Christmas decorating tips with Monty Saul, founding director of Kilver Court Designer Village

PUBLISHED: 15:08 13 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:03 13 December 2018

The Christmas Room at Kilver Court

The Christmas Room at Kilver Court

Neil White

Former model and retail director for fashion house Mulberry, and founding director of Kilver Court Designer Village at Shepton Mallet, Monty Saul has spent her career keeping an eye on creative and designer trends. But it’s not all about the latest buys when it comes to Christmas decorating as she explains to Catherine Courtenay

There’s a room in the Great House at Kilver Court which is a magical delight at this time of year.

Tucked away upstairs, the Christmas Room is a treasure trove of colour and sparkle, filled with every imaginable decoration for the festive home.

It’s a seasonal highlight, but there are other ways to think about creating a festive feel says Monty, director and buyer at the Great House.

It’s all about value for money and mileage she says; so a beautiful item can make a Christmas decoration and then be used at other times of the year. There’s recycling and foraging, keeping an eye out in gardens and hedgerows as well as charity shops; and don’t make it too difficult for yourself, she says, start simply with one item but make sure it has the all important ‘wow’ factor.

Monty makes a star wreathMonty makes a star wreath

WOW factor:

When thinking about decorating, try and be inspired by something you see, even if that’s one single item – then build the rest of your decoration around that.

It could be as simple as a folded paper angel decoration, or a stunning glass bauble or even an old damask curtain from a charity shop – try using that as a festive table cloth, suggests Monty.

“You must go by what excites you; if you like it you’ll make it work somehow.”

Don’t do too much:

Keep it simple and don’t try and decorate every room. A good tip is to stand in the doorway and look at your chosen room.

“What is it you want your guests to see? Think what will be the wow factor, is it the fireplace, or a suspended decoration hanging mid air? Always look at the room with fresh eyes.”

Beautiful decorations can be treasured and last for yearsBeautiful decorations can be treasured and last for years

Embrace the fake:

Real greenery can wither quickly and dead leaves on the dinner table can be a pain but fake greenery is so good these days. Eucalyptus is particularly effective, but the fake fir garlands are impressive too and will last for many years. “You can clean these with a hairdryer or put them upside down in a plastic bag and given them a good shake.”

Have fun:

“When we were children we’d always fall in love with the naff decorations,” says Monty. “And I think we still do!.” It’s all about the memories of hanging them on the tree each year. This year’s decorations seem to be embracing the idea of fun – so you’ll find chillis, pineapples or flamingos. “You might find them tacky but they do make you smile,” she says, picking up a leopard print bauble. “Some people will hate this, but others love it.”


If you buy a plain willow or wooden star you can weave your own plants through it. Find things in the garden like roses or even snowdrops. (And you can also find wonderful artificial roses too).

“Be an opportunist, make a note of where you’ve seen berries or greenery and go back to gather them nearer the time.”

Wind foraged items into a bought wreath or starWind foraged items into a bought wreath or star

The table:

Look at the shape of your table; how many people will be sitting around it? The table decoration has to be secondary to the food, so don’t go overboard. She picks up a white ceramic nightlight, shaped like an artichoke flower. “It’s not a Christmas decoration but a few of them lined up along the table can be very effective,” she says. “They come in green too, so you could alternate the colours. Wind some ivy around them to make a simple green and white theme, and have matching green and white napkins.”

Don’t go too high with the table decorations and don’t fill the table. You must make it easy on yourself as the host. One trick Monty uses at home is to lay out the food on another table in the kitchen and get people to do a circuit around, helping themselves before returning with their plates to the dining room to eat.

Real plants:

There’s a huge trend for succulents which look lovely in terracotta pots. They would look stunning on a white table cloth, says Monty – totally natural and simple, and don’t be tempted to add any extra sparkle.

By wrapping hessian, red velvet or even an old white pillow case around their pots, and tying with a bow, little fir trees or bushes can look stunning – perhaps adorned with just a few bird decorations.

Create a simple display in a striking potCreate a simple display in a striking pot

“A pot of bulbs, their green tips just showing through the moss in a nice terracotta pot can also be effective. Make a little sign that says ‘happy Christmas’ and leave it just like that.”

Not just for Christmas:

Picking up a Sophie Conran paper lantern Monty says: “This is something that’s very impactful and can stay up all year, looking good in spring and summer too.”

One of the most popular decorations at Kilver Court are the hand blown Egyptian glass baubles that hang on the ‘treasure tree’ upstairs. The tree is made out of curly hazel branches and lasts all year. The glass ornaments are beautiful and can be very dramatic, hanging singly in a window – catching the light. People buy them all year, not just for Christmas.

“At home I have some old pewter candle sticks which are outside in the summer, covered in wax, but I’ll bring them in for the Christmas table.”

Very special glass baubles can be used all year roundVery special glass baubles can be used all year round

More Monty tips:

Avoid perfectionism:

Don’t be too perfect or co-ordinated. “I find colour- themed trees dreadfully dull!”

Chop and change:

Don’t feel you have to put the same decorations out every year. Keep some away and rotate them each year.


Candle light is always the best and tea lights can be very effective. So too can be some of the artificial candles. “I think they are amazing.”

Gift wrap:

Use a decoration as part of your gift wrap. Tie it on with a bow - It’s a nice way to give someone a keepsake to hang on the tree each year.

Use brown paper or even newspaper and decorate it with potato cut outs, tying it up with red ribbon.

Tree tip:

Hang tinkling decorations at the bottom. “That way if you hear a tinkling sound you know there’s a child on the loose, or a dog!”

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