Santa Claus is coming to town, but before he does BBC viewers are invited to sneak down the chimneys with the judges of Scotland’s Home of the Year for a peek at some of the country’s hottest ho-ho houses.
On a mission to find the merriest and brightest abodes, the glitziest gaffs and most tasteful tenements and choose Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year from a line up of five festive finalists for the seasonal special are interior designer Anna Campbell-Jones, architect and lecturer Michael Angus and lifestyle blogger Kate Spiers.
“We had such a good time,” says Campbell-Jones. “Any excuse to start Christmas a bit early…”
Crossing the country they unwrap a line up of crackers that includes a Victorian villa in Beith, North Ayrshire, a traditional tenement in Dumbarton, a three-storey townhouse in Aberdeen, a Georgian villa in Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway and a new build located in the former Athlete’s Village built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Whether it’s full on glamour and sparkle throughout, themed rooms, a variety of colour palettes, bespoke baubles or stylish sustainability, each home has been lavished with love to welcome in friends, family and viewers of all ages for a Christmas treat.
As ever with the stunners that make it onto Scotland’s Homes of the Year series, the architectural attributes and interior design matter, but as it’s that most wonderful time of the year, the judges are marking the five finalists on festive flair and Christmas spirit.
Expect much loved decorations that stretch back to childhood, ingenious installations that don’t cost the earth, quirky one-offs (who doesn’t envy a Scooby Doo in angel wings tree topper?) and natural materials gathered from gardens to create home grown decorations, while the judges reveal their own Christmas traditions and lifestyle blogger Kate Spiers invites us home to reveal her top tips on seasonal style.
Anna Campbell Jones, who as well as being a judge on the BBC Scotland hit homes show runs interior design business, Habitus in Glasgow, explains the approach in finding the winter winner.
“With Scotland’s Home of the Year we’re looking at more permanent aspects in the way people have designed their homes and live in them but this is very different because we're looking at a temporary transformation to celebrate a holiday time. It's not necessarily about good taste. Christmas decorations are kind of the opposite aren’t they? It's about being really extravagant, I don’t mean financially, but visually, and they’re sparkly and colourful and quite at odds with the way that people live normally.”
“What I'm always looking for, whether it's Scotland’s Home of the Year or the Christmas show, is that level of personalisation, sincerity in the approach and I suppose chutzpah, just going for it and having fun. It's about entertaining the neighbors, not impressing the neighbours. It’s enhancing the general festive feeling of your community by making your house look amazing and creating a welcoming and festive home to entertain your friends and family, and for you to enjoy in a way that reflects your personality.”
Viewers will have to watch the show to find out which home is the ultimate winner but Campbell-Jones does reveal that the competition was tighter than a fresh box of After Eight mints.
“There was a hair’s breadth in the scoring between all of the homes because they were all so fantastic, and represented really different approaches, from hygge Scandi style to very glamorous everything sparkly to gathered and collected objects and bringing foliage into the house. Yes, we covered all the Christmas bases,” she says.
For the judges, when it comes to ho-ho there’s no such thing as a no-no, whether that be too much tinsel, singing dogs or flashing lights.
“We’re definitely open to anything. That's the whole point. I don't think there should be a right or wrong way to decorate your home for a month-long celebration. And I prefer if people use their imagination and reuse things in different ways depending on their mood. I think the whole point of decorating to celebrate Christmas should be that there aren't rules, that you absolutely just do whatever you want.”
This is something she does herself at home in Glasgow where she rotates decorations and fairy lights.
“It just depends on what mood I’m in,” she says as she reflects on the ideas picked up from the homes featured, including “a large branch suspended over a table with decorations hanging from it. I thought that was really beautiful and I'm tempted to try that, or hanging individual decorations from transparent thread in windows to create a feature with decorations that you love that maybe don't fit with what you're doing to the tree.”
It’s all about going with the snow flow and making for a happy holiday after what has been a gruelling Grinch of a year.
“There’s maybe a broader trend of focusing on our home environments and the experience people visiting are given because that’s become more of a rare treat,” she says. “Because people are going out less, Christmas becomes even more special.”
She also detects homeowners increasing sensitivity around sustainability when it comes to Christmas consumption and decorating.
“I was shopping for crackers and there was such a wide choice without any plastic in packaging or contents so that they could be recycled. I think it’s going to be a continuing trend that people are aware it's a temporary, frivolous, fun time of year, but we shouldn’t also use it to create an environmental impact.”
“Also, if you make something yourself it's really personal so not only is it good for the planet, it's another way of expressing your love for people by doing something special for them,” says the designer who is looking ahead to another series of Scottish Home of the Year next year, and has made a pilot for Channel Four called Hire My Home, in which two designers go head to head to refurbish short term property lets.
