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Deck The Halls
Most people equate Christmas with winter and snow, but not Englishman Nick Oxborrow. The owner of events company Fabulation grew up in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and has always spent Christmas in hot and humid weather.
He has family in the UK, but because he doesn't really like the cold, he only visits them in the summer.
"I've always known Christmas to be a warm affair," he says. His home-cum-office is in a shophouse in Blair Road, which he decks out for Christmas only in early December.
He explains that unlike other homeowners who may already have their Christmas decorations up by mid November, he doesn't do his too early, because he might get bored with it, and he prefers to get into the festive mood closer to Christmas Day. It took him a day to deck out his home.
As with previous years, he has two live trees, one for the first floor, where there is a studio, and a second smaller tree in the dining room.
The bigger tree, which is 8ft tall, is adorned with crystal teardrop ornaments, and also crystal pieces that were previously on a chandelier. "The chandelier belonged to a client, who no longer wanted it, so I dismantled it and took the crystal pieces," he says. A fairy tops this tree, as "fairies are magical creatures and they go well with crystals."
While the crystal tree has a wintry feel about it, it is a different story upstairs. Here, Mr Oxborrow has decked out the dining room in more traditional colours, mostly in red.
The red complements his red dining table and chairs which he has had for several years.
A smaller 5ft tall tree is placed on the console. The ornaments here come from all around the world. For example, there are a few from local store, edit lifestyle, at Tanglin Road. Since he loves Christmas so much, Mr Oxborrow is constantly looking out for ornaments to add to his collection.
During a visit to Buckingham Palace, he picked up two ornaments - a carriage and a crown. In Mexico, he bought one of a fat man flying through the air.
There are no hard and fast rules to picking the right ornament he says. "If I like it, I buy it. It may not fit this year's theme, but I can always use it for another year," he says. He adds that Christmas tree ornaments make great gifts too.
For Mr Oxborrow, the more dressed up a tree, the better. "I hang ornaments, baubles and tinsels, till I don't see any holes in the tree," he says.
On the dining table, his team has created a table centrepiece, using tree bark, pine cones, red berries and succulents. This sits on a piece of white faux fur for a luxurious touch.
Everywhere you turn, there's something festive to look at. Such as a nativity scene made out of wooden figurines in a carousel, and a banner and paper theatre set from The Nutcracker, a favourite of Mr Oxborrow's. "It's the ultimate Christmas ballet and I love the music," he says.
On top of that, he's also decorated the balustrades, and has wreaths hanging on the front door and pots of poinsettia around the home.
Nothing annoys Mr Oxborrow more than mismatched decor, which is why he says it is important to have that one thing that ties the look together. This year, he has picked red baubles, which is why they are on the tree, on the balustrades and on the centrepiece. His favourite place to shop for Christmas decorations is Ming Sing Flowers at Arab Street.
His job requires him to dress up hotels and restaurants. This year, he did the Christmas decoration for Artemis Grill, The Quayside and InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay.
It is a busy period for him, but Mr Oxborrow will be having two parties at his home. On Dec 13, he threw a thank you party for clients, which was attended by about 80 people. The menu included Christmas favourites such as mince pies, quiches and caviar. There were carollers performing, as well as a short performance of what else, but The Nutcracker, by students from a barre studio.
Mr Oxborrow will also be throwing another Christmas lunch in his home, this time for his team of 10 people. It will be a more cosy affair, with ham, baked potatoes and cheese on the menu. "We will definitely have Christmas crackers too," says Mr Oxborrow, who gets them from Marks & Spencer.
On Christmas Day, he will head over to his father's home in Upper Bukit Timah for what Mr Oxborrow calls a hybrid Christmas meal. His stepmother is Peranakan, so "we will have mee siam and turkey," he says.
As a child, Mr Oxborrow's fondest memories of Christmas were waking up and seeing the Christmas stockings filled with presents. He knew at a young age that Santa didn't need to come down a chimney to deliver presents. "One of the best gifts I got was a Playmobil pirate ship," he recalls.
For him, Christmas is no longer about presents, but the best gift is a "house full of people." With good alcohol, and Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album on his playlist.
Interior designer Audrey Lee believes no one needs to spend a fortune to get their home decked out for Christmas.
