Monthly Archives: December 2016

 

If I was taught anything in my childhood it was to write a short letter of thanks after receiving a present, whether for my birthday or for Christmas. 

I have continued this habit throughout my life and I always try – not that I always succeed! – to complete my thank you letters by the 31st December. 

What could be nicer than to receive a short note of thanks when you have sent someone a present?  Such a note needn’t be long and, instead of plain writing paper, I prefer to use note cards or correspondence cards for this task.

I have loved note cards since I was a child.  Indeed, if you look at the photo above, showing a corner of our study (husband and I share the work bench which is across one wall and houses both our computers) you might notice four small pictures on the wall.  I’m afraid I don’t have a close-up of these, but they are the four remaining cards from a set I received for my 12th birtrhday.  They are of Japanese Ladies and each card represents each of the four seasons.  I loved these cards so much that I kept four of them and some years ago had them framed.  They are a constant reminder not only of receiving them on my 12th birthday but also of my enjoyment in letter writing, for it was never a hardship for me to sit down and write my thank you letters as it was for some children.

At the moment I have one box of note cards; one box of attractive postcards; and one box of personalized correspondence cards. 

Correspondence cards usually bear the writer’s name and sometimes his or her address, and they are a fraction larger than a postcard and are sent within an envelope and not, as with a postcard with simply the name and address of the recipient on the reverse.

Above are my correspondence cards. I like these not only for their design but because – especially if like me you have quite large handwriting – there is space for just a brief note, i.e. your words of thanks and your signature.  Indeed, I have occasionally had such cards printed for friends and given them as presents.

I was very fortunate a few years ago to be sent this lovely box of postcards with envelopes (above) as a gift from Farrow & Ball, the paint and paper manufacturers.  At the time they represented some of their wallpaper designs.  I think they are ideal for thank you notes. 

My third box of cards are actual note cards, i.e. they open as a blank greetings card but, again, not too large so that you don’t feel you have to fill every inch of space with writing.

The most important thing to remember, I think, is that people like to be thanked, and to receive a personally-written note, whether as a letter, or on a postcard, a note card or a correspondence card, really does lift the spirit of the giver of that present. 

I expect I am teaching granny to suck eggs here;  I feel sure that all of you who read my blog are of a like mind in this respect and are possibly thank you card senders already!  However, if you have yet to write your Christmas thank you letters, please don’t delay a moment longer.  Choose some pretty cards, use your favourite pen, seek out your address book and stamps and take pleasure in putting pen to paper.   Indeed, onto your shopping list perhaps include a new stock of note cards – you might find some in the January Sales!

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After the collage (previous post) of our year here in Devon, I thought I’d include a collage taken this afternoon (above), around 4.30 pm on this dull winter’s day.  It was very cosy in our sitting room, and I poured a glass of sloe gin and enjoyed with it two small shortbread petticoat tails and also  read my latest magazine (The English Home) … I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a cold winter’s afternoon.  I’m really making the most of the pretty cards, the Christmas tree and the flowers before everything is put away for another year, the flowers discarded, and the room is spring cleaned.  Until then, I am just enjoying the colour and all the greetings we’ve been sent from family and friends.

Again, a very happy new year to you all.

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And here we are, at the end of another year.  Tomorrow I will hang a new calendar and think seriously about whether I can bear to take the decorations off the Christmas Tree which has been so pretty this year, and pack them away.  I think it will remain in place for just a few more days …

On the collage above, reading from left to right, starting at the top:

a small park  in Torquay in January; afternoon tea at a bistro in Babbacombe in February; daffodils in Torre Abbey Garden in March; our summerhouse in April; tulips in our garden in May; roses in our bedroom in June; a view of the sea from a favourite bistro in Babbacombe in July; Paignton harbour in August; an Elizabethan building in Totnes in September; Decoy Country Park in October; our fireplace in November; a Christmas Tree in Saltram House (National Trust), Plymouth, in December.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL

 

 

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I just had to show you the view from the side window of our sitting room at about 4.15 this afternoon – the sky was the palest of pastel pinks and the sea a pale milky blue – I thought it looked beautiful.  But as we’ve not had any show, this is what it can sometimes look like if we have a very cold winter …

I took this photo a few years ago – some of the trees in our neighbour’s garden have been pruned but this is much the same view as today’s photo but after a light snowfall.  The light over the sea is ever-changing and always looks magical to me.

