Doing Christmas with style

‘I have a slight obsession with Christmas,” says designer Cairenn Foy, one half of interiors duo Hiddleston Foy Interiors. “I am always the first person in Sandymount to have a tree up by the second week of November.”

That’s not all. “I got engaged on Christmas Eve, and anybody who is very close to me, irrespective of whether it’s my birthday or Christmas, buys me something Christmas related.” The Foy household, she says, starts watching Christmas movies in August.

The most important thing for Cairenn is the tree. “The highlight is getting it early and decorating it with the kids – that’s when I feel that Christmas actually begins.”

Last year, Cairenn couldn’t bear to wait a second longer for the tree – or for her husband Paddy’s help. “I got the buggy, walked a kilometre to buy a tree, stuck all six foot of it into the buggy and wheeled it up Claremont Road – as you do. And then I dragged it aggressively through my tiny hall.

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“I can’t really explain why I have such a deep obsession.”

Some of the emotional heft may come from a warm mix of nostalgia and tradition. Cairenn’s tree decorations, for example, all have sentimental value.

“Ninety per cent of them have a story behind them. Usually they’re a gift, some from my hen party in Disney World, and some from my best friends who give me lovely Waterford Crystal ones as presents. The ones the kids make are further down the tree or around the back,” says Cairenn, laughing. She has three little ones, Connor (7), Ava (6), and Marcus (21 months).

When it comes to decor then, it’s no surprise to learn that she is a traditionalist – the table and mantelpiece are decked out in golds and reds and greens. This year, she has even dyed a table runner deep green to get just the right tone. Textiles, she says, are her thing – she also designs luxury children’s wear in cottons, cashmere and silks.

Her business partner, Kerry Hiddleston, has a very different take. “I do love Christmas. But it can be all more, more, more. I’m a little bit of a purist.” Stylist Kerry’s minimalist home recently featured in RTE’s Home of the Year.

There is, however, one thing Cairenn and Kerry both agree on. Tinsel is a no-no.

Kerry was born and bred in Edinburgh so, for her, Christmas Day is a warm-up act for Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s nice because it means Christmas isn’t over. On Hogmanay you stay up until midnight, and you’re supposed to jump off the sofa for good luck, and hug, and sing Auld Lang Syne.”

Haggis is on the menu, though with a twist – either as croquettes for a starter or Asian-style on lettuce leaf cups with a little chilli.

Still, she loves the Irish Christmas. “I love the process of decorating the house, and the lead up, and people coming round as much as the day itself.”

Everything is home made or natural. “I have a lot of colour in my house already,” she says of the Scandi-style interiors of her D4 Victorian house, “so I find the full-on Christmas colour for decorations is too much. I like it pared back. I tend to go white and gold or silver.

“Anyway,” she adds, “you can’t go 100pc Scandi when you’ve got children.” She and husband, businessman Pat O’Grady, have four, Will (7), Vivienne (5), and twins Harley and James (3). “Kids don’t like minimalism, and Christmas has to be fun as well.”

Kerry and family head out to the forest to forage for branches, pine cones, twigs and berries. These are arranged into table decorations, along the mantelpiece, and twined around the banisters with mistletoe. “That’s half the fun for us.”

She likes to make gingerbread cookies with the children. “My daughter is mad into crafting, my twins like baking – you tell them to add an egg and they pick it up and throw it in, shell and all.”

Baking keeps the kids occupied – it’s just like Play-Doh, says Kerry – and because dough only takes 10 minutes to cook, small ones don’t lose patience. “It’s a win-win as you’re entertaining the kids as well.

“And you can eat the decorations,” she adds. “The only problem is sometimes you come downstairs and there’s a bite gone out of them.”

“Kerry is a Martha Stewart,” laughs Cairenn, “no matter how much she denies it.”

The secret of a good Christmas? It’s all in the preparation, says Cairenn, who has everything done – tree, decor, cake and present buying – by the end of November. “Then, if I’m invited out, I can go stress free. People get stressed about presents and preparations. If you have bits and bobs to do or buy, do them early, avoid the madness – that’s not what Christmas is about.”

Cairenn & Kerry’s Christmas tips

1 Get a real tree

Not only does it smell wonderful, but it looks great and can be recycled afterwards. Make sure it lasts by keeping it well watered, ideally with a stand that has a built-in water bucket, and keep the heating off or low in that room.

2 Deck the halls

Go natural, advises Kerry, and rope the children in to help gather branches, cones and berries on walks. Use leftover pine branches from the tree; add glitter to oranges and pine cones; use mistletoe and ivy. Spray them or leave them natural. They look beautiful and most of them are compostable or can be burnt in the stove afterwards.

3 Then add sparkle

“More is always more with fairy lights,” says Cairenn. The secret is to start from the top, use two bunches and have someone else on hand. She likes soft white lights, at least two lengths of them. “Technique is important, otherwise you end up with a cluster of lights in the middle like a belt. The trick is to get someone else up a ladder and badger them until it’s right.”

“It’s nice to put fairy lights in random spots around the house and in the garden, so when you look out you see them at night,” says Kerry.

4 Invite friends and family

But keep it mellow and low stress. “I have a big platter that is whipped out when I have people over for drinks,” says Cairenn. “It doesn’t involve any baking or cooking and I pile it with nibbles – cheeses, nuts, olives, bread – and just present it really nicely. Then it’s about being a good host and making sure everyone’s glass is full.”

“We’re very sociable and have people around all the time,” says Kerry, whose husband Pat is known as Party Pat – “he is the best host.” Serve a signature drink, she says, “it makes it more like a celebration.” Her tipple is ‘Reindeer fuel’, Prosecco with a swirl of Campari and orange rind. “It looks so Christmassy.”

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