First Christmas | Krissy O’Shea’s Scandinavian-Inspired Holiday Cottage

Welcoming the season—and a new baby— at a classic New England cottage decorated with fresh greenery, flickering candlelight, and seasonal hues of greens, whites, and coppery browns.

By Krissy O'Shea

Oct 24 2019


The dining table, adorned for the holiday meal with a garland of olive and bay leaves interspersed with white tallow berries, pine cones, and asparagus ferns.

Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea

Christmas in New England is as magical as it is transformative: Homes shrug off their everydayness in favor of festive attire complete with lashings of evergreens and (hopefully) just the right dusting of snow.

Admittedly, I am something of a holiday decorating devotee. I find it a wonderful way to encourage cheer and make home a more inviting place on the season’s long nights. I want to fill dark corners with as much light and life as possible.

The author and her son, Ruairí, at their home in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea

This year feels especially joyful as we prepare to spend Christmas together in our new city home, as a family of three. Welcoming our first child, a son named Ruairí, has made us keen to create holiday traditions all our own—and what better place to cement these traditions than our newly remodeled house? After extensive renovations, our modest 119-year-old cottage in Somerville, Massachusetts, is finally ready, and we are delighted to begin adding our own family story to its history.

Seasonal hues of greens, whites, and coppery browns serve as my guide when I’m choosing materials for decorating. The colors of winter are sometimes thought of as dull and dreary, but I find such beauty in their paleness, in the understated tranquility of the season’s palette.

There is great appeal to the “simple” when it comes to decor. I work with a few select colors and materials, this year choosing velvet ribbons in two shades of green and a beautifully rich but understated claret, as well as greenery such as bay, blue spruce, and olive, and other organics like tallow berry, dried fern, and pine cones. These are repeated in different iterations: on the tree, on the table, in wreaths and garlands, and tucked into holiday wrapping, for a cohesive and modern effect. Manipulating the foliage as little as possible, I let the graceful natural lines and colors be my guide, adding embellishment with a featherlight touch. I love the warm organic elegance that mixed-foliage wreaths and garlands, along with the tree, bring to our home.

From left, a 5-foot Fraser fir and a pile of presents wrapped in brown paper, all waiting to be decorated; a wreath of bay and olive leaves just needs the finishing touch, a velvet ribbon; sturdy lanterns allow candlelight to glow almost anywhere in the home.
Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea

As a child I would often ask if we could leave the tree without ornaments, dressed only in its coat of white lights. Even now, I have the same inclination. So this year I’ve indulged by decorating our little tree (sourced from the winsome Mistletoe Tree Farm, in Stow, Massachusetts) in delicate straw ornaments, a nod to my Scandinavian family holiday traditions. It is a way to keep the decor classic and understated.

On a more practical note, a simplified decor scheme is more achievable with baby, and I want as much time to enjoy the decorations as to create them. Candles on our table, preferably beeswax (as much for their heady sweet smell as their beautiful color), are a must. I always look to add candles to any shadowy recess of the house. Mixing high and low candlesticks on the table provides visual interest, and glass lanterns tucked into various nooks around the cottage add sparkle and warmth.
From left, wiring blue spruce branches onto an iron wreath; a gift-wrapping project in progress; two finished iron wreaths with their candles, plus a third made of tiny pine cones.
Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea

My husband (Irish by birth) and I bring our own very different traditions to the holiday. His family revels in time spent around the tree on Christmas morning, followed by an elaborate meal, while mine does most of our celebrating on Christmas Eve. Our Christmas Day passes slowly, with a long walk or two, punctuated by the nibbling of leftovers and the retrieval of more firewood.

But at the core, our traditions are about family. Holidays for both of us were spent visiting friends and family in the days leading up to Christmas and a quiet Christmas Day at home. This connectedness and love is what we hope Ruairí will sense on his first Christmas.

Our life moves a little slower over the holidays, and for this we are grateful. And while I will be the first to admit how much I enjoy celebrating against a backdrop that includes beautiful decorations and lots of flickering candlelight, these are not the necessities of the holiday. Rather, the satisfying nature of our first Christmas together will undoubtedly be just that: the small moments that make up the day. Remembering to keep our eyes open to that magic in the mundane.

Krissy adds wooden bead garland to the Christmas tree, decked in white lights and simple straw ornaments.
Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea


Krissy’s Tips for Decking the Halls

The dining table, adorned for the holiday meal with a garland of olive and bay leaves interspersed with white tallow berries, pine cones, and asparagus ferns.
Photo Credit : Krissy O’Shea

Recurring Roles: “I like to choose a few colors and materials to carry through decorating for cohesive organic elegance. This year I was smitten with the combination of dried white tallow berry, feathery fern fronds painted a coppery color, and pine cones. I used these three elements together on my table and in garlands around the house. I also used them separately: pine cones adorned the tree, and a bundle of tallow berry was tucked into a vase in the entry.”

Great Garlands: “For the price of a good floral arrangement, garlands make a truly lush addition to the table, a banister, or a shelf. Embellish them with items collected in nature, such as dried seedpods or stalks, pine cones, and sprigs of winterberry or holly, and mix in other small clippings of evergreen foliage for a layered look.”

Color Coordination: “Tone-on-tone color adds depth without distraction. Tied simply around a wreath, a green velvet ribbon that’s a shade or two different from the color of the fresh greens is a striking touch. Using various tones of the same color also works wonderfully when selecting table linens, napkins, and dishes.”

A Better Base: “Instead of using a tree skirt, try placing your tree in a basket or bucket—just be sure the tree stand sits flat on the bottom for stability. You can tuck a bit of cloth in around the base of the basket to hide any of the stand that might be showing.”