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There is nothing quite like a walk in the winter sunshine for getting rid of that post-Christmas feeling of ennui.   We had been indoors since Christmas Eve, overlooking a short trip my husband made to see his brother for an hour or so yesterday, and I was more than ready for a walk, even a short one.

We chose the Torquay harbour walk because I needed to visit a department store which is situated near the harbour in order to exchange a present from our elder son and daughter in law – a smart top which fitted but only just, and I knew the next size up would be perfect.  Only the store didn’t have it in my size and so, instead, I accepted a gift voucher. I was sad about this as I really liked the top, but never mind, I’m sure there will eventually be a similar one I will be able to buy.

From the department store we passed the inner harbour and walked to the marina.  The inner harbour is permanently filled with sea water as there is a sluice gate (below) which now prevents it from being tidal.

Here is the sluice gate/bridge between the inner harbour and the outer harbour (now a marina.)

Until a year or two ago boats used to bob at anchor in the inner harbour but now there are pontoons and it’s really nothing more than a boat park which is not as attractive to my eyes – but of course, more boats parked presumably means more income for the Borough in harbour mooring fees.   Here is how the harbour looked pre-pontoons.

 

From the inner harbour we walked past the marina where zillions of pounds’ worth of craft sits at anchor. Some of the boats/yachts are always there (or at least that is what it seems like!) and it makes one wonder why they were purchased in the first place if they never put to sea?

We had a stroll along Princess Pier (below) which is directly opposite the Princess Theatre.

As we were looking directly into the sun, all the people are in silhouette but I rather like the effect.

As we left the pier, we were opposite the Princess Theatre, built in 1961.  Underneath the promenade you can see concrete blocks. These were placed there as tank traps during World Ward 2 to prevent enemy craft coming ashore and they’re still there today, a reminder of  the vulnerability of our coastline at that time.

The final part of our walk took us past the lovely Victorian fountain.  The flower beds are already planted with spring flowers, some of them in bloom on the 29th December.  I think this demonstrates all too clearly the mild climate we enjoy in South Devon and even milder microclimate of Torbay in particular.

The building in the background, Torquay’s Pavilion, built as a theatre in 1912, is currently closed and under consideration for re-development along with the land on which it stands and the surrounding area. No decision has yet been made, so I understand, regarding this building but the longer it remains empty – and it has been thus for some years – the greater the degree of its dereliction.  It would be very sad if it were to be demolished;  it is one of the iconic buildings in the Bay and is really quite beautiful.  Which is more than can be said for some of the buildings, including a few in prominent positions on the seven hills upon which, like Rome, Torquay is built.

We returned home refreshed, lungs aired, and legs stretched.  Well, who wouldn’t enjoy such scenery on a late December morning in sunshine?

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And so it’s all over for another year.  We enjoyed Christmas Day with our elder son and his wife – she made a lovely Christmas Dinner – and our little grandson, and we were joined by our younger son and his lovely partner and also our daughter in law’s father and step-mother, so it was a real family gathering.

Our younger son and his partner, however, were due over at her parents for an evening Christmas Dinner, so they had slightly smaller portions than the rest of us as they knew they’d be going through it all again in a few yours time!  But they have healthy appetites and I’m sure, when they took their little dog for his daily walk between the two meals, they’d have walked off some of the excesses of the first of the two Christmas dinners!

On Boxing Day (yesterday) we had the family here for a ‘light’ lunch, but our younger son and his partner were again due to go with her parents to a local bistro as her brother and his family were also staying with their parents and so this was an occasion when they could all be together and not even have to cook – our younger son called today and said how nice the bistro meal had been.  I will make sure that, before too long, he and his partner come to us for a meal.

 

Our Boxing Day lunch was lovely, even though I say so myself.  It was all very casual.  I made two soups:  minestrone and pea & mint.  I served the soup with hot crusty French batons, butter, and freshly-grated parmesan. Than we had cheese, crackers, olives, grapes, chutney and mini sausage rolls.  For drinks we had sparkling mineral water, Schloer grape juice, tap water, or lovely sparkling rose.

