It’s the fiesta season

Interior designer Sue Timney doesn’t want a white Christmas this year. She is decorating her home in the paintbox-bright colours of Mexico instead, discovers Pattie Barron
Sue Timney dresses up her entrance hall
Sue Timney dresses up her entrance hall
For festive, read fiesta. So says designer Sue Timney who, this Christmas, is decorating the east coast family home she shares with husband Justin de Villeneuve in distinctly Mexican colours: hot pinks, scarlets, limes and oranges.

“These are celebratory colours,” says Timney, “at their best played off with black-and-white stripes to crisp them up.”

The advantage of Timney’s simple, striking colour theme is that even a bowl of tangerines becomes part of the table decoration. Glossy peppers, lemons and limes piled on a dish don’t need to be eaten to earn their place. And a three-tiered cake stand, chosen for its gaudy shades, holds tree baubles as well as iced cakes.

'Stick with paintbox-brights and the rest is easy'

Timney’s permanent love affair with black-and-white patterns and prints makes a great foil for all that colour, and she throws them constantly into the mix. For instance, home-made printed crackers — Timney photocopied archive architectural designs — offset Paperchase’s colourful metallic versions, large and small.

Stick with paintbox-brights and the rest is easy, she says. Timney picked up berry sprays at a local market and fat, coloured candles from the local Pound Shop. She bought plastic place settings from Habitat that can be reused on summer picnics. She bought ribbons of coloured tissue paper from Paperchase in rainbow colours and half a dozen single-stem glass vases to put them in, then lined them up on a niche in the fireplace to make poles of vibrant colour.

Timney also bought reams of fabric for a song from Shepherd’s Bush Market. The Christmas cloth is a length of black-and-white striped fabric, overlaid with a broad runner of scarlet paper that is thrown out afterwards; napkins, cut to size, have a narrower stripe. “All the fabric is synthetic, which means it washes like a dream, so I don’t have to worry about my grandchildren — or the grown-ups — making a mess,” she says.

A scarlet paper runner, candles, crackers and even cakes carry through the brightly-coloured fiesta theme
A scarlet paper runner, candles, crackers and even cakes carry through the brightly-coloured fiesta theme
The same inexpensive fabric, alternating with some scarlet cloth, dresses the hall staircase; Timney simply twisted them down the length of the bannisters, securing them with tape at intervals, then pulled out the fabric twists to make them generous swathes.

“Don’t aim for perfection,” advises Timney. “If you buy everything off the shelf, and dress the tree symmetrically, it will look too controlled, like walking into a show house instead of a warm, family home. I look out for things that are not quite perfect, but have promise as well as a good price, then I use them as a base, adjusting them to make them more special.”

Fake flowers look like real ones if you arrange them with conviction, says Timney. She buys her showy single-fabric stems from Poundstretcher, through the year. “I pick out the showiest blooms and then throw them all together in big vases,” she says. “Nobody is any the wiser, and I have great all-year arrangements that never fade.” It helps, too, if the fakes are used to bolster the background decorations rather than used slap bang on the Christmas table, where eagle eyes might spot the truth.

'Banish any snobbery you may have about Christmas decorations and you free yourself to use whatever works'

Greet guests with a festively dressed hall
Greet guests with a festively dressed hall
Single stems of fake scarlet amaryllis, bunched together in a pair of black glossy vases on the windowsills, make a glamorous seasonal splash. Vases on two plinths, on either side of the fireplace, hold striking winter arrangements of willow twigs, foraged from a country walk, and sprayed white.

Spools of ribbon are a great decorative tool, says Timney. “Like stationery, the more you buy, the cheaper the cost. I’ve used wide scarlet ribbon to tie around the necks of vases, to garland the dining table and hall chandeliers and as a wall runner to show off my collection of Fornasetti black-and-white plates.”

But all that glitters can be a twinkle too much, cautions Timney.

“I found some flocked baubles from Paperchase that temper the glossy ones; matte absorbs colour in a different way. Too much shine and reflection cheapens the overall effect, and it no longer feels contemporary.” Timney’s choice of tree is artificial white, studded with scarlet chilli peppers on strings, paintbox-bright baubles and exotic glittering birds. “I don’t feel the need to have a real green tree,” she says.

“This one makes a great backdrop for ornaments, plus I can recycle it in future. Banish any snobbery you may have about Christmas decorations and you free yourself to use whatever works.”

However you choose to decorate your home this Christmas, take note of Timney’s sage advice: “This year so many companies are competing with price that if you’re not focused, you can end up with bargain bits and pieces that, when you’ve got them home, just don’t work together. So decide on a theme and stick to it, whatever else sparkles and winks at you. If it’s all about colour, then refuse to be diverted by silver reindeer and bunches of tinsel.”

See Timney’s website for ideas:

Black-and-white striped fabric makes a striking choice for the Christmas tablecloth
Black-and-white striped fabric makes a striking choice for the Christmas tablecloth

Sue Timney’s Christmas Sourcebook

All fabric £5 to £7 a metre from Shepherd’s Bush Market.

Red wrapping paper used as a runner, £3 a roll; coloured metallic crackers, £10 for set of nine large, £5 for set of nine small; small mirrored balls, six for £9.50; jewelled birds on tree, box of eight for £12; shredded tissue, £1.75 a bag; and matte felt baubles, £5 for a box of nine, all from Paperchase (

Coloured Melamine place setting trays and bowls, from £2.50 each; and glass vases for single stems, £4 each, from Habitat (

Three-tiered plastic cake stand, £17.50, from The Conran Shop (

Ribbons from Paperchase (as before) and Temptation Alley, 359-361 Portobello Road,W1.

Budget drum of 70 baubles, £9.99; clear wine glass with black stem, £2.99; white fibre-optic tree, £59.99, all from Homebase (

Red wine glass, £8 for four, from Woolworths (

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