Nina Campbell
Nina Campbell

Decorating through the seasons – Part 1

To launch the first in our series of decorating through the seasons, Nina shares the art of setting the scene for Christmas at home – from the childhood thrill of a candlelit tree to monogrammed stockings and the need for a touch of vulgarity

The Art of Decorating for Christmas

When I came back from church as a child on Christmas morning in London, the drawing room would be completely dark – the shutters were shut, and the curtains drawn. There was an anticipation of waiting outside for the magic moment when the door was opened, and you’d see the huge tree – floor to ceiling – lit with real candles. My father stood next to it with a bucket of water and his walking stick with a sponge on top in case anything should go wrong. And then there were all these wonderful presents underneath it, wrapped in paper that had been saved and ironed after previous Christmases. You learnt to wrap just using that v at the end and putting the ribbon or string around so that the paper was pretty much undamaged. I still love decorating the tree, bringing out boxes of old decorations that you’ve had for ages. Over the years I’ve bought a lot in America and this year I’m hoping to go to Salzburg just before Christmas, which I know is going to be like a rather classy Tinseltown. I remember in Cairo one year going into the souk and finding amazing baubles in glass with gold painted on them, which I carried home in my suitcase.

"I don’t believe in silly presents at Christmas, I think you want to give people things they really want or could use forever. But I think the decorations can be fun."

My friend Anne Singer had this shop called the Monogrammed Linen Shop and she made these great big linen stockings for my children with their names on the top. I devised a brilliant method where each child had their own colour tissue paper so that I could wrap the presents in advance, and then could throw them into the various stockings on Christmas eve. As soon as the children had finally gone to sleep one could creep in and put them at the bottom of the bed. I think feeling that weight on the bottom of your bed as a child is quite special.

On the table I tend to use silver knives and forks, white plates and amethyst glasses for water, red glasses for white wine and clear glasses for red wine.

I bought a bedspread in India that was amethyst colour with silver and gold thread, and that was a rather wonderful tablecloth. Then I have a tribe of reindeer that are white with silvery glitter, and I put them on these long mirrors from Peter Jones, so they look like they’re on some sort of frozen lake. The florist John Carter, who is a magician and a dear old friend, does a wreath for me, a swag along the fireplace and something on the table. I don’t have a fire because I’m in London, but I have lots of candles and more strange creatures around the fireplace. I was in America one year and there was a church bazaar where an old man was turning huge fir cones into a band. So, there were fir cones which had been turned into little people playing the drums or the violin, and they go along my brass fireplace.

Christmas table laid with festive Nina Campbell crockery and glassware

Our new Pimlico Road shop is going absolutely Christmas mad with its decorations this year.

I remember as a child having an evening on Oxford Street every year looking at the lights and the Selfridges window, which were always unbelievable. It was such a treat. I don’t believe in silly presents at Christmas, I think you want to give people things they really want or could use forever. But I think the decorations can be fun. You need just a touch of vulgarity at Christmas – taste can go out of the window.
The interior of Nina Campbell Pimlico on Road decorated for Christmas

Nina's Notebook

Image of interior of Lucio restaurant in London

Eating – Lucio Restaurant

My favourite restaurant all year round is Lucio on the Fulham Road just because it’s so friendly; I can take my dog, children, family and friends. What I look for in a restaurant is not a whole load of glamour and rigmarole with chefs lifting cloches. I just want somewhere that knows me and my peculiarities, I find that deeply comforting.
Nina Campbell with Flora Soames

Reading – Flora Soames

Flora Soames’ new book, The One Day Box: A life-changing love of home is really beautiful and different. It’s about those memories, the things you put in a box – even if it’s a mental box – and one day use.
Nina Campbell

Shopping – Agraria Candle

For my present drawer I make sure I have Agraria’s bitter orange candle. That evokes Christmas for me. I came across the company in America and have been their outlet in London for 50 years; it’s absolutely delicious.