Decorate for the present

She spent a decade travelling and working for some of the world's top design publications and furniture firms but stylist and design critic Amanda Talbot still admits to having committed a few crimes against Christmas.

To pay her way through university, the author of Rethink: The Way You Live used to decorate shopping centres with garlands, buckets of tinsel and towering fake conifers. Santa caves were a specialty.

''I'd spend hours and hours fluffing it all out,'' she says.

Talbot has since renounced her tinsel-trimming ways. These days, she's more likely to be found spruiking the growing awareness that Christmas doesn't have to be kitsch.

Nature is a strong theme this year, for example: white-washed ornaments, timber surfaces and fresh trees dressed up with folkloric ornaments and maybe a feather or two. For a bit more glamour, ice blues, emerald greens and even a bit of glitter lend a magical mood while DIY and home-made crafts can be an affordable way to dress up the home without looking cheap.

''We don't want fake things around us,'' Talbot says. ''We want things that have quality and longevity.''

For the Sydney owners of online boutique The Minimalist (, Leah and Darius Taylor, the latest look is all about quirky, hand-made pieces with a pop of colour. Their store sells geometric paper pendants, skull ornaments and antler tea towels for Christmas, as well as limited-edition cards and washi, Japanese gift tape made from a type of art paper.

Leah is also a fan of pine cones, hand-made wreaths and fairy lights - in moderation. At home, she has created a makeshift Christmas tree from bare branches bought from the flower markets, the tips painted white. For decorations, she prefers odd mixes of ornaments rather than matching baubles.

''Something that has a little bit more value than just those mass-produced kind of things everyone else has,'' Leah says.

Shopping centres have upped the cool factor, too. At Chifley Plaza in Sydney's central business district, creative agencies Fabio Ongarato Design and Gloss Creative have installed a nostalgic adult wonderland with eight giant dolls up to four metres high. Made from American oak, mirrored foil, perspex and coloured detailing, the collection is a contemporary take on traditional hand-made wooden toys.

''We actually wanted people to feel something for the decorations,'' the creative director of Gloss, Amanda Henderson, says. ''The childhood psyche was really attractive to us because that's what Christmas is about in a way. Every adult can remember the wooden toys from when they were young. What we loved about those toys was their simple graphic shapes and funny attitudes and collective charm. We wanted to deliver [that] with an adult aesthetic … so they have this sophistication and they're art-like and refined but still whimsical.''

But old-fashioned tradition still has its place, Talbot says. One way to honour the passing of a loved one, for example, might be to bring out their old china at a family dinner.

And there's no reason why apartment-dwellers should miss out on the fun. Many are getting creative with compact Christmas trees - for example by knocking together a structure with reclaimed timber, decorating pot plants or painting trees that sit up flat against the wall. In her own home, Talbot and her husband have set up an MDF tree, which they each decorate with a new bauble each year.

''It's so easy … to let Christmas pass by but I don't think we should,'' Talbot says.

The Minimalist pop-up store runs until December 27 at 374 Crown Street, Surry Hills.

This story Decorate for the present first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.