‘It’s actually a table by fredrikson stallard,’ he says. ‘I just covered it with cellophane and padded the base of the tree with moss. christmas is a perfect time to look at what you already have in your house and find new ways to bring it to the party.’
There is a sense of playfulness about francis’s style – be it as designer, art consultant or artistic director of david gill galleries – which is evident in the decoration of his london flat; A place where modern pieces by zaha hadid, mattia bonetti and richard prince nestle comfortably against the building’s intricate georgian plasterwork.
This same light touch is equally successful in his approach to christmas. ‘I like decorations to be elaborate, but with an artistic focus,’ he explains. ‘I grew up in malta with a romanticised vision that everything about an english christmas was spawned from the mind of oliver messel – glittering snowy landscapes and decked halls. I still buy in to elements of that, even though my flat is quite modern. I wanted a look that was festive but tailored.’
‘Your tree should be proportional to the size of your room, yet also significant and impactful. The fredrikson stallard table used as a plinth adds height, while the moss round the base of the tree disguises the unattractive pot in which it is planted.’
‘I made these arrangements myself very simply using moss and twigs from the chelsea gardener, but if you live in the country i recommend gathering your own decorations in the hedgerows. Bare winter branches have a delicate look that is more modern than evergreen plants such as holly.’
‘At my mother’s house in malta, the decorations on the tree chart 50 years of family history. In comparison, my collection is still in its infancy, but every year i add to it with a new box of ornaments from fortnum & mason. My preference is always embellished eggs there’s something refined and russian about them that really appeals to me.
When i was a boy my mother would give us loose beads to string our own garlands for the tree. Or would use her necklaces as decorations. The strings of swarovski crystals i’ve used here are a slightly more grown-up take on that.
I have a lot of chrome furniture in the room. So for the decorations i opted for tonal bronze and gold. I really love the festive contrast of the metallics.’
‘On the tree i use real candles, which give an unparalleled ambience but aren’t always practical. Try a combination of electric lights placed discreetly on the inner parts of the branches and real flames on the outer;
That way you have the best of both worlds. Scent is also important for me. Cire trudon makes an incredibly evocative scent called “carmélite”, which has a church-like smell that reminds me of singing in choir when i was a boy.’
The dining room
‘The dining room is my theatre. Christmas dinner should be playful and i like using props. Indoor fireworks make a decadent replacement for crackers – i bought some glorious hermès ones, made for the company’s one-hundred and fiftieth anniversary. Or try laying your table with a runner of brown paper that your guests can decorate and write messages on.’
‘For the centrepiece i painted some twigs red with a flock spray. And fixed them with blu-tack to a bed of moss scattered with ornamental eggs and crystals. A continuation of the theme from the sitting room. Black candles and the sculpture in the middle by andré dubreuil add a masculine, geometric edge.
The overall effect is like gazing through an enchanted forest.’
‘The things i have chosen for the table are ornate. But when you look closely you see that they are actually extremely modern. From a distance this crockery looks like traditional patterned china. But it’s a set by the artist cindy sherman – a send-up of originals commissioned by madame de pompadour in 1756.
The napkin rings are by the costume jeweller kenneth jay lane.