EASY DOES IT

Cal­gary de­signer Aly Velji brings a Palm Springs Christ­mas vibe to his mid-cen­tury home.

Western Living - - EASY DOES IT - by JACQUIE MOORE // pho­to­graphs by PHIL CROZIER

There’s been a lot to cel­e­brate this year in a circa-1959 southwest Cal­gary home. For starters, an en­gage­ment. In the spring, de­signer Aly Velji said yes to a mar­riage pro­posal over a San­torini sun­set from his long­time part­ner, Ja­son Krell. Sec­ond, there was the com­ple­tion of an in­evitably te­dious, but ul­ti­mately stun­ning, piece­meal ren­o­va­tion of the cou­ple’s four-level split, pur­chased nearly a decade ago in tiny Chi­nook Park. Lastly, there are the usual hol­i­days, which are, not sur­pris­ingly, any­thing but usual in Velji’s hands.

A well-known de­signer and me­dia per­son­al­ity in Cal­gary and be­yond, Velji runs his name­sake firm out of the top floor of an old build­ing on the less than trendy (for now) side of Bridge­land. It’s an ec­cen­tric, fairly gritty con­trast to his pretty, leafy res­i­dence on a quiet sub­ur­ban street—a jux­ta­po­si­tion that fits the de­signer’s fer­vent be­lief that char­ac­ter and beauty are born out of a pas­tiche of eras, tex­tures, mean­ings and price points. The be­guil­ing eclec­tic Christ­mas decor at the Velji-Krell home is sea­sonal proof that he’s right.

An Is­maili Mus­lim born in Tan­za­nia, Velji says Christ­mas was never “a big deal” in his house. He learned to love it any­way. “I made my par­ents buy me my own lit­tle tree, and I made my own dec­o­ra­tions.” He was, he says with a grin, “a DIY-er from the be­gin­ning.” These days, a white feathered tree an­chors Velji’s hol­i­day decor year after year, and home­made dec­o­ra­tions still rule. “We do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent ev­ery year, but that tree stays.”

This year, the loose theme is “Christ­mas in Palm Springs.” Boughs of faux ev­er­green are given a desert twist via Velji’s in­cor­po­ra­tion of real palm and eu­ca­lyp­tus. A vase of twisted man­zanita branches is fes­tively dressed up with hot-pink and peacock-blue glass balls made by Velji and his de­sign team. (“I bought clear balls at Michaels and we filled them with iri­des­cent paint and rolled them around un­til they dried.”) Home­made pa­per lanterns in le­mon yel­low and avo­cado green hang in all the main­floor win­dows. “I make sure there’s a lit­tle DIY ac­tion

ev­ery year,” says Velji, who es­chews tra­di­tional Christ­mas colours. “I lean to­ward deep pinks, peaches and metallics to add tjuz.”

De­spite Velji’s en­er­getic ap­proach to sea­sonal dec­o­rat­ing, he works from the phi­los­o­phy that adding Christ­mas to your home needn’t be an ar­du­ous task with en­tirely trans­for­ma­tive re­sults. “Some­times Christ­mas can be over­whelm­ing,” he says. “We tend to keep our house as it is and just add in a few de­tails.” Rather than change out his sofa cush­ions, for in­stance, Velji just adds a sparkly one in the mix. The bar cart (a yard-sale score) of­fer­ings are sim­ply ex­tended to a nearby cre­denza, where neatly la­belled glass bot­tles of fizzy cran­berry juice are dec­o­ra­tion enough. “Your house doesn’t have to scream ‘Christ­mas,’” he says. “Just look through boxes and see what you have—you can re­ally add some­thing to a room by put­ting out a cou­ple of gold el­e­ments, travel sou­venirs or mean­ing­ful gifts from friends.”

In­deed, the only truly sea­sonal touch to the cou­ple’s din­ing room is a lit­tle row of burlap sacks strung across the win­dow—an Ad­vent cal­en­dar made by a friend. Oth­er­wise, the ta­ble is made fes­tive in ways that speak to the cou­ple’s mid-cen­tury modern style (ad­mit­tedly, Palm Springs lives large here year-round). Sim­ple white dishes are amped up with sparkly clip-on swans and colour­ful side plates; bits of eu­ca­lyp­tus add green­ery to a non-tra­di­tional flo­ral ar­range­ment; and brass cut­lery—used year­round—lends an air of for­mal­ity that could work for any spe­cial oc­ca­sion. Add Cham­pagne, match­ing suits from Palm Springs’ Mr. Turk Menswear, a de rigueur kitchen­dance party and—voilà!—it’s a clas­sic Velji Christ­mas.

“Some­times Christ­mas can be over­whelm­ing,” he says. “We tend to keep our house as it is and just add in a few de­tails.”

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