Interior designer and decorator Tarryn Hendra of Calla & Taia invites you into her home for a sneak peek of Christmas her way.
Story: Anne Schauffer | Pictures: Olivia Rebecca Photography
If by any chance, you didn’t feel the jingly feeling when you stepped into her space, Tarryn laughs, “I’m completely mad about Christmas! It brings such joy and life into a home.”
Tarryn’s tree, table, as well as cameo spots and experiences she’s created for her two little girls, Calla and Taia, are absolutely delightful. More than simply giving you that Christmas thrill, everything she’s touched is stylish and sophisticated, yet never over the top or … expensive: “I’m the queen of spray paint,” she laughs. “I’m all about repurposing, reusing, recycling, and a bit of crafting too. Wherever I can, I bring in the girls to help me stick, cut and pass opinions on whether I’ve got it right!”
This year, Tarryn thought her colour theme would be Pantone’s colour of the year: “It was a bright purple, but so difficult to source, it eventually morphed into plum. Plum just worked better with the decorations I had.” And Tarryn has decorations – boxes upon boxes of them, most reinvented to the point of being unrecognisable, year after year. “No, I don’t start with a very clear vision, my Christmas decor just evolves.” One suspects that’s part of the joy of it. Play, not work.
Tarryn’s repurposing of decorations is masterly. Out comes the spray can, and that bauble gets a whole new lease on life, as do those garden cuttings: “Use your garden. I chop down grasses or leaves, and leave them to dry out. Once they’re dead dry, I spray them.”
Tarryn’s also a big fan of buying after Christmas for next year, and buying on sale: “Christmas decorations are expensive, you have to get clever.” She is clever: “That wreath next to my tree was tired and dirty, on sale for R100. I thought, I can fix that.” She’s also a firm supporter of buying local. A number of her decorations are from crafters selling their wares at the roadside, like her grass stars, which she sprays every year. Grass table mats or a grass mat for the floor works well too.
She has loads of advice for decorating the tree: “When I’m on the hunt and find inexpensive, I always buy at least 20 to 30 of the same thing. If you have dozens of different decorations, it ends up as a mishmash. I use lots of decorations – there are about 300 on this tree – but many are the same, which helps your eye to focus.”
Tarryn suggests we don’t get fixated on elements that have the label “Christmas” attached to them: “Your decorations don’t have to be standard Christmas decorations. Either use what you have, and transform it into something for Christmas, or try this.
Tarryn bought a roll of plum-coloured vinyl, cut rounds and glued them to fit into Mr Price coasters, and added fishing line from which to hang them off the tree. “It’s important to connect your tree and table, without it being matchy-matchy. Pull them together by look and feel, rather than the same elements – I cut up the remaining vinyl into placemats for the table.”
A few hints for the mechanics of dressing a tree: “My tree is big, yours might be smaller, but the principles are the same. I take a few pieces of string, and tie them around the tree at equal distances, and decorate along those lines. That way, you’ll know they’re level. At the bottom, start with your bigger, heavier decorations first, and distribute them evenly on your tree, getting smaller as you travel towards the top: “It’s a good idea to step back and take a picture with your cellphone to see where the negative spaces are, so it’s easier to go back in and fill them.”
Looking at Tarryn’s tree, it’s clear she’s repeated decorations or clusters of decorations, and most are round shapes: “If you have many textures on your tree, rather stick to a similar shape so it doesn’t confuse the eye. You want to create a cohesive look.”
Just as on the tree, so too on the table: “You want the tree and table to talk to each other, but not directly match – here, round elements on the tree tie in and are reflected on the table. Tarryn bought those round clear balls and filled them with chocolates: “I needed a touch of gold …
”Tarryn always has elements other than traditional decorations, and they’re often around greenery or plants, real and not so: “The penny gums on the tree are silk plants, and I break them up and usually spray them; the greenery on the table is from an old plastic Christmas tree – I took off the greenery and broke it up (kept the stem because it might be the tree next year!), and I used dried flowers for decor on the gifts.”
She always has gifts around the tree as part of the decor. She grins, “Sometimes there are little things in there for the girls, usually linked to the advent calendar. But it’s largely to hide the tree base.” She uses monochromatic wrapping paper. It doesn’t have to be Christmas paper – a large roll of Kraft paper, ribbon and the kids stamping stars on it works equally well.
What about Christmas lights? “If you think you have enough lights, double them,” she grins. Another case where, as she puts it, more is more. And don’t use flashing lights if your tree is close to your dinner table, as they can be distracting – nor battery-operated lights which die, rather have them plugged in. She also suggests not buying anything which already has lights on it: “When you want to spray that little reindeer, you’ll spray over the globes. Rather buy separate string lights, and wrap them around your decorations.”
When Tarryn’s sourcing materials over the year, she looks for certain things: “A textured ball works well (buy lots) because it adds texture and interest, and you can spray it. You can’t spray a sparkle ball (buy lots), but you can add to it: “Every year, I get a different ribbon and glue it on. Just peel off last year’s.” And whatever decoration you buy, remove the coloured hanging string and replace with clear gut for uniformity.
Every year, the Hendras have an advent calendar with a difference. First of all, Tarryn makes it, and secondly, very, very few sweets and chocolates: “I made this one with little brown paper bags, and spray-painted some pegs.” Tarryn’s thinking behind the calendar is that children are on school holidays, and self-employed parents, in particular, are hectic in December: “We needed to fi nd a way to spend time with our children over that period, so the advent calendar is largely scheduled activities, and we put them in our diaries.
So, family things like Movie Night with Popcorn, or Walk on the Beach, or You Choose Supper. They can also be things the children need, like swimming goggles for school, or a paint set to keep them busy while we’re out. We also check when we have meetings or events, and we work around those, so Sleepover with Granny is a favourite.” Each year, the first advent calendar window they open is an outing to choose a Christmas decoration – anything they like, but inexpensive. And they decorate their own little tree in their play space.
Tarryn believes firmly that the house should not be overfilled: “For each new toy the girls get, they donate one to charity. So ten new toys, they choose ten to give to less fortunate children.”
Tarryn is clearly passionate about Christmas, and puts an enormous amount of her after-hours time into creating something really special. She’s strong on detail – a soft toy for the girls has a little label embroidered with their names. Inexpensive, but priceless. But style, sophistication and warmth doesn’t need to come at some massive expense – take a (gold) leaf out of Tarryn’s Christmas book.