For dessert, trifle – I have my own special recipe in which I crumble amoretti biscuits  which, along with a generous glug of Port (or Marsala or Madeira) gives the trifle a delightful slightly almond flavour – and/or Christmas cake.  It was technically a simple soup-and-dessert meal, but it turned into a real feast.

(I know I sound rather formal, saying elder son, daughter in law, younger son, partner … but I aim to keep their anonymity as I don’t think it’s fair on other people, especially family members, to have me broadcast about their lives, so please excuse me if I do sound rather formal.)

The first photo above is our mantelpiece with the lovely cards from our family, and the colours went beautifully with the pink and deep rose spray carnations.

The weather here in the south of the UK has turned very cold.  OK, it’s not ‘cold’ by Canadian standards, but at -1C the temperature has dropped substantially in the last couple of days.  We’ve not been out – except my husband visited his brother today to deliver some sacks of leaves, sweepings from our walnut tree, so that his brother can use them, well rotted, as compost.  Meanwhile, apart from cooking lunch, I have had a quiet day at home although I confess a walk might’ve done me more good!

However, I put my time here to practical use:  I wrote the thank you letters on behalf of both of us.

I set myself up at the dining room table (back in use as a sofa table, I just put one leaf of the table up) with address book, fountain pen, stamps, correspondence cards (they are so useful because you don’t feel you must write reams, you can just thank the person for their present and wish them Happy New Year, that is all that is necessary in a thank you note.  The important thing is to write them and post them as quickly as possible after Christmas, certainly before New Year.)  And for the observant among you, that is NOT, I repeat NOT, a glass of G&T, but some sparkling mineral water! Truly!

To end this festive season, I’d like you to see (below) one of the prettiest cards we received.  Yes, it’s to both of us, but I’m sure the sender chose it especially for me!  It is the only card we have received that is pastel pink, not a colour usually associated with Christmas, and yet pink – provided you don’t go overboard with it and then it is much too Barbie or bubblegum – is such an attractive colour and this card ‘went’ perfectly with some of the pink items I have on my dressing chest. And so, rather than put it with all the other cards, where it might ‘disappear’ visually, I put it on my dressing chest. I’m tempted to leave it there long after Christmas, it is such a beautiful card.

And so, there is now just New Year”s Eve to celebrate – not that we go out, we’re usually tucked up in bed long before midnight!  Will you be making any New Year Resolutions?  I made two last year which I’ve done my best to keep: (1) each time we visit the supermarket I buy something specially for the Food Bank container. I don’t like the idea that we need food banks in this day and age but, while we do, I will support them; and (2) to try to perform a small act of kindness each day.  I don’t always achieve this, but at least I try.

Thank you for reading my blog which I started last August.  I so enjoy reading all your comments.  May you all have a very happy New Year.

 

 

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I have recently been researching Scandinavian design for a magazine article coming out next year (Scandinavian in this case referring to the three countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.)

With the proliferation of Nordic TV dramas such as Borgen and the international phenomenon that is IKEA (I even found out what the initials stand for) not to mention the Danish word hygge which seems to have appeared everywhere this year, with all that hygge has come to represent (comfort and cosyness being a general translation) I took down from the shelf my book on the artist Carl Larsson to remind me of early 20th century Swedish style.

Carl Larsson (1853-1919) holds a unique position in Swedish art and, even today, his is a household name.  Some of his popularity “must lie in the universal appeal of his depictions of everyday life,” say Michael Snodin of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Dr Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark of the Nordic Museum, Stockholm, editors of the book shown above.   It was while painting in France in the 1880s that Larsson met his future wife, Karin, and in 1888 they acquired their house in Sundborn in central Sweden. His paintings were published in 1894 under the title Ett Hem (At Home). They show Larsson’s family life, recorded in an intimate, fresh style and, through which we see elements of folk art in both furniture and textiles.

 

I find looking at interiors in books – places I would never otherwise see –  inspiring, and here I admire the Larssons’ love of light, simplicity and natural materials.