Ms Lee, who runs her eponymous firm and The GoDown home accessories shop, finds inspiration in the most unlikely places.
While out walking in her neighbourhood at Sentosa Cove, she came across some palm cuttings that the estate gardener was about to throw out.
"They look like trees that have lost their leaves," she says. She put them in a vase and created a winter-themed dining table centrepiece with two reindeer figurines, a handful of pine cones, several crystal balls and candles in clear bottles.
The bottles are actually used water bottles which she turned into candleholders by tying string around their necks for decoration. The crystal balls were salvaged from an old chandelier. "I like being able to use everyday items and turn them into something else," she says. "Think of ways to recycle and reuse items, so that the decor will not look so generic."
Ms Lee who has been running her firm for 18 years, likes to buck convention. Instead of red poinsettia, she chose a white one to complement her home decor, arranging it with pots of mint and rosemary. "The scent from the herbs help to freshen up the room," she says. "And when Christmas is over, I can use the herbs for cooking."
Meanwhile, her younger son Kobe gets to decide the colour theme for the tree. This year, he picked the traditional colours of red, gold and silver.
"Kobi and his elder brother Kai are very much involved with the Christmas decorations, which is why you see Santa riding the reindeer," says their amused mum. "It is fun to be whimsical with the decorating."
Ms Lee also designs her own ornaments, such as a star made of pressed glass and brass, and another of a diamond-shaped mirror with brass. These are also available from The GoDown.
For the family, a fresh tree is a must. "The scent of the fir is amazing, and although they shed, they don't collect dust like plastic ones, and are easier to dispose of too," says Ms Lee.
She advises that anyone who is getting a tree to know the ceiling height of the home and also the width of the doorway.
"You want a tree that is big enough to look impressive in a room, but at the same time, the last thing you want is to not be able to fit the tree into the lift and through the door," she says. Her own tree is 8ft tall.
Where the Christmas tree is placed is just as important too. "Keep away from direct sunlight, so that it can last longer," she says. Don't place it too near the dining table either, especially if you have guests, because you don't want them brushing against the tree.
As the family also celebrates Thanksgiving, the tree has been up since then. (Ms Lee's ex-husband is American). "The kids have always celebrated Thanksgiving, so we continue with the tradition," she says.
On Christmas Eve, Ms Lee cooks dinner for family and friends at home - roast turkey with stuffing, pumpkin pie, carrot soup and salad. Most of the cooking is done on the day itself, except the turkey which Ms Lee brines for 18 hours and roasts it for three hours to achieve a crispy skin.
On Christmas Day, the family gather to open their presents. Ms Lee says her best Christmas present is her dog Shandy, a gift from her ex-husband in 2008. The unique, all-white German shepherd enjoys Christmas too, with extra attention from guests, a new toy and table scraps.
When the boys were younger, Ms Lee would track Santa's route with them using an app. She would also leave out cookies and milk for Santa. "Of course, it would be me finishing the milk, and leaving cookie crumbs to prove to the kids that Santa did come," she says.
Now that her boys are 13 and 17, will she still be doing that this year?
"Kobi loves the routine, so yeah, why not?," she says.
When it comes to decking out the halls for Christmas, Adrian Chua and his family believe in making their own ornaments, instead of using store-bought ones.
Mr Chua, and his wife, Irene Ng, are the founders of Paper Carpenter, which creates 3D objects out of cardboard.
Their Christmas ornaments are naturally made of cardboard too. "The ones we make are more personalised, and have an artisanal touch," he says.
For as long as he can remember, Mr Chua always has had his home done up for Christmas. "My father would bring back a tree, and I continue this ritual for my two daughters," he says.
Previously, they would have a live tree, but because Mr Chua has been travelling frequently in these past months, there was no time to buy one.
Instead, the family is making do with a plastic one this year. "We had to pick one with a slimmer silhouette to fit our apartment, which isn't that big," says Mr Chua, of his Tampines condo.
He varies the colour theme each year. Since this the first Christmas in their new home, the family picked a traditional red, gold and green theme, to complement the wood-centric interiors, with a live green wall in the living room.
