Design & Style

How to style your home for the festive season.

17 December 2020

Interior stylist Steve Cordony shares his tips to help you deck your halls with understated elegance this holiday season.

Design & Style

How to style your home for the festive season.

17 December 2020

Interior stylist Steve Cordony shares his tips to help you deck your halls with understated elegance this holiday season.

A Christmas tree on the roof of a Mercedes GLA

A real Christmas tree is key to bringing the outdoors in, says interior stylist Steve Cordony. Image: Sue Stubbs.

There’s the scent of pine in the air, and a frisson of expectation everywhere. It’s December and, like so many of us, Steve Cordony is on a mission.

That mission? To create a festive yet elegant atmosphere in the home he shares with partner Michael, their dog, Bedford, and a menagerie of animals. Home is Rosedale Farm, a stunning rural property just outside Orange in New South Wales and the gracious proportions of the Georgian homestead are the starting point for how Steve approaches his Christmas styling. 

Steve Cordony unloading his Christmas tree at Rosedale Farm in Orange

Steve Cordony takes inspiration from nature to style his stunning Georgian homestead for the festive season. Image: Sue Stubbs.

“I always start with a general colour palette and vary it slightly from year to year,” he says. “I tend to do a more traditional Christmas and love to stay within those greens, reds, whites and then add metallics. This year, I’ve done green, gold and silver, and introduced a natural flax colour.”

Steve begins every Christmas season on the hunt for the perfect tree. “I always have a real Christmas tree because I just love bringing the outdoors in,” he says. “The scent of it is amazing and, since I was four years old, we’ve always had real Christmas trees.”

As you’d expect from a style specialist, the selection process is far from simple: “I spent about an hour looking around the farm until I found the perfect one!” he admits. “Where we have it in the lounge room, it can be seen as you come through the door and from various angles, so I like to make sure that the tree will look beautiful all 360 degrees.”

But finding the perfect pine is only step one. Here, Steve shares his styling tips for dressing your tree and your home to create a chic festive atmosphere that’s big on glamour but low on glitz.

Stick to a general theme

“Whether you’re going more traditional or contemporary, the trick is to make everything feel quite holistic,” explains Steve. “I tend to use a very strong colour theme, then tie that through everything I’m styling in different areas of the home.”

Decorating the Chrismas tree

1.    Position the tree:

“If there’s an area of the tree that’s not quite perfect, then face it to a corner or against a wall to hide the flaw. The position of the tree in the room is important. Don’t just stuff it into a corner; make it a feature. I actually moved out an armchair where our tree goes, to give it room to ‘breathe’. Because I have two side by side – one small, one large – I needed quite a bit of space. As they don’t have decorations on them, I like to ‘layer’ them in a little grouping. It creates a touch of glamorous drama, a focal point for the room.” 

Steve Cordony decorating a Christmas tree

Steve says you should position your tree to show it off – “don’t just stuff it into a corner” – and make sure it has plenty of room to breathe. Image: Sue Stubbs.

2.    Invest in a stand:
“We have very high ceilings, so I always get a really tall tree – the large one is 10½ feet [three metres]. I like the tree to go right down to the floor, so you don’t see the stand. I bought ours about five years ago and have used it every year since. You simply screw the tree into the middle and add water to it.”

3.    Start with the lights:
“I love warm-toned fairy lights, which are the key element for me when styling the tree. I always start dressing the tree with the lights first, making sure to push the cords right to the back of the branches so you can’t see them.”

4.    Then add your decorations:
 “My styling is minimalist – I don’t add that many decorations, as I like the tree to speak for itself. The variously sized baubles I’ve place around the base are more of a playful touch. If you’re adding decorative items to the tree itself, always start with the lights, and make sure they’re as evenly spaced around the tree as possible.”

Steve Cordony with his styled Christmas trees

Steve describes his styling as “minimalist”. He prefers to let the tree speak for itself and keeps baubles for the base of the tree as “a playful touch”. Image: Sue Stubbs.

Natural, sustainable materials

1.    Textural elements:
“For this particular look, I tied big strips of natural flax linen into bows to put on top of my trees. I’ve also used the linen to hang wreaths on the front door. It’s a simple way to elevate the space, and I wanted to keep everything really natural this year, but also really glam.”

2.    Fresh greenery:
“I could extend that theme to my mantelpiece. For example – I sit beautiful fresh pine foliage, which lasts for ages, along the mantel, to which I’ve added beeswax candles and brown-paper baubles. They’re quite earthy and natural, and, of course, sustainable.”

3.    Christmas tree:
“When the festive season is over, we take the trees outside and use them for mulch on the garden. Eventually, we’ll start growing our own Christmas trees on the property and then bring them inside in a pot.”

Decking the halls

There are several key areas of the house that Steve likes to style for the festive season:

1.    Front door:
“I like to add a beautiful simple wreath.”

Steve Cordony styles a Christmas wreath on his front door

Create a warm welcome for festive parties with a simple wreath for your front door. Image: Sue Stubbs.

2.    Hallway console and fireplace surrounds
“Whether it’s candles or garlands, I’ll use something simple to dress those areas up, so the focus isn’t just on the ‘hero’ tree or front-door area.”

Steve Cordony styles festive mantlepiece

Dress mantlepieces and other surfaces with native foliage and beeswax candles for a naturally elegant festive look. Image: Sue Stubbs.

3.    Sensory extras:
“For me, certain intangible elements are things like scent. My favourite candle scent for this time of year is Gabriel, by the historic Parisian fragrance house, Cire Trudon. It embodies Christmas for me, and I only use it in December. Obviously, if you have a real Christmas tree, the fragrance of pine is also amazing. I like to have fresh gardenias, too, which is a very Australian-summer Christmas scent.”

4.    Christmas collectables:
“I have some beautiful ceramic and Wedgwood decorations that I pull out. I’ll hang them singularly off a key in a sideboard or a commode in a hallway or put them in a bowl in the kitchen – again, to tie in with the other decorations around the house. I also have some lovely faux green garland, which I use every year, so I’ll drape some beautiful swags down the staircase and around the front door. I also have wreaths that I use to dress the windows.”

What goes up, must come down

“I usually have a rule that our Christmas tree goes up on the first of December and comes down the first week of January. But this year, we did it a little earlier. December seems to go so quickly and given the events of this year, it felt like everyone wanted to get their trees up a couple of weeks early. I think we all just wanted some joy.”

By Sally Feldman