Royal events planner reveals how to throw a chic Christmas party

Will YOUR Chrismas party be chic or common? Events planner who’s arranged parties for the Queen reveals why serving food on the table, using real candles and hanging tinsel from the rafters is a festive faux pas

  • ‘Party Architect’ to royalty, Johnny Roxburgh, has shared top tips with FEMAIL
  • Said that white lights and real trees are passé, faux firs and coloured bulbs are in 
  • Advised ‘floorscaping’ with garlands rather than decking the halls
  • Buffet station better than putting food on table and don’t seat couples together

After a rather drab festive season in lockdown for many of us in 2020, Christmas 2021 is shaping up to be a whirl of parties and entertaining, but how do you avoid a festive faux pas if your hosting skills are a bit rusty? 

If your plans involve hanging garlands from the ceiling, placing a high-end real fir tree in the corner of the room, and kitting out your home with white fairy lights, you might run the risk of looking rather December 2019.

According to an expert party planner, the chic modern host will opt for a fake tree, or even better a wooden one, ‘floorscape’ their room rather than decking the halls and ditch passé and ‘clinical’ white lights for colourful bulbs. 

Habitat has joined forces with London-based ‘Party Architect’ to royalty, Johnny Roxburgh, to reveal his expert hosting advice for the season ahead, to ensure your Christmas celebrations are the height of good taste. 

And were better to turn for advice than the holder of a Royal Warrant who has planned events Buckingham Palace, Holyrood, Highgrove and Windsor, including the Queen’s annual Christmas staff party and Prince William’s 21st birthday.   

Johnny said: ‘Christmas is my favourite time of the year to host. This year, celebrations are back on the agenda! I can already feel the excitement and festive cheer. With 40 years of party hosting under my belt, there’s a few effective tricks of the trade I can reveal.

A simple, elegant wooden Christmas tree will look marvellous and is great for young families who want to avoid clutter

DO: Try a fake tree  

I would usually gasp at the thought of a faux tree, but I have seen a huge rise in popularity amongst my clients for these over the last two years. 

My recent trips to Paris show that Parisians are clocking onto this trend too – all the top ateliers were shying away from real trees and instead had faux trees that looked beautiful. Forget complex hoover manoeuvres before guests arrive, artificial trees don’t drop needles or create a mess and can be used again and again.

At one celebrity party I worked on we used a faux silver tree which shimmered and reflected beautifully in the light. This also works well in a small space; a normal tree might swamp the room, but this will fill the room with light and glitter when dressed with fairy lights and decorations.

Alternatively, a simple, elegant wooden Christmas tree will look marvellous and is great for young families who want to avoid clutter. Weave fine wire lights around the tree and gold tone decorations on the tree shelves. This is an effortless way to incorporate a Scandinavian twist into the home.

DON’T: Use real candles 

I’m not talking lavish candelabras and crystal chandeliers here. Low lighting is an easy way to make your Christmas setting instantly stylish. You’d be amazed at the amount of knocked over candles or ‘napkins on fire’ scenarios that happen at dinner parties. 

Opt for reusable LED candles, a practical and safe alternative to the real deal. They flicker magically on a dining table without the worry of Christmas cracker ends catching or wax covered tables. 

They’re a great addition to any household and far more cost-efficient than candles. Even the Royal Household are famously careful about Christmas costs. Similarly, LED lights outside the front door create a glorious glow that will impress guests upon arrival.

Habitat has joined forces with London-based ‘Party Architect’ to royalty, Johnny Roxburgh, to reveal his expert hosting advice for the season ahead, to ensure your Christmas celebrations are the height of good taste

DON’T: Hang tinsel from the rafters 

This Christmas, we’re decorating the floor. Forget decking the halls, ‘floorscaping’ is the latest trend to know. This is the cherry on top of Christmas decorating and is well worth the clear up job, your guests will be impressed. 

Utilise the floor space by weaving garlands between presents under the Christmas tree and add fake snow to corners and the bottom of table legs. 

I also use toy trains snaking through the presents or travelling through the dining table. Both can be bought cheaply, and look adorable, creating the wonder of a Christmas morning.

DON’T: Sit couples together  

A good host will always have a seating plan. I never understand why partners, husbands and wives insist on sitting next to each other at the table. We see each other all the time! Christmas is a time for mingling, so sit couples separately.

A long, narrow table is a great option so that there’s no shouting over one another and you can talk to people opposite (great if you’re not over the moon with who you’re sitting next to). 

Lots of my celebrity clients love a u-shaped table – easily recreated at home with three tables from around the house – because it makes it easy to clear plates without the awkward shuffle behind guests. It also creates a performance space for after-dinner games.

To cater for extra guests, don’t worry about adding extra chairs even if they don’t ‘match’. After all, the more the merrier. 

