The term Yuletide comes from a Norse tradition of cutting and burning a tree to bring in the Winter Solstice. This was to last through 12 days – later known as the 12 days of Christmas. The first artificial Christmas tree was made in Germany, fashioned out of goose feathers that are dyed green!
So apart from the usual Christmas traditions, here are some of the other highlights for December that are getting us inspired this winter.
Merry Christmas from Figura
Claridge's 'Room Sized' Christmas Tree
This year Claridge’s lobby is home to much more than a Christmas Tree. Sir Jony Ive and Marc Newson, in collaboration with renowned British set designer Michael Howells, have created an immersive festive installation. Step through Claridge's revolving doors this Christmas and you will find yourself in a magical, snow-covered forest.
Sir Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, and Marc Newson, one of the world’s most influential industrial designers, are both long-time friends of the hotel.
“There are few things more pure and beautiful than nature, so that was our starting point, layering various iterations of organic forms with technology. Our aim was to create an all-enveloping magical experience that celebrates our enormous respect for tradition while recognising our excitement about the future and things to come." Sir Jony Ive and Marc Newson
Claridge's Christmas Tree Archive
The Claridge’s Christmas Tree has long been a festive Mayfair landmark, drawing visitors and Londoners alike to marvel at its magnificent and ever-changing design. Some of Claridge's legendary Christmas Trees through the years have included designs by Christopher Bailey for Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Katie Ellis of McQueens, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin and John Galliano for Dior.
Old Rectory transformed for modern family living
Figura were delighted to be involved in creating a fabulous family kitchen for this client who had moved from London to a remarkable Old Rectory in a country village. It was a privilege to be part of this project to create a forever home.
The design includes enough seating at the island for all the children, a workstation, pantry, boot room and utility. A critical look at the spatial planning to meet the needs of this family meant knocking through to the adjoining dining room, providing direct access to the garden and installing new period sash windows.
The completed look is contemporary and classic and presents a fabulous new space for entertaining and everyday living.
In recent years burning wood for heating has enjoyed a remarkable revival. With so many woods available what do you need to consider when choosing which wood to burn?
Hardwoods are generally better for burning in wood burning stoves than softwoods. As a rule of thumb hardwoods are produced by slow-growing deciduous trees and therefore the logs have a greater density than the faster growing softwoods from evergreen trees. Since hardwood logs are heavier than the same sized softwood log they will provide you with up to 50% greater heat output.
Using dried, fully seasoned chopped wood logs with a moisture content of less than 20% is recommended and can be achieved by investing kiln-dried wood. Air-dried timber typically has a moisture content of 30%-40%. There is a price premium because kiln drying is an expensive operation, but the advantages are worth it.
So what are our favourite firewoods?
Ash - Reckoned by many to be one of best woods for burning, it produces a steady flame and good heat output. It can be burnt when green but like all woods, it burns best when dry.
Beech - Burns very much like ash, but does not burn well when green.
Cherry - Is a slow to burn wood that produces a good heat output. Cherry needs to be seasoned well as it is dense. It burns with a smell of cherries.
Hawthorn - Is a good traditional firewood that has a slow burn with good heat output.
Oak - Because of its density, oak produces a small flame and very slow burn, it is best when seasoned for a minimum of two years as it is a wood that requires time to season well.
Rowan and Yew - Are good burning woods that have a slow burn with good heat output.
Woods to be avoided due to low density, small flame, fast burning, low heat output, sap deposits and spitting include Chestnut, Fir, Eucalyptus, Laburnum, Poplar, Spruce and Willow.
Taurus Wines has been a feature on the Surrey and Sussex landscape for over 15 years, supplying both fine and ‘party’ wines from its shop at Whipley Manor Farm. Rupert Pritchett, the proprietor, hand selects each wine for the shop – going as far afield as Argentina (as well as short hops to Europe) on buying trips to source fantastic wines at great prices.
