A crafted Christmas

From issue 57.

Matt textures, layered tablescapes and whispers of earthy colour provided by nature and set against bone white make for a serene Christmas setting.

Words Mandy Allen/ Bureaux. Photography Greg Cox/ Bureaux. bureaux.co.za Styling Shelley Street. Floral Design Storm Ross / thehollowayshop.com

A bleached-out palette, raw finishes and an aesthetic that borders on the monastic are the hallmarks of this captivating Cape Town home. What makes this sanctuary-like habitat even more remarkable – given the complete absence of bright colours or lustrous textures – is that its owner, Algria Ferreira-Watling, is one of South Africa’s most in-demand make-up artists whose portfolio of clients includes Solange Knowles and Charlize Theron.

It would be fair to assume that someone in the business of ‘painting faces’, as she refers to her artistry, would have a predilection for colour as well as materials and objects underpinned by a glamorous artifice. But she has always had a rebel spirit, typified not only by a look that is pared-down, fresh and innately edgy, but also her instinctive rejection of trends, mass consumerism and aspirational yearnings. 

Bare walls in bone and grey hues, original wooden features that have been sanded down and left unvarnished, a limited but meaningful selection of personal effects and decorative objects displayed in thoughtful vignettes as well as low-key luxuries in the form of candles that perfume the air and gently worn pure linen throws culminate in a whole that is effortlessly layered and emotionally affecting. The source of Ferreira-Watling’s inspiration can be traced to her childhood: “I come from a poor background. We didn’t have material possessions, but there was always so much love,” she explains. “I work in an industry founded largely on traditional notions of beauty and consumption, but I’ve never desired ‘things’. My dream was only ever to live with my family in a modest house that had a feeling of tranquility. Why would I desire a palace when what I have is perfect?” 

While Ferreira-Watling purposely keeps the house in a state of visual consistency throughout the year, Christmas brings the chance to create a seasonal atmosphere for her husband Derek, son Dax and close friends and family – a mood that is festive while staying true to her serene aesthetic.

No flashy store-bought trinkets or tinsel here, no pine or fir in the corner of the living room, and no table centrepieces composed of roses, poinsettias or hydrangeas. Instead, the customary tones and accoutrement are substituted by the muted greens and otherworldly forms of native plant sprigs and woody herbs displayed as free-form wreaths, floating in repurposed glass bottles holding elegant taper candles.

Gifts are wrapped simply in white or brown paper and finished with twine. Traces of shimmer – this is Christmas after all – serve to highlight rather than overwhelm: a fine dusting of edible copper glitter on a ‘naked’ cake; gold craft wire binding foliage garlands left hanging from doorknobs; dried protea flowers and blue gum seed pods spray-painted in antique gold; and vintage King’s Pattern cutlery, polished only slightly to retain its mottled patina.

“Things found in nature, objects that have had many lives already, the soft wrinkle in a piece of linen… this is a constant source of inspiration for me,” says Ferreira-Watling. “Christmas calls for luxury, but there’s no right or wrong interpretation of what that means. Faded and evocative or full-on and festive, as long as what you see makes you happy.”

Christmas style tips

· Fill wine and cordial bottles with boiled or distilled water (to stop the water from clouding too soon) and place sprigs of foliage or woody herbs inside. Use as holders for elegant taper candles. 

· Create whimsical free-form wreaths and garlands from foliage cuttings. Use gold and copper craft wire and black leather cord for contrast and a hint of shine. 

· Spray paint is an easy way to add some understated bling. Coat found objects such as seed pods and dried flowers in antique gold and copper. Paint foliage sprigs in black for an edgy variation of the idea. 

· Keep gift-wrapping simple and rustic. Crinkle brown paper and plain newsprint into tight balls and then flatten for an organic, crushed linen look. Give each present its own unique treatment: experiment with white and brown twine and use foliage sprigs and spray-painted seed pods as embellishment. Wrap the twine casually for an informal look. 

· Strings of fairy lights are a Christmas essential: left in vases, in the fireplace, draped over the mantle, around door frames or hanging from the ceiling in the corner of a room. 

· Approach a monochromatic table setting like a fashion designer focusing on layering and texture: think shades of chalk, grey, charcoal and bone. Anchor the scheme with a beautiful linen tablecloth; set places with vintage silver-plated cutlery, rough-edged linen napkins tied with hemp string and handmade crockery (black adds drama). 

· Serve your guests a deconstructed ‘naked’ cake: make two classic sponges (one large, one medium) and trim them into circular shapes. Layer only the tops of each cake with buttercream frosting (hence the term ‘naked’) and sprinkle on a fine layer of edible glitter. Embellish with herb sprigs.  

· Wrap thick pillar candles of varying sizes with gold or copper craft wire. 

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