 

After recently reading Nicky Haslam’s Folly de Grandeur (my post of 13th December) I simply had to buy and read A Designer’s Life.   I haven’t finished it yet, but I am very much enjoying how Nicky eloquently describes  what I feel about some aspects of design but have been unable to express as adequately myself.  He talks about travelling widely and “discovering the breathtaking gamut of decorative schemes achieved during the previous three centuries:  the astonishing beadwork room in the Chinese Palace outside St Petersburg, the lipstick-pink and dead-white plaster staircase at the nearby Pavlovsk Palace; the perspective-fooling scale of the hall of Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam, the Adolf Loos bar in Vienna.  Everywhere I picked up ideas, details, finishes and colours that could be reinterpreted for contemporary interiors without looking pastiche of corny.”

I’ve not been able to travel widely but I have been able to see the interiors of many historic houses in this country (thank you, National Trust and English Heritage!) and, in a minor way, have learned about design, and what ‘works’ simply by example; the placement of furniture, the colour schemes, and the treatment of fabrics.

 

The book is sumptuous – if a book can be described thus – peppered with photos of the great and the good (and perhaps the not-so-good!) whom he has met or worked for, and showing not only the finished rooms he has created but also the sketches for some of them as well.  I am attempting to read this book as I would a novel: page by page without glancing at the photos later in the ‘story’.  It’s not easy, but so far, I have managed this!

Two interesting books, both showing paintings of interiors, both totally different but equally entertaining and instructive.

What are you reading right now?  Or has Christmas preparations put your reading on ‘hold’ for the duration?

 

 

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Do yours fly up the wall like 1950s plaster ducks?  Do they hover just below the cornice, ashamed to come down for closer scrutiny?  Or are they dotted around the walls like postage stamps, never straight, always slightly askew?

Today, I’m talking pictures, and if they are to look their best not only must they be chosen with care but they must also be hung with precision and a degree of imagination.

According to a National Trust expert, pictures should be hung so that their centre is at eye level – unlike in the great country houses, where paintings were traditionally hung higher, partly because of the grander furnishings and room proportions, but also to stop the servants looking at portraits of their employers in the eye! Yes, really!  (This is really quite an important point and few people hang pictures so that their centre is eye level for a person of average height.)

The most effective way to hang pictures is to group them by theme or medium, or both. Try a group of watercolours of farmyard scenes, for example, or a group of watercolours and oil paintings of seascapes.  Or you might use the same frames and mounts to unify a disparate group of images. This is often most effective when displaying black and white photographs.

Symmetry and balance are the watchwords when grouping pictures.  Before you puncture the plaster, lay the pictures on the floor in various positions or create paper templates of them and arrange those on the wall with Blue-Tack.  When you are happy with the arrangement fix the pictures in place.

It is important to consider the mounts and the frames.  The wrong ones can kill a picture, especially a delicate chalk drawing or watercolour.  But there are no hard and fast rules on formation:  collections of pictures can be arranged along imaginary horizontal or vertical lines, aligning tops, bottoms or left- or right-hand sides. You should also use a room’s fixed architectural details as a positioning guide:  door frames, windows, and chimney piece.  If you prefer a symmetrical look, you could align the right-hand sides of the vertically placed pictures and the tips of the horizontally places pictures to create a backwards “L”.

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I have taken the above from a longer article I wrote for a national newspaper more than a decade ago, but I think the advice still holds true.  Picture hanging is an art in itself and I’m mentioning it now because I see so many pictures on the internet and in magazines of interiors where pictures which would look so much better if they were hung differently.  Nothing wrong with the pictures themselves, only that the owners have made a few basic mistakes, the main ones being that they have hung pictures too high and (as is often the case with table lamps) they are  too small for their allotted space.

As I say I don’t profess to be an expert, but we have given thought not only to the pictures themselves but how they are hung in our home. 

When we recently decorated our bedroom I chose to have four Redoute rose prints framed.  Prints should be simply framed – often they have a narrow black frame but I thought black would kill the delicate colours of these prints and so chose an ‘antique gold’ frame with ivory mount.