This month we asked Rupert Pritchett from Taurus Wines for his recommendations to go with the delicious recipes given to us this month by The Horseguards Inn, Tillington, West Sussex. A huge fan of both feathers and fins, he was quick to recommend these choices…
The game pate – with that delicious sharp but fruity jelly – would go wonderfully with a classic gamey Châteauneuf du Pape such as the Château Beauchene Châteauneuf du Pape ‘Homage Odette Bernard’ 2009 (£24.99). This Grenache-heavy wine goes incredibly well with meat and game – plus the red berry that you get on the palate will complement the rowan jelly superbly.
For the south coast mackerel fillets with their chilli and lime butter he recommend the Muscadet sur Lie Sevre et Maine ‘Les Grand Presbyteres’ 2015 (£8.99). A good Muscadet can be hard to find, so we love this award-winning wine. It’s got just the right zest on the palate to match up to the lime, while also having a certain salinity that makes it perfect for the grilled fish and able to cut through the buttery sauce. A delicious combo!
To go with the baked custard and date biscuit, which already has a bit of Pedro Ximenez in it, we recommend the Fernando de Castilla Antique PX (£27.99 for 50cl). One of Taurus' favourite wine journalists, Matthew Jukes says of it, "This weird, dark, mysterious, mahogany-hued wine is hypnotic, ever-so-slightly-halucinatory and unbelievably intoxicating. This is a dreamy, smooth, coffee, raisin, walnut and Christmas spice wine. One sip and your are in its power - you have been warned!"… and who are we to disagree! Try sipping this tantalising wine alongside your pudding for a true taste of Christmas.
Why 'The Old Rectory' is the best address
Following Figura's recent kitchen project in a lovely old rectory, we thought it would be interesting to see why these grand old church dwellings have charmed their inhabitants for centuries. Often located in a quintessential English village, rectories make good-sized homes for large families and often retain plenty of original, period features including wood panelling and fire places.
Part of the attraction of rectories is the peace and calm that exudes from them. People feel a connection with the history of these houses. Living in the heart of a community is also extremely appealing, while the quintessential English view of a church spire is truly wonderful.
But do old vicarages and rectories still represent the ultimate status symbol? “They are the most popular houses by far,” says Tim Harriss at Knight Frank. “Ask any new buyer with £1 million to £4 million what his dream home might be and nine out of 10 will say the old rectory. They are so well built, guaranteed to be attractive, quiet, probably with a cottage or a coach house as well.”
Cucumber sandwiches on the lawn, spreading beech trees, generous gardens and book-lined studies are all things we associate with rectory life. These homes also seem to have a spiritual tranquillity, in the oak and mahogany panels and boards which having once creaked to the tread of rectors, their families and dogs have new life breathed into them.
In the post-war years we tended to think of them as rambling draughty things. Thousands were sold, but buyers were charmed by their architecture, lavished money on restoration and were rewarded by huge increases in value.
The rectory is not all about the church any longer, it is about being in the heart of the community and playing a pivotal role in village life. Of course rectories are few and far between when it comes to looking for potential new properties, but there are plenty of other grand and prestigious country residences to consider all with a host of period features.
The Parsonage in Henfield, Sussex is currently being marketed by Hamptons. Alastair Gravenstede, Director at Hamptons specialises in the sale of country houses and estates throughout Sussex. He told us that this country home is a fine example of combining the historic features of such a classic house, including a concealed ‘priest’s hole’, with the facilities demanded by buyers for today’s life styles.
With our Swedish heritage at Figura, it wouldn't be Christmas without a mention of the Swedish Tomte. The Tomte is a mythological creature from Scandinavian folklore today typically associated with the winter solstice and the Christmas season. The tomte is reputed to safeguard the landowner and his family.
It is customary to express acknowledgement to the tomte by leaving him a bowl of porridge on Christmas eve.
Our favourite picks of the unique and handcrafted from the interiors magazines this month...
