How to Decorate for the Holidays When You Don’t Care About the Holidays
Designer Amanda Hamilton proves that festive doesn’t always have to mean classic as she invites friends home for the holidays.
Photographic evidence in these pages notwithstanding, Amanda Hamilton is not obsessed with the holiday season. She’s even gone so far as to say she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. She’s not religious, but perhaps more importantly, like Charlie Brown, she long ago became frustrated by the increasing over-commercialization of the season. “At some point, I’d just had enough,” says the Calgary designer, whose impressively varied portfolio of residential and commercial clients includes the stylish likes of 80th and Ivy, Native Tongues and the Beltliner restaurants. “The gift giving and a lot of the rest of it just started to feel forced.”
Grinchiness, however, is not in Hamilton’s nature. Instead, since her epiphany nearly a decade ago, she has managed to pull off a stunning succession of holiday miracles—this year being no exception—that involves cultivating of all the festivity, warmth and delectability of the season without the predictable trimmings. “I do love the overall ambiance of the holiday, but I plan the season around more of a ‘world’ theme,” says Hamilton. She thinks of her seasonal decor, and her house in general, as an ongoing experiment in colour, texture and ambiance. “It’s kind of my playground for trying out different ideas.” This year, as usual, Hamilton has opted for a non-traditional, subtly themed holiday style featuring touches of bronze and silver, as well as pops of peachy and blush pinks, soft blues, teal, navy and violet.
Hamilton and her husband, Cresswell, moved into one side of their three-storey contemporary Killarney duplex that they built a year and a half ago. Bleached white oak floors, white walls, matte-black cabinetry and white countertops allow bright accessories, art and textural elements to pop. A 16-foot white-quartz island in the kitchen is the hub and heart of a narrow, open-plan main floor that was specifically designed for frequent, cuisine-focused entertaining. “Any weekend, we might have four or five chef friends over here cooking at once.”
This year, Hamilton’s nearest and dearest gathered for a typically informal and intimate cooking demo, followed by a meal that riffs on Cresswell’s roots in the southern states. Hamilton is good friends with chef Justin Leboe of Model Milk and Pigeonhole restaurants, who developed the menu for the evening: in place of turkey and mashed potatoes are deep-fried Nashville hot chicken and ember-roasted sweet potatoes. The table setting is a pastiche of cultural collisions, sentimental collections and contemporary takes on old-world traditions. Blush-pink placemats, chosen to complement the Moroccan artwork by her good friend Zoë Pawlak in the dining room, are set with silver-rimmed Wedgwood china (a rarely used wedding gift); vintage cut-glass rocks glasses hold bourbon sour cocktails; the beloved dining chairs, of unknown provenance, were hauled home from a trade show in North Carolina. In Hamilton’s hands, traditional cedar boughs, pine cones, berries and candles strewn loosely down the table’s centre take on a fresh, feminine feel. (Incidentally, dinner is generally served a week before Christmas, as the couple spend the holidays in warmer climes.)
After dinner, guests are encouraged to sink into decadent nests of faux-fur throws and oversized pillows in velvets and metallic silver that, says Hamilton, give a “beachy-casual but festive vibe.” Countless vanilla and cinnamon-scented candles throughout the house ensure that, no matter how beachy the vibe, the home smells of rich wintry spices.
Atypical as some of Hamilton’s choices may be, even she can’t escape the lure of a decorated tree. This year, she custom-coloured white baubles with punches of pink, teal and violet. Likewise, the wreath above the fireplace is an artful take on the traditional form, sculpted from feather eucalyptus, camellia leaves, brunia, viburnum berry and olive.
While the appearance of gifts may seem contradictory to Hamilton’s values, they are, in fact, the very soul of the celebration. Through a local community-health organization, The Alex, Hamilton and her family are paired with a family who needs assistance. Every guest makes a contribution, and gifts were purchased and wrapped for a family whose Christmas would otherwise be fairly bereft of tangible cheer. (A few of the gifts are for the kiddie set in the Hamilton family as well.)
True to form, Hamilton will let next year unfold as it may without clinging to any potentially new traditions, no matter how big a hit this year’s colour scheme or menu was. “Next year it might be Chinese food, who knows?” she says. One thing is certain: for people who don’t celebrate Christmas, the Hamiltons sure do it up right.