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Tree's the charm

The Manini family spares no effort decorating their home for Christmas, and this year, a live tree is added to the mix. By Tay Suan Chiang

SOME people may find decking the halls for Christmas a daunting task but not Fiona Manini. In fact, she relishes it. "My Christmas decorations have been up since mid-November, around the same time when the Christmas lights along Orchard Road come on. I like to start early to make it worth the effort," quips Mrs Manini, a senior manager at Bulgari.

The festive mood begins from outside her Kembangan apartment - where she has hung a wreath on her door. "It is a must-have. Even though I use the same plastic wreath, I attach different ornaments on it each year."

The second must-have is a Christmas tree, because as a child, no Christmas would be complete for her without a tree. But before her two children came along, Mrs Manini made do with a desktop-friendly tree "for symbolic reasons".

She switched to a bigger tree when she had Allegra, now nine, and Giacomo, six. But this year, she has decided on a live tree for the first time. "I want the kids to have a real tree, and the scent of pine that fills the home is amazing," she says, adding that she will not return to having an artificial tree again.

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The ornaments are a random mix of new and old items, such as the papier-mache baubles that Mrs Manini has had for 20 years, alongside her collection of Ty Christmas bears, pine cones and glass baubles. What is new this year are the candy canes.

Allegra and Giacomo help dress the tree. "Every year, I let them decide what they want to hang," says Mrs Manini. This year, Allegra has chosen wooden fox ornaments, while Giacomo has picked toy robots.

"The children help hang the ornaments, but usually I end up taking over," says Mrs Manini.

She is also the one who adds festive touches around the home, from creating table arrangements using mistletoe, toy nutcrackers and scented candles for the living and dining rooms, to hanging gold baubles from the dining room ceiling. The decorations don't stop there. It extends to the guest bathroom, where Mrs Manini has placed a wooden angel figurine, and also in the kitchen, where there are a series of small Santa figurines climbing up a wall. A chalkboard wall in the kitchen comes in handy for the children to doodle reindeers and baubles on. "They serve as reminders that Christmas is coming," says Mrs Manini excitedly.

She adds, "There are no hard and fast rules for Christmas decorations, I go with what I feel comfortable with. I must be doing it right because my friends enjoy the decor."

Some of the Christmas decorations were purchased on overseas holidays, while others were from local stores such as Club 21, Tangs, Takashimaya, Isetan and even Daiso.

While Mrs Manini takes charge of the decorations, her husband Fulvio, also a senior manager at Bulgari, does the cooking for the family's annual Christmas party. The menu includes roast chicken with chorizo, rosemary and garlic, beef ragu, chicken stew, vitello tonato and roasted Mediterranean vegetables and Mr Manini's famed lasagne. No party is complete without drinks, and guests can refer to the kitchen's chalkboard wall for their choice of poison.

Even though the Christmas decorations will be packed away on Jan 2, the Manini home still has plenty of charm outside of the festive season.

Naturally, it is Mrs Manini who did the interiors for the home. Six years since she moved in, she is still constantly changing things here and there. "Fulvio has given up on me already," Mrs Manini says with a laugh. Her to-do list includes reupholstering the sofa. She recently installed a Ron Arad bookworm shelf. "It is such a great idea. We can be on the sofa and reach up to get a book," she enthuses.

The interiors are distinctly eclectic. "I am definitely not a minimalist," says Mrs Manini. Her job as a former visual merchandiser helps in how she has decorated her home. "I am always thinking about what to do next."

Her choice of furnishings runs from leather sofas to a bespoke wooden coffee table, a rosewood dining set which was a present from Mrs Manini's parents, to kiddie-sized plastic Ghost chairs. Several shelves in the home are filled with the family's collection of books and CDs and DVDs, along with other collectibles such as comic and toy figurines.

The house-proud Mrs Manini takes pains to find the right items for her home. For example, her kids are into boxing, so she hunted down a punching bag with a graphic print on it, since a regular punching bag would not fit in with her eclectic theme.

The two children get involved with the decor too. On a recent weekend, they did a Jackson Pollock-style drip painting, which now hangs behind the punching bag. "I've told the kids not to worry about damaging the painting. If the painting ends up with a hole in it, I will make something else out of it," says Mrs Manini.

Her decorating prowess is lauded by the family. "There is a family joke, that no matter how large a space you give me, I will be able to fill it," quips Mrs Manini.