 

I decided that they would enhance the look of the plain bedhead, the outer edges lined up vertically with the edges of the bedhead and with equal spaces between the prints.  The above is the result.  This lends visual height to the bedhead, too. (I would add that the bed’s cushions were chosen to complement the prints and also the pale coffee-coloured bedhead, the stripes in one pair of cushions being exactly the same shade as the bedhead. Minor details help draw a scheme together.)

 

 

I inherited three watercolour portraits of what I think are Italian fishermen.  Having just three could be problematical – you can’t hang them in a ‘square’ group, or have two either side of the fireplace, and so we chose the wall behind one of our sofas for them, using the outer limits of the door frame and small window frame and placing them equidistant between these two fixed features.

 

In our tiny upstairs bathroom, under the eaves, I have placed three flower prints in an L formation, following the contours of the sloping roofline.  These flowers have been painted against a black background and so in this instance black frames were ideal.

 

 

Our bedroom has had various pictures on the walls over the past 30 years.  Here, I placed a watercolour of St Ives, Cornwall, above the bedhead (the former bedhead, I mean) and linked the blues in the picture of the sea and sky to a blue embroidered cushion on the bed and a blue ceramic dish on the bedside table. (You might also notice our former table lamps and I made the mistake of buying ones that were too small, hence the larger ones we now have.)

 

 

When we replaced the bedside octagonal tables for a pair of  chests of drawers some years ago, I felt the room needed larger pictures to ‘balance’ those dark wood chests and as I had a pair of oil paintings (again inherited items) of Scottish scenes I thought they would do the job nicely even though, traditionally, oil paintings were never hung in bedrooms as they were considered “too heavy”.  However, we hung the paintings slightly higher than I would have liked so that they would be above the top line of the table lamps.  It also meant hanging the convex mirror slightly higher between them.  A pair of watercolours are on the adjacent wall – they are hung just a little too low, but the choice was higher so they would  align with the oil paintings, or lower so as not to be too far up the wall for these much smaller pictures.

 

 

When we last decorated our sitting room in 2002 we removed several pictures and because we liked the walls plain at that time, we only added the three portraits of the Italian fishermen and a pair of Oriental prints (see next photo).  However as time has gone on, we are now considering adding more pictures to the walls, old friends that have been stored away for the past 14 years.  Above, are two watercolour seascapes which had belonged to my late uncle and who bought them from the artist in1939.  My mother had them re-mounted and re-framed in the 1950s but the mounts were decidedly discoloured and so I had them re-mounted a few months ago (double mounts, with a large ivory mount and, close to the watercolours, a blue grey inner mount.) The frames, while very much 1950s style, actually looked good, so I didn’t have these changed.

 

I have hung two Oriental prints above a 1920s reproduction games table (the top opens to show green baize and the two legs move back to support the opened top, but I use it simply as a console table.)  To ‘marry’ the Oriental prints with the table, I decided to  put two Spode Imperial plates on the table with a few other small pieces in blue and white.  In this photo the carpet looks pinkish, but I assure you it’s a soft, gentle biscuit colour.  I like this little corner in our dining area between the door to the hall and the arch way which divides the dining area from the sitting area.  It serves no other purpose than simply to look attractive.

I can’t claim I have it all right, but I have given thought to the choice of pictures and how they are hung.  Do you have pictures on your walls or do you prefer to leave them unadorned?  Do you like a selection of pictures grouped together or a single large image?  Have you any tips about hanging pictures you can add?

Now, back to Christmas preparations … speak again soon!

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When I started this blog I said to myself that I’d not include anything ditsy … cutesy, kitsch, knick-knacky … and oh, dear, look what I’ve put up as my ‘lead’ photo … a snow scene in our local garden centre with lots of diddy little bears and penguins!  I hope those of you with a more intellectual (if that is the right word?) approach to the festive season will forgive me but … well, they are rather sweet aren’t they?

And now I must apologise for using the word “sweet”!   My old chemistry teacher, Mr Waller, would be driven mad by a class of 15 year olds calling miniature petrie dishes “sweet”!  “They are not sweet, ‘sweet’ is a taste!” he would bellow, and that would make us say it all the more!

