are a great way to make an impact without hurting the environment. Photo: Everbloom

Create a tranquil tableau using natural beauty and pull out your family dinner service or curate a mix of vintage or ceramic plateware.

Swathe the table in vintage fabric and style with raw linens and homemade eco-friendly bonbons.

“I dry out the wishbones from our roast chickens all year long,” says event stylist Fleur McHarg. “I paint them or leave them natural and place one at each setting.”

Play with sculptural shapes, heights and natural elements that tick the stylish and eco boxes.

“Forage for flowers, driftwood, holly and fruits and layer in bowls,” Fenton says.

Follow a bold theme with clashing prints and colours, or adopt a delicate, ethereal look with dried florals, vintage glassware, trailing ivy and candlelight.

Once guests are seated, reuse your door wreath as a showstopping table centrepiece.

Heaven scent

Fragrance is sensory and can be tied to memories. Add instant nostalgic cheer with natural scents like roasted chestnuts, bundles of cinnamon, dried oranges, incense or a candle fragrant with frankincense.

“Sandalwood is an ancient botanical with a long-lasting, soft, woody base that can be used as a standalone scent or a festive base note,” says Vanessa Ligovich from Western Australia’s Quintis Sandalwood, which produces ethical and sustainable Indian sandalwood.

Lightly mist the air and allow the natural scent of Christmas fill your home.

Light the way

Add non-toxic beeswax candles to a floral arrangement or place them in vessels in front of a mirror for a dazzling effect.

“Vintage pieces are associated with the festive notion of history and storytelling,” says antique dealer Bronte Taton-Boulet from Cleo Collects. “I love vintage Murano glass for its provenance and Daum crystal glass for its glow.”

Energy-efficient LED lights allow guilt-free styling as they don’t burn precious fossil fuels. Or embrace the subtle drama of fairy lights using solar-powered versions and drape them from tree to table.

“They use 100 per cent clean energy, are environmentally friendly and keep your power bill down,” McCabe says.

Wrap it up

Using tea-towels to wrap your gifts give the wrapping a second life. Photo: Gillian van Niekerk

Rummage through your local op shop for silk and velvet offcuts and use them in place of wrapping paper.

Ramp up the festive flair by adding extravagant plumes, or take a subtle approach with fresh flowers, velvet ribbon and a sprig of olive.

McHarg likes to raid her scarf collection. “Anything en masse looks impactful, so wrap all your gifts the same – even if it’s newspaper,” she says.

Gordon agrees and says anything goes. “Recycle your kid’s artwork or use handprinted butcher’s paper,” she suggests. “A cotton tote or tea towel as wrapping can be an incredible bonus gift!”


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