All of the seasonal style contenders for the SHOTY Christmas title make their homes merry in a variety of winter wonderland ways but the one thing Campbell-Jones says they all have in common is a Christmas tree, and her own home is no exception.
“If I’m having a real tree (as opposed to the year she was away so opted for stringing red chilli pepper lights on her giant cactus) I get my tree from The Bethany Christian Trust. They are sustainably grown and put the profits into supporting homeless people at what can be a really difficult time of year for those who don't have a roof over their heads.”
For those who do, the tree is often the focal point of the Christmas home and a benchmark of the owners’ approach.
“Most people put a tree up so you get a real sense of their Christmas aesthetic crystallised in the way they treat it.”
For homeowner and contender Phylip Mullan-Reid, the tree is so important that the realisation he could have a 10 foot tree is the reason he bought The Light House with his partner Paul McCarroll six years ago. Located in the former Athlete’s Village it was built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and with two bedrooms knocked through into a lofty upstairs lounge, is home to a supersize tree, despite being a new build.
As Head of Visual Identity for Sterling Furniture, Mullan-Reid is an expert in creating a stylish spectacle, but he’s also very handy at rolling up his sleeves and creating bespoke solutions with hand-made wreaths and bauble cascades on ceilings and walls.
“I’ve used these many times because they're a great space saver,” he says. “For the wreaths I attach a small metal grill from a DIY store to the ceiling, sprayed white, then hang ribbons and ornaments from it. The most spectacular is the one in the dining room. I love doing that one.”
The aptly named Light House is lit up in a blaze of twinkling sparkle and the subtle glamour and clean lines make a perfect foil for a dazzling December makeover as it gets its glow on.
“It’s all singing, all dancing now,” says Mullan-Reid, “but normally a lot more pared back. The base colours are gray browns, softer, warmer tones with natural hardwood flooring, darker colours on the walls, which make it very relaxing. But there is quite a lot of glass and a lot of metallic finishes, nickel lanterns and glass cabinets, as I've kind of always been drawn to things that are quite shiny too.”
“I like to think of it as being contemporary glamorous, if that’s a thing,” he says. “I love glass, crystal and beautifully handmade ornaments and have collected Christmas products for over 30 years from all over the world.”
Growing up in Belfast, Phylip is a self-confessed Christmas obsessive who spent his pocket money on tinsel and decorations.
“If there was Baubles Anonymous I’d be first in the queue,” he says. “I’ve got hundreds, but I do use most of them. And nowadays it has to be something quite special for me to invest in it.”
“I also have a lot of stuff my mother bought me over the years. When I was seven or eight, where other wee boys would ask for an Action Man I would get a Father Christmas. One that danced or played music, so I’ve got maybe about ten of those, and the other thing I’ve kept from childhood is a flamenco dancer my dad would put on top of our tinsel tree. I used to say put some lights up her skirt to light it up, and that was the highlight of our tree dressing. Maybe one year I’ll do something kitsch and bring her out.”
Because his mother instilled in her son a love of Christmas and the ability to create something beautiful on a budget, it’s a special time of year for Mullan-Reid and the decorations she gifted bring back memories.
“She sadly passed away a couple of years ago and I was devastated. However, because of her love for Christmas and because she put so much effort into it, and I do too, I feel her with me. It's lovely and very special. I feel I’ve not lost connection. I have all these wonderful happy memories from my childhood and I smile to myself because I know she would really appreciate what I'm trying to achieve.”
No matter how much creativity and collecting has gone into The Light House, ask Mullan-Reid what his Christmas must-haves are and he immediately responds with “family and friends.”
“It’s not the material things. No bauble or Christmas tree could replace that. I do like to think I’ve got my priorities right. I want the family and friends to come to me and I'll provide the razzmatazz to hopefully make them smile.”
After what we've all been through these last couple of years - last year for the first time I didn’t do anything at home - I’ve come back with some gusto.”
“My house isn’t a multi million pound house, it’s quite an ordinary house, a new build, and hopefully people will see it and think I wouldn’t have thought of doing that, and in a house like that. I mean obviously I’ve got it all, the big tree and the garland, but if somebody has taken the time and the effort to do whatever it may be, to create something beautiful for them and their family and friends, that's what it's all about. How do you make that little bit of heaven in your own personal space? It could be something architectural, something visual - just colours people have put together.
“Christmas is a celebration. It is about people and you can make it special with whatever you have to work with. It's like a gift to them.”
Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year, BBC Scotland, Wednesday 22 December, 8-9pm; BBC One Scotland, Thursday 23 December, 1.45-2.45pm
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