Decorating the house for Christmas is a little like baking with small children—it sounds like a tender, beautiful experience but in reality demands the mental fortitude of a Navy Seal and a really good broom. There’s a lot of nostalgia, tradition, and expectation wrapped up in those nativity sets and tangled bundles of Christmas lights. Delivering the goods year after year can be daunting and, for even the merriest among us, take on a formulaic rigidity. So, what a thrill to witness the way Butter Wakefield, the award-winning, Baltimore-born, London-based garden designer, decks her own halls for the holidays in a wild, joyous mash-up of color. Like the Wise Men departing from Bethlehem, Butter shows us an alternative route.
“I am properly obsessed with Christmas decorating,” says Butter from her home in the Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of West London. “I long for the day when my four children say, ‘Mommy, don’t worry about the presents, just go totally overboard on the decorations and the food.’ ” While her children (all grown up now) may not have reached that conclusion just yet (“they still love their hand-stitched needlepoint stockings that took me two years each to make”), Butter still takes a maximalist approach.
Starting in December, she drapes fairy lights in the garden and hosts wreath-making workshops for friends and clients at her kitchen table. Using natural materials like twigs, lichen, cypress, and eucalyptus, the designer creates arrangements with a rangy, rustic charm. “I like them to be really hairy and wonderful,” laughs Butter, whose personality exudes a wonderful bicameralism—an American sunny, optimistic can-do spirit infused with a Brit’s wit and way with words. “You won’t find a spray-painted acorn or roll of cinnamon anywhere here. I need something much fresher.”
Along with the wreaths, kissing balls, and buckets full of greenery throughout the house, Butter introduces what she lovingly calls clashy colors. “I’m not really a red, gold, and green kind of girl,” she says. On December 22nd, she goes to the market and buys bunches of pink anemones, orange tulips, and paperwhites, which fill her gorgeous collection of pink lusterware. “I think Christmas is one of the times of year when you really should get out your best bits of china and use it. I love to set the table for fun and with color,” she says.
Besides the lusterware, Butter’s home brims with other collections—framed botanicals in the kitchen, white and black Staffordshire dog figurines, vibrant art on the walls. “I feel what really makes a house a home are those found objects,” says the designer. “I’m very keen that the house is not full of bought standard items. Things with a bit of character, things that are a bit old and unmatched are more interesting,” she says.
To be sure, Butter’s penchant for organic, wild greenery and flamboyant color combinations should not be mistaken for a kind of aesthetic gluttony. As with her award-winning garden design, which embraces whimsy within the confines of strictly edited structure, the designer’s interiors have a purposeful coherence. (Before studying landscape architecture, she worked at Christie’s and Colefax and Fowler.) Black-and-white linoleum tiles serve as the foundation for the first floor, with gray paint in the drawing room that makes everything else pop. The color green infuses each room through fabrics, drapery, wallpaper, and accent paint (this is a garden designer’s home, after all, and “green just makes you feel better”).
Butter has lived in her home, Ravenscourt Park, for nearly three decades. It has seen her through raising four children, a burgeoning business, a divorce, and a new chapter of independence and success. “I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, and I’ve been busy making it my own ever since,” she says. Christmas at Ravenscourt Park, with its wild kissing balls and clashy colors, may break a lot of rules, but Butter casts a spell that is warm, authentic, generous, and joyous—the crux of Christmas in unexpected wrapping.
By Kirk Reed Forrester | Photographed by Clive Nichols
- Interior design and wreaths by Butter Wakefield Garden Design Ltd., butterwakefield.co.uk
- Drawing room paint color, Farrow & Ball Lamp Room Gray, farrow-ball.com
- Christmas tree fairy and ribbon through Tobias and the Angel, tobiasandtheangel.com
- Large painting at center of kitchen/dining area by Sarah Bowman, whitespaceart.com/artist/sarah-bowman