From left to right
Settled in the sleepy village of Tillington, near Petworth, West Sussex, The Horse Guards Inn is a 350 year old pub in The South Downs National Park.
With rolling views down the Rother Valley, the Horse Guards got its name in the 1840's, when part the household cavalry would frequent the Inn, while their horses rested on grass in the grounds of the Petworth Estate under the watchful eye of Lord Egremont.
The menu is small and seasonal. All their food is cooked to order and the menu changes everyday to fit in with what they can source from local suppliers, dig out of our vegetable patch or forage from the wild hedgerows or seashores nearby.
Sussex and the south coast offer an abundance of top quality produce and, wherever possible, all ingredients are sourced within the British Isles, from small independent producers who are honest, excited and passionate about their trades.
Home made sloe gin, mulled wine and Pimm’s are available in season, together with well kept real ales, an ecclectic wine list and farm fruit juices.
When we spoke to Sam at the Horse Guards she kindly offered to share her recipe for sloe gin so you can try and make it for yourselves.
1kg Sloes (picked after the first frost or alternatively if picked when ripe before any sign of a frost then lost in the bottom of a chest freezer for a while)
2litres gin (the better the quality at this stage the better the quality of the end product)
Pop the berries and gin into a big enough container with a lid and put them somewhere cool and dark for a couple of months, shaking them up every so often.
When you cant wait any longer, take a pint or so of the liquid, strain it and warm it up with a couple of tablespoons of sugar (this is a bit vague as it is very dependent on personal choice and the ripeness of the berries). Once the sugar is dissolved allow to cool completely and then add to the remainder of the strained gin bit by bit until you get a sweetness you like.
Put this finished, majestic liquid into clean, sterilised bottles. Seal and pop back in a dark cool corner to be forgotten for at least another month or so.
Their sample winter menu also makes mouthwatering reading:
Local game terrine, rowan jelly, toast
South coast mackerel fillets, sautéed potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, chili & lime butter
Baked English custard, date biscuit, Pedro Ximanez grape must syrup
Field of Light
Once again, visitors can enjoy winter light at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire this Christmas. Internationally recognised artist Bruce Munro returns by popular demand with his biggest Field of Light ever seen in the UK.
Featured Maker: Katie Walker
Katie Walker, based at her studio on Pulborough, West Sussex, produces original pieces of beautifully crafted contemporary furniture. Having studied at the Royal College of Art, she has a fine art based approach - she strives to create pieces which are as beautiful as they are functional, often with an added element of surprise.
All pieces are hand made in the UK using only the finest quality materials.
“The Ribbon rocking chair is actually extraordinary and very memorable - a classic of our time” Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs
“It is so difficult to create a truly original chair`: the minimalist, sculptural and beautifully balanced Ribbon rocking chair is a stunning re-invention of the traditional rocking chair and an inspired combination of craft values with sleek contemporary design”. Janet Boston, Manchester Art Gallery
In 2012 Katie Walker designed a high chair for his royal highness Prince George of Cambridge. The piece was the winning entry in an invited competition commissioned by The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, the City of London livery company, and was presented to their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2013.
The Katie Walker Furniture collection comprises a small number of signature pieces designed by Katie Walker which are available to order. It is constantly evolving and is produced using the finest materials, with meticulous attention to detail. As each piece is individually made, some sizes, materials and finishes can be tailored to your requirements.
The collection can be viewed by appointment at her studio in West Sussex and some pieces are also available through selected galleries and retailers in the UK.
Icehotel is the world’s first hotel made of ice and snow. Founded in 1989, it is reborn in a new guise every winter, in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi – 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. The Torne River, the arts, and creating a setting for life-enriching moments are at the heart of it all.
When the first snow has sprinkled the whole of Jukkasjärvi with white, artists from all over the world come together in the village to take part in creating the art exhibition of snow, ice and light that makes up Icehotel.