Christmas decor is redefined at the Cape Town home of stylist Shelley Street, where South African crafts, handmade gifts, traditional elements and a nod to monochrome Scandi style combine for an intriguing festive fusion
A former magazine stylist and creative consultant, Street now runs Space Solutions, her own creative branding studio offering art direction, graphic and conceptual design, merchandising and interior styling. Which means she has very decided ideas about style and interiors. Come the festive season, for instance, her home's delicately accessorised with a black and white Christmas palette that's both chic and striking. “I love the monochrome look, as well as Scandi design and its association with light wood, so I decided to do a Scandi-Afri mix,” she says. It seems apt, given her self-professed reverence for simplicity, that the Christmas tree is a Karoo thorn, its stark, graphic form enhanced by a coat of white paint. “This wouldn't be Christmas, though, if there weren't something enchanting, so the tree has the sweetest, hand-carved wooden birds which I'm in love with, as well as papier-mâché baubles that are a quirky take on the usual bling versions,” she adds.
Other adornments reflect Street's affinity for South African and African patterns and locally crafted objects with a unique, whimsical feel: a laser-cut cardboard nativity scene; a small, decorative African Christmas tree made from tin; Christmas crackers that she fashioned using patterned brown paper and African-print shweshwe fabric; a herd of beaded zebra that, in this context, look less “curio kitsch” and more “Afro- chic”. There's also a wreath which, from a distance, looks like something designed by Tord Boontje, but is in fact made from pieces of fynbos, wine corks and other natural ephemera shaped together and spray-painted black. Many of the table decorations are an eclectic union of new and old, black and white, solids and patterns typical of southern Africa, everything underpinned by strong black accents. Here subtleties are to be discovered in the layering of materials, tones and textures such as beaded place-mats, a coarse, handwoven table runner, bone and wooden serving utensils, all from Africa Nova (www.africanova.co.za), together with vintage silverware and serving platters, as well as creative surprises: beaded Africa Nova necklaces used as napkin rings and simple white supermarketbought pillar candles in various sizes wrapped in brown paper.
“All the colours work really well in my home and aren't out of place among my collections of natural objects,” says Street. “So even though the Christmas decorations are temporarily here, everything still works together on the eye.”
STREET’S FESTIVE DECOR TIPS
1. Candles. And more candles. Preferably all in white and in different heights and widths. I love fragrant candles at this time of year: cinnamon, vanilla, pine, woody and amber notes, as well as really great-quality incense and limited-edition room sprays (Jo Malone always has the most gorgeous special festive range).
2. Fairy lights are central to my festive decorating. I use lots of them: in the fireplace (December in SA is sizzling, so it's the only action the fireplace sees!) and draped around the large door frame of my living room. We spend lots of time eating outdoors in summer, so there are also loads of solar fairy lights in all my outside potted trees for a magical ambience.
3. Pare down colours to neutral tones and incorporate texture where you can – found objects from nature are an effective way of doing this. I also love the idea of using things out of context: a bracelet as a napkin-holder, for example. And I'm particularly fond of wooden and bone serving utensils and vessels.
4. Think sustainably and give old things a new identity. Upcycle old objects and glass containers using spray paint and wrap gifts in brown Kraft paper, butcher's paper or newspaper (I'm partial to newspapers from Asian supermarkets and the salmon-pink tinge of the Financial Times) and fabric the way they do in Japan (called furoshiki). There's a lot readily available in our homes and gardens to incorporate into our decorating.
5. Don’t overthink it when styling your Christmas table and tree. Choose the colours and elements you love and layer them together. Don't be too serious about what you're trying to achieve – friends and family always appreciate your efforts and enjoy eating at a beautiful table, but ultimately, it's about relationships, good company and great food more than anything else.
A small Karoo thorn tree has been painted white to striking effect. The black, white and natural tones of the decorations reflect Street’s overall visual theme – one that’s pared down, textural and non-traditional.
TOP: Christmas crackers are made from brown Kraft or butcher’s paper, as well as South African shweshwe fabric, with its distinct dotted circular print. The oversized teacup is from British ceramist Emma Bridgwater’s iconic Black Toast collection; the dark stained wooden tray is from Country Road (www.countryroad.com. au or www.woolworths.co.za). BOTTOM: The table decorations consist of crisp white items and patterns typical of SA, underpinned by strong black accents and layered materials, tones and textures. The starting point for Street’s mix-andmatch approach was a collection of plates by renowned South African ceramicist Martine Jackson (www.martinejackson.com). Her loosely stylised, Africaninfluenced patterns are a graphic pairing with handmade beadwork place-mats and a woven table runner (from Africa Nova). With the simplicity of white candles wrapped in utilitarian brown paper, the mood is contemporary and fresh. There are additional inventive twists in the form of beaded necklaces as napkin rings, as well as cheap drinking glasses that were given a luxe “dipped” effect using masking tape to demarcate a neat line and finished with gold spray paint. The cupboard is an antique SA Railways locker made of Oregon pine.
TOP: One of the most enviable features of Street’s home is the large, industrial-style windows which let in masses of natural light. The wreath hanging from one of them was made by Street using Cape fynbos, which she found while walking in the veld. To build up the texture, she added bits of wood, old corks and a few pine cones. She spray-painted it matte black and added hand-carved birds (from Africa Nova) to give it a whimsical, fairytale character. Several other Christmas-inspired objects with a local visual identity – a laser-cut paper nativity scene by Cape Town paper artist Pauline Irvine of Artymiss (www.artymiss.co.za), a quirky, laser-cut metal African Christmas tree by Tin Town (www.tintown. co.za), graphic vases and a handmade black and white festive bauble featuring the ubiquitous gecko (all from Africa Nova) – also appear, along with Street’s framed black and white photographs and collected ephemera. BOTTOM: Summer in Cape Town brings an abundance of lemons, which Street preserves simply with salt (a few weeks ahead of Christmas Day) to eat with fish and chicken. The perfect handmade-with-love gift, the fabric covers are shweshwe and African wax cloth fabric cut into rounds and tied with hemp string.