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The secret of Christmas cheer? Two trees

Amy Hemmings-Batt, founder of the interiors and childrenswear brand Coco & Wolf
Amy Hemmings-Batt, founder of the interiors and childrenswear brand Coco & Wolf - Clara Molden

Shortly after Amy Hemmings-Batt, founder of the interiors and childrenswear brand Coco & Wolf, had her first child just over a decade ago, she sat her husband down for the Big Chat. It wasn’t about finances, or parenting styles, or schooling; but the real biggie: “We need to talk about Christmas traditions,” she recalls.

Unlike her husband, Hemmings-Batt, 41, was raised on abundant festivities at this time of year, and wanted the same for her children (Coco, now 11, and Wolf, eight). That meant, she explains, that Christmas is “all about the kids and family”; that it’s a time to slow down (and not just for one day), and, critically, that their family house – a Victorian worker’s cottage in a mill village in Somerset – would need to have two Christmas trees.

Close-up and personal: baubles on Hemmings-Batt's tree
Close-up and personal: baubles on Hemmings-Batt's tree - Clara Molden

Hemmings-Batt, it turns out, was ahead of the curve. Announcing the rise of the “two-tree household”, John Lewis’s latest research has revealed that 27 per cent of British people now have two or more festive trees in their home, rising to 40 per cent for families with children. We’re not alone – it won’t surprise you to hear that Mariah ‘Queen of Christmas’ Carey has no fewer than four trees in her living room, and more than a dozen across her property portfolio. Carole Middleton, meanwhile, puts up a comparatively modest two in her Berkshire home, while Kim and Kourtney Kardashian had a (predictable) tree-off last year, both with entire rows of huge decorated spruces on show in their living rooms.

But don’t let that put you off. The point of having multiple trees, explains Hemmings-Batt, is to give everyone in the family the chance for “creative control”, even when tastes aren’t aligned: “I need that, in order to feel calm about Christmas,” she explains. It also means that visitors knocking on their front door only get to see the tasteful “show” tree in the entrance hall, lovingly decorated by Hemmings-Batt (this year, in gold, red and purple). “It looks beautiful,” she says. The children, meanwhile, get to hang their “gaudy” homemade masterpieces on a smaller tree in the kitchen: “I didn’t want to take the magic away from them,” she explains.

Show time: Hemmings-Batt's tree in the entrance hall
Show time: Hemmings-Batt's tree in the entrance hall - Clara Molden

While Christmas has never been about understatement (the Dorchester’s head florist Philip Hammond says the hotel has put up more than 150 trees this festive season), for many, multiple trees are something of a status symbol, especially in the countryside.

Lisa Cherry, who possibly has the best job title ever, as head of Christmas at John Lewis, reports the rise of ‘porchscaping’ – the addition of potted Christmas trees to a home’s porch. Indeed, the department store reported a 96 per cent rise in the sale of outdoor decorations so far this year: “We have embraced a bright new ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ tradition of insisting our outdoor space looks as impressive as inside,” reads the store’s 2023 Christmas trend report.

“Yet the emphasis is very much on ‘Chicmas’, with 72 per cent insisting that outdoor lights should look ‘tasteful’.” Certainly, the Hemmings-Batts’ village got the memo: each year it orchestrates a life-sized advent calendar, with each house lighting up an external door for every day of the period leading up to Christmas. In addition, the Hemmings-Batts will be wrapping all their orchard trees in fairy lights this year.

Having multiple Christmas trees is not just about the wow factor, though, but maximising the escapism and festivities: “People want to spread Christmas joy throughout the home,” explains Cherry. Besides, she adds, “having two quite separate looks creates more fun.”

My friend, the concertmaster Charlotte Scott, works incredibly hard all year, so going all out with the Christmas decorations is her chance for full creative immersion – and, of course, she has two trees. “I’m obsessed with Christmas,” she explains. “[Festive decorating] really gets me into the mood and I lose all sense of time; it’s about creating as much beauty as possible, and making the most of Christmas with the whole house.”

Indeed, never mind the festive social calendar – the big event chez Hemmings-Batts is Decoration Day. “We buy the trees in the morning, wait a few hours for the branches to settle, then I put on some Christmas carols, pour myself a glass of sherry and spend the afternoon decorating with the family,” says Hemmings-Batt.