But let’s get back to Christmas.  Well, we can hardly avoid it, can we?  However, we women are the ones responsible for what we now think of as Christmas in England.  For the most part – because some men must do this, although I’ve yet to see any evidence of if  – we buy the presents, buy the cards, write the cards, post the cards, wrap the presents, bake the cakes, make the mince pies (or cheat, and then it is us who buy them), decide on which tree to have and while some chaps might help with the Christmas tree lights, we women then decorate the tree and the rest of the house.  We also plan the meals, buy the food, make sure that the flatware and knives are all polished, drag out the best china or pottery,  prepare for guests if any are coming to stay, lay the table, make sure there are batteries for any children’s toys, and even rememebr to buy a large bag of salt in case the weather turns icy and we need to sprinkle it on the paths around the house! In other worse, We Think of Everything.  In fact, I think we women are pretty great!  Christmas simply wouldn’t survive, irrespective of what religion we are (or aren’t),  if it weren’t for we women!  So before I go further, three rousing cheers for all of us who make Christmas the happy time for everyone else! Hurrah!  Hurrah!  Hurrah!

One day earlier in the week I began to write the cards.  I set up our dining table – which is usually used these days as a sofa table, but with a leaf up there is sufficient space to lay out the cards, the address labels (I make life as easy as I can; I print the labels), the stamps and my trusy yellow Lamy Safari pen.  I didn’t finish the job there and then, there were far too many cards to write and some require letters – I don’t know about you, but I have a strong aversion to the Round Robin letters.   This is usually a topic for discussion each year in the Letters page of The Daily Telegraph, but so far not a peep from anyone about the Annual Boast-a-thon which is what a Round Robin letter usually amounts to.  That, or the Annual Moan-a-thon, the very opposite of the Boast-a-thon so that instead of the wondrous achievements of children and grandchildren and the endless round of holidays in foreign places that are mentioned in vivid detail, we read of the illnesses and operations with full medical details of those sending these ridiculous missives.  No, I write individual letters.  If you’re going to write at all, write your letter to just to the person for whom it is intended and not to the crowd.  

We don’t go overboard with decorations.  There are already a surfeit of ‘things’ in our rooms making further decorations superfluous.  We always have a real tree, and always fresh flowers. The only change each year – and this is dictated by the flowers that are available when I go shopping – is the colour of the flowers.  Some years they are red and pink, sometimes just pink, sometimes just red.  Above I have used a large rather ugly glass vase showing putti – this is one of a pair, inherited from my late mother.  Not her taste either, she also inherited them and somehow they have stayed in the family.  At other times of the year, they live upstairs, out of sight!  But at Christmas the rather kitsch ugliness of these putti on their fluffy clouds, sentimental Victoriana vulgarity at its worst, they are just perfect! 

 

The two small cranberry glass decanters sometimes sit on the windowsill with the two spelter figures depicting “Day” and “Night” but if I have red flowers for Christmas, they sit on the mantelpiece.

 

And if I’ve been fortunate enough to find pink and red flowers, then the main decoration is usually in a ceramic loving cup (i.e. with two handles), hand painted with similar flowers.  You can just see Christmas cards which I hand from the square arch which divides the sitting from the dining areas.  And I also bring out some of my Royal Doulton Christmas plates from the 1970s.

 

On the kitchen windowsill I place a garland (artificial) in red and green, and then put whatever greenery I can find in the garden into a Fulham pottery vase. The silver napkin rings were Christening presents to our sons.

Sometimes on the dining table I place a pink cloth when I’ve bought pink flowers ,and sometimes it is decorated simply with red and white.

Here you will see a smoked salmon starter course – all these photos were taken over several Christmases, of course.

And here, a simple arrangement for morning coffee and Christmas cake for a couple of neighbours. 

And here is a very casual Boxing Day lunch for the family, with baked potatoes, split and filled with a mixture of potato, sautéed onion and cheese and then grilled, various pickles, chutneys, dips, cheeses, olives and cold meats. 

 

I hope I have demonstrated here that you don’t need a lot of decorations to make your home look festive – just bring out your best china, add a tree and some fairy lights, and a few pieces of fruit and bowls of flowers and ta-da, it’s done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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