The woman who merrily pays team of FIVE £2,000 to decorate her THREE twinkly trees!
Christmas trees are more lavish and eye-wateringly expensive than ever. So meet...
DECORATING the Christmas tree was once a simple affair. Attach a string of fairy lights, add lashings of tinsel and a few brightly coloured baubles and the festive halls were decked. Now, however, people like Laura Howell are turning the art of tree styling into something considerably more elaborate – and far more expensive. This weekend, as families across the country flock to garden centres to wrestle with a 6ft Norway spruce, Laura will be ensconced in her cosy living room, gazing with pride at the tree she put up just after Bonfire Night.
Not for her the typical £30 tree. Instead it’s £450 worth of artificial pine, 8ft tall and complete with 1,000 built-in twinkling lights and festooned with decorations which add up to well over £1,000.
‘People are always telling me I’m obsessed with my Christmas tree,’ says Laura, 33. ‘I know I’ve spent a lot of money on it, but I love it. Sometimes I’m tempted to keep it up all year because it’s so beautiful.’ Extravagant as it might seem, Laura is far from alone. The festive season may have only just begun, but it’s already proving to be the year of the spectacularly lavish, £1,000plus Christmas tree. Festive decorations are fast becoming the subject of the latest game of one-upmanship – as those with the money and an Instagram account outdo each other with the size, decorations and price of their Christmas spruce.
Celebrities are rushing to be the first to unveil their efforts – usually professionally styled at an eye-watering cost.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and his fiancee Megan Davison have shown off their tree, which was almost invisible underneath an avalanche of baubles, ribbons and stuffed toys, including polar bears and penguins. The none-too-subtle creation is believed to have cost almost £2,000.
Comedian Paddy McGuinness posed with a tree five times his own height in the garden of his home, covered in gleaming gold lights. And former Strictly contestant Katie Piper posted two photographs on Instagram last week. The first showed her show-stopping tree with twinkly Swarovski crystal decorations. The other was of a more modestly sized affair, decorated sweetly, albeit haphazardly, by her ‘creative little girl’.
Katie finds herself in good company, as having multiple Christmas trees has become de rigueur in certain circles. The Duchess of Cambridge’s mother Carole Middleton revealed she has several, including one for Prince George and Princess Charlotte to decorate themselves.
John Lewis even offers a tree-styling service costing upwards of £450, in which staff hand-pick a tree and decorations, bring them to your home and dress it for you. And those choosing to do the work themselves can still spend a fortune, with the store selling a 15ft unlit artificial tree for the princely sum of £999.
Keri Sheehan is an interior stylist known as the ‘Queen of Christmas’ because she specialises in adorning Christmas trees for John Lewis and Peter Jones.
‘People have become very competitive,’ she says. ‘Everyone wants theirs to look professionally decorated so it looks good on social media. Seeing other people’s trees – particularly those of celebrities – has raised everyone’s game.
‘Having more than one tree is very popular now and people often have one they let their children decorate which they’ll hide in a bedroom, while their big show tree will be beautifully styled and displayed in the hall or living room.’
For Laura, ensuring her tree looks as good as that owned by any celebrity is a cherished part of her Christmas preparations, which begin when most of us are still enjoying the final throes of summer. ‘September is when the Christmas collection hits the John Lewis website, and I’m on it straight away to see what the new themes are so I can buy more decorations,’ says the motherof-two from Stockport.
Each decoration Laura owns has a special meaning to her or her daughters, Scarlett, eight, and Sienna, five.
‘I spend more than £15 each on many of them, but I love them all because they have a story,’ she says. ‘Every year I buy the girls handmade ones from craft fairs with their names and the date on. They like pretty, girly designs so we have unicorns, mermaids and fairies, and baubles which are beaded or iridescent.
‘I like glass and wooden ones, which is why they’re expensive, and I’m always buying more. I’ve just found an astronaut one which I was excited about, because that’s what I wanted to be as a child.’
According to Keri, Laura’s passion for unique decorations is one of the year’s biggest trends. ‘I’ve seen so many unusual designs – squids, cacti, unicorns,’ she says. ‘Personalisation is very popular, as are heirloom pieces, which cost a lot and are intended to be investments to keep for a long time.’
Among the most sought-after designs are those by Gisela Graham, whose delicately intricate fairy and ballerina ornaments cost up to £100. ‘Decorations are becoming like items of jewellery to hang on the tree,’ says Keri. ‘I am seeing more and more bling.’