DO: Pay attention to glassware 

Google Trends show that searches for at-home cocktails are up by +300% as we enter the festive season. Having planned over 9,000 parties for A-list events, an easy faux pas to avoid at home is to ensure drinks are served in the correct glassware. 

This means long drinks in a hi ball and martini glasses for martinis. On Christmas morning, we make a breakfast martini made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and thick cut marmalade (we made our own in lockdown). 

The only exception to the rule is serving bubbles in a retro chic champagne coupe (try English sparkling this year over champagne or prosecco).

The ultimate host will wow guests by serving drinks before their very eyes on a drinks trolley. They help steer clear of clutter, are relatively affordable and add a touch of glamour to the evening. 

And it’s not just drinks…get creative with your glassware. Serve desserts in tumblers, not bowls! It’s fabulous to see the layers of something like a tiramisu or a boozy trifle through the glass – and saves a lot of space in the dishwasher compared to bowls or plates.

DO: Use coloured lights  

People normally steer clear of coloured lights but sometimes, too much harsh white light can end up looking a bit clinical and tired. I created a fantastic Russian Christmas party for a client at the Whitehall Banqueting House, the bright colours looked fabulous, and guests loved it, making a change from neutral and earthy tones.

An easy way to add festive flair to your setting, they also give your outdoors a ‘retro’ Christmas feel that even a Who from Whovillle would be jealous of. Last year, I dressed my huge olive tree in my front garden with sparkly multi-coloured lights in glorious 50s colours, which I bought in Germany two years ago. It looked so cheerful, and I like to think it put a smile on people’s faces on those bleak days last winter. I will be doing the same this year!

Too much harsh white light can end up looking a bit clinical and tired, whereas coloured bulbs will add warmth to your decor scheme (stock image)

DON’T: Serve food on the table  

Forget putting all the food on the table which ends up like a game of Tetris trying to squeeze in the turkey around your table decorations. It’s all about a buffet station. Utilise your kitchen work spaces or a side-board which you can put place mats on to mark out where the serving bowls sit, weaving thin wire lights around this.

The main table might seem a good choice to present the food as people sit down but by the time everyone has helped themselves and gone in for seconds or thirds, you’re left with half a turkey on a plate, gravy splattering all over the tablecloth and an apocalyptic-esque scene. Not very chic at all.

Utilising a separate surface means your elegantly decorated table remains that way and when you bring out the Christmas pudding there is no one trying to frantically wipe the table or clear the serving dishes.

Don’t put all the food on the table! Things will quickly get messy, so think about setting up a buffet station instead (stock image)

DON’T: Put the tree in the corner 

Embrace the outlandish, forget dried flower bouquets, this year it’s all about decorating your table with tabletop trees. Habitat saw a +50% search growth in tabletop Christmas trees last year. 

It’s an unexpected show stopping centrepiece and a great conversation starter. Arrange half parasol Christmas trees down the middle of the dining tables. It creates a dramatic look and ensures your guests can see one another easily. Habitat makes a superb version, which I will cover with lights and white decorations this year.

For a celebrity client one year, I put tall pine trees through the table – elevated on frosted poles. We put battery operated Swiss cable cars from a toy shop and strung them from one side of the table to the other, high above guests’ heads. They travelled from one tree to the next. On the table top I made a snow scene with skiers and skaters (I placed small mirrors to resemble frozen ponds) amongst fake snow. It all looked so enchanting.

If you’re not feeling as brave, you can replicate with mini Christmas trees – perfect if you’re short on space too. Use a cake stand for one of the trees to create different levels, adding some visual drama to the table. Don’t stop there, let your imagination run wild on table decoration. Put individual snow globes in front of each guest’s place with their name written on it – helps keep even the most bored youngster occupied, and looks charmingly chic when they are all sparkling round the table. You can also be creative with furnishings and dressing the space. Why not drape the backs of dining chairs in faux fur shaggy rugs for an alpine chalet vibe, perfect for creating a cosy atmosphere.

DO: Paint your door  

Door makeovers are a hot trend which sparked from lockdown, with over 265,000 post tags for #frontdoordecor on Instagram alone. 

I usually favour a dazzling royal blue which is the trend of the season. It’s taken over Instagram with cobalt nail trends and moody blue cocktails popping up everywhere I look. If you do paint your door blue, pair with pops of gold decor (wreaths and baubles) to ensure it looks festive and stylish.

Get creative with your wreaths which will leave guests wowed before they’ve even set foot inside. A faux wreath is a warm welcome, without the maintenance or expense of a real one each year. Style it up with bright mini baubles, lights and red velvet ribbon; then hang it to the very top of the door using drawing pins so all the decorations dangle gracefully. Effortless elegance.

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