The tree is adorned with red and gold baubles, fairy lights and gold leaves. Just by the balcony hangs streamers with big red ribbons and gold baubles.
Ms Ng created a table wreath using acorns and red berries. There are also three cardboard houses which she made, painted, and lit them with electric tea lights. "The cardboard houses are easy to do, and everyone can paint them however they like," she says.
Angels and snowflakes in red and green adorn a second wreath hanging on the front door. These ornaments are made in Paper Carpenter's factory in Singapore. Sheets of red or green stickers are stuck onto large cardboard sheets before the shapes are cut out.
"We began making these when our clients asked for them," says Ms Ng. The sticker can be peeled away to reveal the cardboard's natural colour, which is what Ms Ng prefers.
This year, they also made a desktop Christmas tree, made of cardboard for their clients. Assembly is simple, by sticking two cardboard pieces in place. "How you decorate this tree is up to your imagination," says Ms Ng. Her elder daughter, Taryn, used silver ornaments for hers.
Taryn and her younger sister, Anya, help with decorating the home. "We put on Christmas carols to get everyone in the mood," says Ms Ng.
While the ornaments for the home are small, Mr Chua is no stranger to larger-than-life Christmas trees.
In 2015, Paper Carpenter collaborated with industrial designer Melvin Ong to create a 12m-tree for Millenia Walk. The tree was made of wood, metal and cardboard to create the framework, while the external cladding was made of cardboard covered with gold reflective stickers. The tree even made it into the Singapore Book of Records for the Tallest Cardboard Christmas Tree.
This year Mr Chua and Ms Ng say they will be able to better enjoy Christmas, as they have turned down requests to build big structures for the festive season. They will now have more time to spend Christmas with family. As with previous years, the family will attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and have a small potluck gathering on Christmas Day.
While other Christmas decorations are taken down after the new year, Ms Ng says that sometimes they last longer than that. "I may keep the wreath and replace the Christmas ornaments with ang baos for Chinese New Year," adds Mr Chua.
Designer Ling Wu, who has her eponymous line of luxury handbags, used to think that Christmas was a "commercialised affair".
But since her three kids came along, "Christmas is very much about family, and I love Christmas," says Ms Wu. "As cliched as it sounds, Christmas is the best time of the year, where everyone is feeling relaxed, and there are happy celebrations."
Ms Wu, her kids - aged six, 10 and 13 - and her creative director husband, are very hands-on when it comes to decorating the home for the season.
The family used to spend Christmas in Melbourne, where her husband's family lives, but stopped since Ms Wu's mother-in-law passed away a few years ago.
"We would head out to a Christmas tree farm, pick out our tree, chop it down and haul it back home ourselves," recalls Ms Wu.
The family still carry on the tradition of having a fresh tree. "The scent of fresh pine is just wonderful and, for the children, a live tree brings back memories of their Christmases in Australia. We have a 'tree day', where we pick out a tree from the nursery."
On the morning after the tree is delivered to their Upper Bukit Timah home, the family gather at breakfast to put up the ornaments, which is usually in late November.
The 6ft tree is adorned with pink, purple and blue tassels and baubles. "The ornaments are the same every year, because I'm the sort that uses the same items over and over again," says Ms Wu, adding that despite designing handbags for a living, she uses the same bag every day.
The pink and purple ornaments are for her daughters, and when her youngest child, a boy, came along, she added the blue ones.
The other Christmas decorations around the home have also been with the family for a long time.
For example, the streamers that hang across the living room were from Koh Samui, a small shop in London, which Ms Wu bought when she was working in the city.
There are also figurines on the TV console, as well as quirky tree ornaments, made by a Japanese designer who lives in Bali.
Rather than buy new ones annually, she reuses her decorations for sentimental value. "I like to do the same things over and over again, so that the kids remember," she says.
She cooks the family Christmas meal much like the way her mother-in-law used to, with roast chicken, sprouts and potatoes. As the family usually heads to Australia or Bali for Christmas, they have this meal a week before they fly off.
Ms Wu's fondest memory of Christmas was when she and her husband were living in London, before the kids came along. "We would buy a tree from Portobello Market, drag it home, and then later throw pine cones into the fireplace. I miss the scents and the warmth," she adds.