Fynbos & fairy lights: how to set the scene for a naturally chic Christmas
Top make-up artist Algria Ferreira-Watling invites us into her serene Cape home to share the secrets to creating down-to-earth festive decor
A bleached-out palette, raw finishes and an aesthetic that borders on the monastic are the hallmarks of this home in Cape Town's central and historic Tamboerksloof neighbourhood.
What makes this captivating, sanctuary-like habitat even more remarkable - given the absence of bright colours or lustrous textures - is that its owner, Algria Ferreira-Watling, is one of SA's most in-demand make-up artists.
It would be fair to assume that someone in the business of "painting faces", as Algria refers to her artistry, would have a predilection for colour as well as materials and objects underpinned by a glamorous artifice. But she has always had a rebel spirit, manifesting not only in her professional signature with a look that is pared-down, fresh and innately edgy, but also her instinctive rejection of trends, mass consumerism and aspirational yearnings.
Bare walls in bone and grey hues, original wooden features that have been sanded down and left unvarnished, a limited but meaningful selection of personal effects and decorative objects displayed in thoughtful vignettes, as well as low-key luxuries in the form of candles that perfume the air with notes of amber, and gently worn pure linen throws culminate in a whole that is effortlessly layered and emotionally affecting.
My dream was only ever to live with my family in a modest house that had a feeling of tranquillity
The source of Algria's inspiration can be traced to her childhood. "I come from a poor background. We didn't have material possessions, but there was always so much love," she says.
"I work in an industry founded largely on traditional notions of beauty and consumption, but I've never desired 'things'. My dream was only ever to live with my family in a modest house that had a feeling of tranquillity. Why would I desire a palace when what I have is perfect?"
While Algria purposely keeps the house in a state of visual consistency throughout the year, Christmas brings with it the occasion to create a seasonal atmosphere for her husband, Derek, son Dax and friends and family - a mood that is festive while staying true to her serene aesthetic.
There are no flashy store-bought trinkets or tinsel here, no pine or fir in the corner of the living room, and no table centrepieces composed of roses, poinsettias or hydrangeas. Instead, the customary tones and accoutrements are substituted by the muted greens and otherworldly forms of fynbos and woody herbs displayed as free-form wreaths, floating in repurposed clear glass bottles holding elegant candles, and as aromatic flourishes on gifts that have been wrapped simply in white or brown Kraft paper and finished with twine.
Traces of shimmer - this is Christmas, after all - serve to highlight rather than overwhelm and bring to mind the flash of a dragonfly wing: a fine dusting of edible copper glitter on a "naked" cake; gold craft wire binding handmade fynbos garlands left hanging from doorknobs; dried Protea flowers and seed pods from the blue gum tree, spray-painted in antique gold; and vintage King's Pattern cutlery, polished only slightly so as to retain the charm of its mottled patina.
And instead of a tree, an agave plant with its sculptural form given a single coating of gold spray-paint and "planted" in a clear glass vase filled with beach sand.
"Things found in nature, objects that have already had many lives, the soft wrinkle in a piece of linen. These are a constant source of inspiration for me," says Algria. "Christmas calls for luxury, but there's no right or wrong interpretation of what that means. Faded and evocative or full-on and festive, as long as what you see makes you happy."
FERREIRA-WATLING'S TOP 7 FESTIVE DECOR TIPS
1. Strings of fairy lights are a Christmas essential
They can be put in vases, in the fireplace, draped over the mantle, around door frames or left hanging from the ceiling in the corner of a room.
2. Upcycle glass bottles into candle holders
Fill clear white wine and cordial bottles with boiled or distilled water (to stop the water from clouding too soon) and place sprigs of fynbos, heather or woody herbs inside.
Use as holders for elegant taper candles on your tablescape or wherever you want atmospheric lighting.
3. Keep gift-wrapping simple and rustic
Crinkle brown Kraft paper and plain newsprint into tight balls and spread out for use. You'll be left with an organic, crushed-linen look.
Give each present its own unique treatment. Experiment with white and brown twine and use fynbos - plain or spray-painted - as well as spray-painted seed pods as embellishment. Wrap the twine casually for a more informal appearance.
4. Incorporate greenery
Source fynbos and create whimsical free-form wreaths and garlands. Use gold and copper craft wire and black leather cord for contrast and a hint of shine.
5. Spray-paint is an easy way to indulge your creativity.
Coat found objects from nature such as seed pods and dried flowers in antique gold and copper for an understated glow. Fynbos, spray-painted black, is an edgy interpretation of this idea.
Apply the same technique for the garlands, using gold and copper craft wire.
6. Stick to a monochromatic scheme for your table setting
Approach a monochromatic table setting like a fashion designer, focusing on layering and texture: think shades of chalk, grey, charcoal and bone.
Anchor the scheme with a beautiful linen tablecloth; set places with vintage silver-plated cutlery, rough-edged linen napkins tied with hemp string and handmade crockery (black adds drama).
Arrange a mix-and-match assortment of upcycled glassware for sprigs of fynbos and candles, and add a final flourish in the form of gold and copper spray-painted seed pods.
7. Serve your guests a deconstructed "naked" cake.
Make two classic sponges (one large, one medium) and trim them into circular shapes. Layer only the tops of each cake with buttercream frosting (hence the term "naked") and sprinkle on a fine layer of edible glitter. Embellish with sprigs of fynbos or woody herbs.
• Styling: Shelley Street Floral Designs: Storm Ross/thehollowayshop.com