Crafty additions: Hemmings-Batt upcycled Coco & Wolf fabric offcuts and made them into bows
Crafty additions: Hemmings-Batt upcycled Coco & Wolf fabric offcuts and made them into bows - Clara Molden

It’s a moment to indulge in nostalgia. Unboxing the family baubles each year is a bit like opening a time capsule: “As we unwrap the baubles, we talk about the memories behind each one,” she explains (the couple started the collection long before the children were born). This is treasured family time for her: “I remember as a child my mum having a fairy for the tree that she’d had as a child. It was so special for me; I want the children to have that with their decorations. Hopefully, they will last for the next generation.”

Each year, the family buys two new baubles, which are always imbued with personal meaning – this year’s are a pair of table tennis bats from Liberty, as Wolf plays the sport to a high level, and a novelty Hershey’s bar from a trip to New York for the chocolate-loving Coco. It’s these baubles that the kids use to decorate their tree, and while Hemmings-Batt promises she gives the children free rein, there may be a spot of secret “improvement” after their bedtime. “If I think the decorations are clustered too tightly, I’ll carefully spread them out,” she admits, adding with a laugh, “Their tree always has a gap at the top where they can’t reach. But I think it’s really important for them to have their creativity.”

Finishing touch: the pair of table tennis bats from Liberty
Finishing touch: the pair of table tennis bats from Liberty - Clara Molden

Hemmings-Batt’s own tree scheme, meanwhile, is rather more disciplined. “I either go for one colour or three,” and there’s a strict system to the layering. Before a single ornament goes on, she lays everything out by style and colour, “like you would when creating a flower bouquet”, so that she can see exactly what she has, and what remains. The lights always go on first, so “you’re not knocking off baubles”, and then the decorations go on, always in odd numbers (floristry rules), ensuring the mix covers the tree with “different-sized baubles at different points”, so that the tree looks balanced. To ensure that it looks abundant, Hemmings-Batt uses bows, which she says are brilliant at filling space. “And no-one is allowed to switch on lights until the trees have been fully decorated – that’s the big reveal.”

Before you say “cost of living crisis”, or even, “the planet is burning”, being a two-tree household doesn’t have to involve blowing the budget on a lot of expensive plastic and embedded carbon. As apparent here, the Hemmings-Batts make a lot of their decorations by upcycling Coco & Wolf fabric offcuts into bows, stars and baubles (here, with the fabric glued onto old ping-pong balls): “Homemade decorations can be really elegant if they’re all in the same tone,” says Hemmings-Batt.

Looking a lot like Christmas: one of the finished decorated trees
Looking a lot like Christmas: one of the finished decorated trees - Clara Molden

Nature and your own kitchen are also your allies – it’s possible to make all sorts of free or cheap compostable tree ornaments. Interiors stylist Theoda Solms Iles recommends baking Christmas-themed biscuits: “Remember to make a small hole in the cookie dough before baking, and hang them with red and white striped bakers’ twine.” Even more simply, she suggests cutting out different-sized paper stars from scrap wallpaper or old music sheets, and tying them together with string to make paper chains to curl around the tree. Or, suggests Cherry, “you can forage for foliage on winter walks” – pine cones, holly and berries, ivy, and so on – which has the added advantage of bringing in seasonal aromas.

Such festive endeavour has a downside, however. “We’re slowly building up our collection, so there’s more and more each year,” says Hemmings-Batt. “We will soon get to a point where it has to be one in, one out.”

Ah – time for a third tree, perhaps?


2023’s top five tree ornaments

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Dog balloon Baubles

£5.00 from John Lewis

Why not decorate the family tree Koonsian-style?

Chocolate bar Christmas bauble

£3, from Flying Tiger

Add charm and cuteness with this miniature delight.

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Peter Pan book ornament

£15.95, from Liberty

The ultimate nostalgic children’s book can now hang from your tree.

Owl hanging decoration

£7, from The National Trust

For maximum cuteness, consider a full menagerie of British wildlife on your tree.

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Mycelium toadstool, star and bauble

£30, from House of Hackney

Compostable, mushroom-based tree decorations, grown in Sussex.

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