Laura’s Christmas mania stems from her childhood, when her mother waited until two weeks before the big day to put up the family tree.
‘I’d be desperate to do it earlier and she’d say, “When you have your own house, you can do it as soon as you like.” Now she jokes, “You really followed through on that, didn’t you?” ’
She festoons the rest of her home with snow globes and Santa cushions. So extensive is her collection of
decorations that it took Laura and her mother two hours to get them all out of the attic. ‘The boxes filled the living room,’ she laughs.
‘I do it all while the girls are out and tell them elves decorated it. It makes me so happy to make everything look magical for them. And the tree is the most important part – it’s my pride and joy.’
While putting up the tree has become a much-loved festive ritual for people like Laura, the ultimate Christmas indulgence has to be hiring somebody to decorate your tree for you, allowing you to sit back and watch while your home becomes a winter wonderland.
For style specialists, business is booming. Anya Banks runs a premium Christmas decoration company and says that she’s never been in greater demand.
‘This year it’s been absolutely crazy,’ she says. ‘It’s been extremely busy, and I’ve noticed it started earlier than usual, too.’
Among the homes Anya has already transformed is that of Sonya Latham and her husband Paul. The retired couple, who have two children and three grandchildren, now have three stunning trees at their home near Market Harborough in Leicestershire. In their entrance hall stands an 11ft beauty adorned with red and gold baubles, bows and golden twigs. The living room boasts a 9ft tree bedecked with gold, silver and white ornaments and cinnamon sticks. In a second reception room is another 9ft tree, this time decorated in gold, purple and ivy.
‘It’s an indulgence, but it’s so lovely,’ says Sonya, 61.
‘The trees look so special and they’re perfect – if I tried for a fortnight I could never make them look so nice.’
All the trees are artificial, but Sonya sprays them with pine scent to ‘get the best of both worlds’. She and Paul also own countless baubles, bows and lights.
‘When we met Anya, she came to our house to talk about what we wanted and see the colour scheme of the rooms,’ says Sonya. ‘She sourced the baubles and garlands for us initially, and every year she replenishes anything that’s looking a bit tired. She looks out for things I’ll like, such as the gold pear ornaments she found this year.’
For £2,000, Anya and her team of five arrived at 9am on November 29 and spent more than six hours assembling and dressing the trees. They also decorated other parts of Sonya’s home, including her orangery, in which they hung twigs and twinkly lights.
On January 4, while the rest of us are lugging our threadbare firs to the local recycling point, Anya’s team will reappear to take everything down again, leaving it all packed away neatly in boxes and her home looking spotless.
For Sonya and Paul, the cost is worth it for the pleasure the immaculately decorated trees will bring them over the coming weeks.
‘We love Christmas and the whole family are celebrating it at our house, so we want everything to look as inviting as possible,’ says Sonya. ‘It’s Paul’s birthday just before Christmas, so we’ll be celebrating that, too – the decorations will be seen by plenty of people. Our trees make us happy so why not celebrate properly if we can?’ But it’s not just extravagant decorations or multiple trees that are costing well into the thousands. Even minimally decorated trees come with huge price tags, as Jaclyn Ford and her partner Steve Johnson found when they splashed out £1,600 on an artificial tree for their Cheshire home. Steve, 56, and Jaclyn, 40, have put the 8ft tree which has 4,750 lights, in pride of place in their living room. ‘It’s a lot of money, but we see it as an investment,’ says Jaclyn, who works for Steve’s electricity pylon company.
‘The lights go all the way from the middle to the tips of the branches and there are no wires, which are my pet hate. It’s the first year we’ve bought an artificial tree but it looks very realistic.’
The couple’s expensive taste extends to the minimalist ornaments, too. ‘All the baubles are silver and glass, which reflect the lights – it’s tasteful, with a simple wicker skirt at the bottom from the White Company,’ she says.
‘I spent more than £400 on the decorations, which are from Marks & Spencer. Obviously, with such a big tree it needed a lot to cover it.’
Steve’s children are grown up, but they will be hosting friends and family for parties throughout the Christmas period, so they view the investment as worthwhile.
Some will see this level of extravagance for a season which is over all too quickly as festive madness.
But Jaclyn says: ‘We love Christmas and it’s great to have something everyone can enjoy when they come over. We’re proud of our house so we wanted a tree we could be proud of too.’
winter wonderland: Sonya Latham with her second and third trees at her home in Leicestershire
indulgence: Sonya with her star attraction, which is sprayed with pine scent
family affair: Laura Howell and daughters Scarlett and Sienna with their tree