Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

What a year 2020 has been, and it certainly doesn’t seem as if it’s ending quietly – in the UK at least.  For now I have spent the last week in quarantine in a portacabin in a muddy field on my sister’s farm in Ireland.  I am doing this so that I can spend Christmas with my family here, who I haven’t seen in more than a year.  And I have to say that having views over green fields and grazing sheep has been such a wonderful breath of fresh air after London.

One of the things I have really missed this year are the art and craft shows.  These shows are my happy place – giving me inspiration as I marvel at the creativity on display.  I have found myself seeking out artists on Instagram, many of whom post videos of them creating their work, which I find totally mesmerising!  So I thought I’d share with you my ‘advent calendar of artists’ (click on the images to go to their Instagram feeds)…

1 – Natasha Kumar – a UK based British-Indian artist who explores her heritage in her work.  I adore India, and I love the way that Natasha captures its vibrancy and spirituality through her art. I have one of Natasha’s pieces in my bedroom and it has such a calm vibe to it.

2 – Johnson Mugabe – I came across Johnson’s work on a visit to Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, and I was instantly captivated.  His work is mostly paper and fabric collage. His work is available through Nhaka Designs in the UK, and I have a couple of his pieces in my collection.

3 – Jazzy Westinghouse – it was Jazzy’s colourful horses that first captured my attention, but it’s by no means all she does.  She has a way with birds and ceramic pots too!

4 – Jack Penny – there is something about Jack’s quirky paintings, mostly of waiters or swimmers, that I look forward to seeing on my feed.

5 – Carla Kranendonk – Dutch-born Carla’s works are informed by her travels to West Africa and combine vivid brushwork with hand-embroidered paper collage, as well as photographic elements. I love the way she layering her patterns. She is represented by Rebecca Hossack Gallery in the UK.

6 – Holly Frean – if you’re a dog-lover then Holly is the artist for you.  I love the humour in her paintings. 

7 – Molly Lemon – a UK-based printmaker specialising in wood engraving.  Molly’s videos on her feed make it all look so easy! One of Molly’s pieces ended up in my collection this year.

8 – Diane Hill – Diane’s feed is filled with her creating her Chinoiserie watercolour and silk pieces.

9 – Natascha Maksimovic – she creates beautiful marble prints using the Japanese Art of Suminagashi ‘floating ink’ – celebrating and keeping an ancient craft alive.

10 – Ange Mullen-Bryan – Ange paints beautiful acrylic on aluminium landscapes.

11 – James Lai – this Sydney-based artist definitely has a unique perspective on his landscapes.

12 – Nadia Attura – Nadia’s work is a mix of photography and paint.  Most of her work is gently coloured, but this cactus print just hits you between the eyes with its vivacity! This piece has found its way into my Christmas stocking!

13 – Eileen van der Merwe – this South African artist has a way with a palette knife, creating works full of texture.

14 – Kate Mayes – Australian-based Kate is not shy when it comes to colour, and her pieces are definitely eye-catching in interior spaces.

15 – Claire Brewster – Claire’s work is a mix between intricate hand-cut pieces of flowers or birds, to ethereal paintings of women. One of her roses ended up in my collection this year.

16 – Sonal Nathwani – this image is of Sonal’s sketchbook. Oh, if only I could paint like that!!

17 – Jenny K of Living Pattern – this USA-based artist produces beautiful black-and-white and colour images of leaves mostly. I bought a couple of her small prints earlier this year, and she wasn’t shipping to the UK then, but she does appear to be now.

18 – Samantha Dennison – there is just something about this Australian still life painter that I find mesmerising. I love the simplicity, yet her attention to detail is amazing.

19 – Elizabeth Barnett – another Australian-based still life painter, but her work couldn’t be more different – full of bright colour and humour.

20 – Emma Studd – Emma creates original one-off screen prints of art. Using the screen as a drawing tool she explores the relationship between colour, shape and pattern. Another recent addition to my collection.

21 – Adam Robinson – my engineering background has instilled in me a fascination in the way items are laid out, which is what I love about Adam’s work – with stamps but more especially with vintage French seed packets.

22 – Natasha Mann – I was completely bowled over by Natasha’s work which is inspired by Moroccan patterns. She paints on wood using natural pigments and egg tempera.

23 – Isabel of Copperlight Studio – London-based Isabel uses a combination of embroidery and beadwork in her pieces, and I love art that is different, and uses different techniques.

24 – Roanna Wells – I love Roanna’s use of colour in her watercolour brushmark patterns.

And because I really struggled to whittle the list of artists down to just 24, there is one extra!

25 – Karina Petersen – Danish artist Karina uses ink and water to create her unique pieces. I love watching how the inks run into each other in her videos on Instagram.

Hmmm, it seems that quite a few pieces have slipped into my collection this year – I blame it on the Artists Support Pledge, set up in March to help out artists who were no longer able to sell their work at art exhibitions.

My husband, glancing through these images, said that there’s a clear theme of colour here.  Art is always such an easy way of introducing colour into your spaces.  And once you have that shot of colour, you can then pick out the colours to use elsewhere in your space to pull it all together into a cohesive whole. 

So there is my advent calendar of art for you to enjoy over Christmas.  May I wish you all a safe Christmas above everything else.  And I’ll be back next year with more interiors advice.



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In the northern hemisphere, Christmas should be the time for twinkling lights and tinsel, the smell of mulled wine and mince pies, and social gatherings with friends and family. For some, the idea of Christmas can be overwhelming, particularly in these uncertain Covid times, but there are things that we can do to boost our well-being through this period, and into the New Year.  Here are my top tips:

Concentrate on the main rooms

Concentrate on decorating the main rooms of the house, leaving some respite in the bedrooms where the Christmas madness can be escaped! Focus on the entrance hall, living room and dining room. And don’t forget a natural wreath on your front door to welcome any guests and awaken the Christmas spirit in your neighbours.

Go green

Using greenery is a wonderful way to add to the festive feeling in a sustainable way.  Deck your halls, mantelpieces and sideboards / consoles with branches of conifers, holly, ferns and ivy to create a wonderfully festive environment. This will ensure a connection with nature during these short days.  The greenery can then either be composted at the end of the festive season, or put on the fire to release a beautiful scent.

Add candles

Candles fill the house with a soft flickering glow, and help to chase out the darkness.  The dynamic light that candles produce has been proven to boost our well-being.  Place candles amongst the mantelpiece foliage; and on the Christmas table; and in any dark corners.

Fragrance Matters

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity, so use reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils to create delicious smells wafting through the house.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.

Decorating a Christmas tree

There is nothing that says Christmas more than a decorated tree.  A real fir tree has that added Christmas smell, but even an arrangement of decorated sticks will create that Christmas feeling.  Whatever your tree, ensure you choose one that is in proportion to the size of the space and that it feels a part of it and not an incongruous add-on that is difficult to navigate around.

When decorating a tree, always start with the lights, and remember that you always need more lights than you think.  String the lights from the top down, alternating between pushing them in to the interior of the tree and back out to the branches.  Next, I like to add in tinsel as this fills in the tree, and catches the lights, giving added sparkle.

Then come the decorations.  This is my favourite part of Christmas as all of my decorations have been collected during my travels, and so are imbued with nostalgia and memories.  Having a collection of good quality decorations has the added benefit of being sustainable as these can be used time and again, and ensures that your tree tells a story.  Start with your largest decorations, and then fill in any gaps with the smallest, keeping the clear and frosted ornaments close to the lights to maximize your tree’s glow and glimmer.

Finally, cover the base of the tree and the stand in fur or a throw in colours to match your Christmas theme.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas!