Getting your home ready for Christmas is about the little touches – those are the things that will help to make guests feel welcome," says Sarah Dare, from the seasonal-events department at Peter Jones, part of the John Lewis chain. "And it doesn't have to take much time." Well, that's good, because it's Christmas week – and my home looks like Scrooge's grotto.
Unlike the abodes of my organised friends, who have already decorated hearty trees, artfully arranged holly in surprising corners and done clever things with their cards, in our house, we tend to drag out a tired-looking mini-fake tree bought in Woolies about a decade ago.
Making the house look nice is something I love to do, but since we usually go away for the holidays, the Christmas effort seems disproportionately time-consuming. And with food and last-minute presents still to organise, and overcrowded shops rapidly selling out of anything decoration-wise that matches, it's been easy not to bother.
But now there are impromptu guests coming for a pre-Christmas Day do and overnight stay, and a lack of holiday cheer in our décor is hard to ignore. So the idea of a department store to do the thinking – and arranging – sounds great. There are two tiers to the festive service being piloted by Peter Jones' Chelsea store in London: you can take snaps in-store and get an hour's worth of free advice (right up to Christmas); or pay £200 (refundable if you buy the equivalent value of products) and they'll agree a plan with you, and come over to make it happen.
You might want to focus on table settings, sprucing up the guest-room and getting ideas about what you could decorate aside from the tree. That's what I'm after, anyway – though I'm a little dubious: will the place end up looking like a catalogue? The idea is that the team works with what you already have, Dare assures me. And after discussing the areas I want to Christmassify, she suggests a "quirky Scandinavian look", and thinks red and white will be a good colour theme.
I like the sound of some Scandi – though I'm less sure about the red and white: what will it go with? But, seen in ' situ, and mixed with my own blue-and-white crockery, and a couple of new red cushions to bring it all together, I feel inspired. She also adds easy little touches that would never have crossed my mind – a table-top metal tree to the coffee table, and luxury bunting at the windows.
John Lewis isn't the only option for festive décor support. Interiors stylist Simon Pink (ssa-interiors.co.uk), based just outside London, will come and "beautify your home for Christmas" for a day rate, plus the cost of any decorations you buy; while in Manchester, stage-it-sell-it.co.uk offers a bespoke service working with your own decorations – or creating something new for the whole house; and thechristmasdecorators.com is a nationwide service that offers a whole suite of glitzy styling solutions, right up to 23 December.
And if you've left it too late even to get someone else to help, fellow last-minuters can use some of the tips on the next page I've gathered from my own festive makeover... '
For a consultation with the Peter Jones Home Advice Service, call 020 7730 3434 or email email@example.com
Deck the halls: Last-minute Christmas stylings
If you buy one thing, make it ribbon You can do a lot with ribbons (or raffia) very quickly: tie them in bows to the backs of dining-room chairs (if you don't have enough of one colour, alternate with one other); if you have some fat ribbon in the right colour, a single bow around a cushion is cheaper than buying a new cushion to match your festive theme. Or if you don't have any tree decorations, pick one or two colours and simply tie bows to the branches.
Three is the magic number Employ this styling rule to make use of the odds and ends left in the shops or what you've already got. I had three random baubles, so we bundled them together with some silver ribbon. "Hang them from a door or the centre of a curtain pole," suggests Dare. "Just make sure they're different sizes and shapes, but the same style or colour, so it looks deliberate."
No tree decorations? Try stylist Simon Pink's top tip: "Simply buy a bag of oranges, slice and bake long and low for a couple of hours. Attach them with ribbons to your tree: the house will smell wonderful."
Invest in portable decorations A favourite thing from the makeover was a large, felt stuffed robin (£8-£12). "Portable decorations are as quick and flexible as it gets," says Dare. "The robin could sit on a shelf in the guest-room, on a mantelpiece, or a side table." More inspiration of the same ilk was the wooden Noel sign (£15), which Dare sat in front of a garland of artificial berries. Which took all of two seconds. You could even use real berry branches from the tree.
Forget making things match That usually involves starting from scratch – and there's no time for that. Work, instead, with what you've got, filtering out the bits that don't go with whatever you've got the right amount of. That said...
...Do have a colour theme It makes it easier to throw in all sorts of things you might already have lying around – Christmassy or otherwise – and make it look deliberate. Eastern-inspired teals and pinks are hot this year, according to M&S. I had a little Chinese lucky cat that happens to be red and white: all of a sudden, he looked part of the festivities.
Consider an artificial tree A mad dash for unsustainably sourced dregs with droppy needles and bumped-up prices may be your only option this late in the day. By going fake (mine is a hyper-realistic looking one from the John Lewis Nordic range, £85) think how smug you'll feel next year. Compensate for the lack of nice pine smell by sticking cloves into an orange; having mulled wine on the stove when guests arrive; or by hanging ribboned bundles of cinnamon sticks from your radiators.
No tree? Wind fairy lights around a big house plant instead. Fairy lights will Christmas up pretty much anything – we draped some across the condiments shelf in my kitchen. If fairy lights are eluding you, gather odd glasses – that collection of used jam jars your other half insists on keeping, empty food cans (labels off, and some holes punched in the sides) and fill them with tealights for instant festive sparkle.
No tealights? Move on...
Short of crackers? Buy some little envelopes and pop a Lottery scratch card inside each and put one on everybody's plate. If you're really keen, you could make super-fast, simple paper hats from tissue paper and sticky tape and put those inside too.
Not enough table space? Dig out that three-tier cake stand and use it for cheese, biscuits and grapes
Pimp the guest room in 10 minutes As long as it's clean and basically habitable, you're nearly there. Cover creased/mis-matched bedding with a throw, add towels (we bundled them with raffia and added a welcoming note), light cosy tealights – or at least turn on a lamp – and put a jug of water and a glass on the bedside table.
Last-minute presents to wrap and no nice paper? Any decent stationer sells jumbo rolls of brown paper. Emphasise your utilitarian chic with parcel string. The Financial Times – particularly the geometric stock and shares pages – is also an easy-access stand-by. Simply add pink ribbon. As for last-minute little presents, if you haven't done a Nigella, buy the poshest biscuits you can find, decant them, wrap bundles in greaseproof paper, tie up with string and add name tags. Cheating? Well, you don't have to say you made them...