You can branch out this Christmas

Christmas is coming, but it doesn't mean you have to compromise on style. Interior designer Jamie Hempsall looks at the chic alternatives to a tradtional tree.

Winter has made its presence truly felt in the last week and put me totally in a Christmas mood. In most UK homes, the focal point for the festive decoration scheme is a real or faux pine tree in the main family room, richly decorated and brightly lit.

However, these often require a revised room layout during December to accommodate this extra "piece of furniture". In fact, one of the first questions we are often asked by clients after we have completed a sitting room is where should we place the Christmas tree? Many homes can cope with a little seasonal re-adjustment, but in small homes where space is of a premium the area taken up by these trees can be a significant issue.

The main problem with the traditional shape is that lower branches take up a considerable amount of space. Unfortunately, a small traditional pine often looks like you are using the top that has been cut off a reasonably sized tree and can make a disappointing central piece. So if you only have a small area to occupy think more laterally and opt for a festive tree substitute that packs maximum design impact while occupying minimal space. It is important that your Christmas tree alternative remains a focal point and avoids becoming lost in your room.

Even if your tree is just a few centimetres tall the way you present it will alter the effect. Start by choosing a location that gives the decoration prominence such as a shelf, mantle-piece or side table and place it centrally. Then clear away any other decorative items in the vicinity so that the space your tree occupies is clear of other visual disturbance. This will ensure that your choice dominates the area; when space is a premium less is definitely more!

My favourite decoration for this type of location is the Bright Button Tabletop Mini Tree which stands at 29cm. The tree is decorated entirely in tiny red, green and white buttons and looks like something Santa's elves might have created (21.99 – The Contemporary Home; www.tch.net or 02392 469400). Alternatively, the White Metal Christmas Tree Decoration from Berry Red features tea-lights and bauble decorations in a modern design which retains a traditional feel.

Obviously, care needs to be taken around lit candles which I would never leave unattended (60 – www.berryred.co.uk; 01432 274805). If you have some wall space and want to create a focal point for presents, then a removable wall sticker can be a brilliant option. The look is definitely striking and works particularly well in a modern environment. Stickers are also a nice option in a children's bedroom if you want to make their space feel more Christmassy.

The Christmas Tree Wall Sticker from Spin Collective, available in 16 vibrant colours, has a wonderful contemporary cartoon feel to it and is 100cm high (20 – www.spincollective.co.uk; 01242 255244). If you like this idea and fancy making the tree a permanent fixture then Love Mae have launched the Decorative Christmas Tree on a Re-usable Wall Decal – a bit of a mouthful, but a wonderful product.

The tree can be left with leaves all year round and then Christmas decorations can be added for the Festive time of the year. The decorations can be removed, cleaned and re-applied again – perfect for creating your own look and for re-use (50; www.garrendennylane.com – 00 353 86 1051007).

For a modern full size tree alternative that will not compromise your space, consider a shape that is small at the base and large on top.

My favourite solution this year is the 150cm high Asda Cherry Blossom Christmas Tree – understated elegance personified. Its blue lights add cool chic with a small trunk opening out to branches at the top. At 150, it is an investment, but is certainly one I will be looking to make (ww.asda.co.uk).

Jamie Hempsall is winner of Best Interior Design – North East 2010 in the UK Property Awards.

Contact him on 0800 0321 180 or via www.jamiehempsall.com

THE CUSTOM THAT GREW AND GREW

Having a decorated tree in a UK home dates back to the 1840s when Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert brought over a pine from his native Germany.

In 1848, the Illustrated London News published an illustration of the Royal Family at Windsor Castle gathered around their decorated tree.

This created a trend in fashionable homes, entirely replacing the traditional kissing bough over the next 30 or so years.

Initally, trees were decorated with real candles, sweets and cakes which were attached with ribbon.However, in around 1880 Woolworth began selling manufactured ornaments.