Christmas is ripe for cheer and festivity, but for many people decorating the family home for the holidays is an arduous task that belies creativity. Chris and Barbara West of Boatswain’s Watch in St. George’s are experts at creating stylish and affordable holiday décor, drawing inspiration from Bermuda’s natural surroundings.
“Our style is playful and whimsical—we aim to celebrate the fun of Christmas, so we incorporate lots of spirited decorations into our home décor. We use as many natural materials as we can; it’s cost-effective and pays homage to our beautiful island lifestyle,” says Barbara.
Chris and Barbara, who live with their Rhodesian ridgeback, Loquat, and their blue- fronted Amazon parrot, Midori, built their house themselves in 2001. They take pride in the natural beauty of its location, particularly their water views of St. George’s Harbour. The house is situated on a hillside with dock-access to the waterfront and land on either side that is richly planted in native and endemic plants. With Bermuda’s natural environment at their doorstep, the Wests naturally incorporate flora from their property into the interior decor of their home—using plants and shrubs in innovative ways to enrich the ambience of their living space.
The couple’s creativity is most in evidence in their seasonal showpiece, their Christmas tree, which stands tall in their formal living room.
“We’ve always decorated for Christmas, but eight years ago while cleaning up our property after a winter storm, I realised that we could craft our own one-of-a-kind Christmas tree from the fallen branches in our back garden,” explains Barbara. “We gathered together the trunk of a Bermuda cedar and various-sized palm fronds and constructed a beautiful tree. We carry on the tradition with a new tree each year.”
The stylish tree, a masterpiece as far as Christmas trees go, is approximately eight feet in height and bedecked in faux snow and twinkling white lights. Chris is the one who constructs the monumental tree each year—he uses the trunk of a cedar tree and fastens dried palm fronds (without their leaves) onto the trunk with screws. When he’s finished, Barbara sets to work covering the tree in faux snow, then adding white Christmas lights and silver ornaments. “We always add one red ball though—just for fun!” Once the tree is decorated and lighted up, a traditional silver angel is placed at the top.
In most homes the Christmas tree is the centrepiece of the house during the holidays and the same is true for the Wests, who consider their stylish and spectacular homemade tree their showstopper. However, it isn’t the only Christmas tree in their home. Downstairs in the cosy den, sits a smaller tree of the more traditional variety. This tree, unlike its glittery counterpart upstairs, is less razzle-dazzle and more homely, decorated in ornaments collected throughout the years and across several continents, trophies of the couple’s travels around the world. “The tree upstairs is a reflection of our collective spunk and zest for life; the tree downstairs is a celebration of our life together,” explains Barbara.
Indeed the couple is well travelled, and their ornament collection comprises trinkets from Italy, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Austria and elsewhere. Each Christmas, favourite ornaments make an appearance for the umpteenth time while new ones are inaugurated.
While the smaller tree in the den isn’t homemade, the theme of homemade holiday décor runs throughout the house. Chris and Barbara are well known for turning something nature produced into something artistic and stylish for their home, especially during the holidays. Bay grape leaves, glamorously transformed by gold spray paint, are arranged in the shape of a wreath and adorn the wall above the mantel in the formal dining room. Atop the mantel is an arrangement of clippings from casuarina and pittosporum plants found on the couple’s property. But the real piece de resistance in the formal dining room is the chandelier that Chris made using the roots of a Bermuda cedar.
“The chandelier is a fixed feature in our home. Chris made it when we couldn’t find an affordable one we liked. At Christmas we string it with lights and hang decorations from it,” says Barbara. This Christmas, silver reindeer and glass icicles hang from the cedar roots, which jut out in all directions high above the decorated table. The handmade table settings are marked with miniature cedar saplings—clippings from their own backyard—delicately placed in individual cedar stumps.
This Christmas, Chris and Barbara will host the West family for traditional Christmas dinner. They’ll eat by candlelight and enjoy a roast turkey, Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding and brandy sauce. In keeping with who they are as a couple, Christmas dinner won’t be without some spirited fun. “We’re having Champagne Jell-O shots!” exclaims Barbara. “And Ritz crackers and peanut butter for my brother Blake, who requests the simple to make up for the extravagant,” adds Chris.
When Christmas-time has passed, Chris and Barbara will set to work deconstructing their homemade decorations. Next year, they’ll work together to construct new pieces to decorate their home for the holidays. “Decorating for Christmas is so much fun and doesn’t have to be difficult or costly,” concludes Barbara. “Using natural materials is inexpensive and celebrates our beautiful island home.” For first-time do-it-yourselfers, Barbara recommends going outside and collecting several leaves or dry tree branches. Paint them silver or gold and either decorate them or use them to decorate something else. “Use our natural environment as your inspiration. Use bling (such as metallic spray paint) to add a stylish, fun lux effect to a natural material.”
And the best part of handmaking your own Christmas décor? “It means more to you!” explains Barbara. “Spending time creating beautiful decorations is always meaningful and fills your home with happiness for the holidays.”