Hunker Down: Three Ways to Prepare Your Home For Winter (for normal people)

We blinked and it’s November. We’ve Hallowe’ened, the pumpkins have collapsed into a fetid pile of mush, and we’ve overdosed on the kids’ trick or treat Haribo haul (just me?). Now what? I know many people for whom, on the stroke of midnight on 31 October, it’s immediately wall-to-wall Mariah and dusting the cobwebs off the Christmas tree in the loft (I presume these people don’t have a real Christmas tree, it would be completely bald before December). Much as I love the festive season, I’m not one of them. All in good time.

I do, however, feel that the start of November marks a definite transition from autumn to winter. The clocks go back (here in the UK, anyway), meaning it gets dark at 4pm and we all go around remarking that we can’t believe it gets dark at 4pm. Even though this happens every year. It’s a staple part of being a Brit. The darkness definitely pulls me towards hibernation mode. Jumpers. Blankets. A roaring fire. Cups of tea on repeat (to be fair, I still mainline tea in a heatwave).

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few emails land in my inbox from various brands advising me how I can prepare my home for winter. Excellent, I thought! Yes! I would like to prepare my home for winter! I shall discover how to do this! My excitement was short-lived. Most of the suggestions were wildly impractical. They included decorating your rooms in “warm” colours, checking your roof was leakproof, and swapping your lightweight curtains for heavyweight velvet ones. I’m not sure what sort of world these people live in, but I’m fairly certain most of us don’t whip out the paintbrushes, strip the wallpaper and install a new roof just because its winter. Quite an extra way to live one’s life. As an aside, my lovely nan did used to have winter and summer curtains and she did do the seasonal switcheroo! Floral cotton for summer, pink velvet for winter. However, she is the only person I have ever known to do this, and I am going to lovingly disregard her for the purposes of this blog.

After failing to learn how to prepare my home for winter from unsolicited emails, I thought I’d prepare my own guide! For normal people! Small steps to welcome the winter in, and cosy up our homes for the long, cold months ahead (can you believe how dark it is at 4pm? I can’t).

1. Soft Furnishings: Wrap Me Up, Buttercup.

Not the curtains. We’ll leave them alone. A more manageable way to cosy up is to bring in more cushions, throws and blankets. Some colours are traditionally thought of as more “cosy”, particularly warmer, earthier colours, but that’s not going to be much use if your existing colour scheme uses cool tones. We’ve got to work with what we already have, and I don’t think we need to get too hung up on colour. It’s all about texture. What do we want? Faux fur, velvet and chunky knits! When do we want them? Between the months of November to February, inclusive, please.

Our main areas to texture-bomb are our living spaces and bedrooms. We want layers. Cushions and throws on sofas, extra blankets on the bed, perhaps a cheeky sheepskin rug (faux or real, depending on your preference) laid over your current rug?

I have summer and winter throws for my bed. I have an amazing, heavy, chunky velvet throw (below, left) that would be suffocatingly warm in summer, but is perfect in winter, and actually very necessary in my fridge-like, draughty Victorian house. It’s so heavy, it’s like having one of those weighted blankets on me. Fabulous. In the summer, I use thinner, lightweight throws (below, right). I also recently mentioned on Instagram my love of “double duvet-ing” in the winter months, and sleeping either beneath, or sandwiched between, two duvets. Snug as a bug.

Here’s a round up of some gorgeous bits and bobs to bring the warmth and texture we want from our homes in the winter months.

Top row, L-R: Handknitted, chunky, merino blanket from one of my favourite people, Mizz Knits, rectangular cushion from H&M, navy knitted pom-pom throw, Asda Living (never discount Asda Living before having a rake – always some treasure to be found!).

Middle row, L-R: Wool blend blanket from H&M, velvet patchwork quilt of dreams from Projektityyny, Kuma faux fur cushion from Soho Home.

Bottom row, L-R: Eska faux fur throw from Dunelm, West Elm loop texture cushion cover, chevron faux fur cushion from John Lewis.

Top row, L-R: Harlequin cushion from Projektityyny, olive hand-quilted velvet throw from Toast, sheepskin rug from John Lewis.

Middle row, L-R: Ezra throw from Soho Home, faux fur cushion from Anthropologie, Alexa velvet cushion by Christina Lundsteen.

Bottom row, L-R: Floral embroidered knitted cushion by Olivia Rubin, Marcello Velho knit throw from Anthropologie, deep pile patterned rug from H&M.

Heaven Scent: Seasonal Smells

I’m very much in favour of scenting my home all year round. There’s very little in life makes me happier than a high-end scented candle. Winter, however, is when home fragrance comes into its own. The perfect antidote to dark mornings (and afternoons, can you believe how dark it is at 4pm? I can’t) and the relentlessly cold weather. Winter candles can bring you the scent of crisp woodland walks, crackling log fires and festive greenery, without the need to move from the sofa, Netflix and your floofy throw (see above).

Before I get ahead of myself waxing lyrical (ho ho) about candles, we shouldn’t forget about the great outdoors and the art of the forage (or the art of visiting a florist, who’s done all the hard work for you). Bringing fresh-cut greenery like eucalyptus and pine into your home is a wonderful, natural way to scent your rooms in winter, and you can add to those with sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage (also handy for the Christmas dinner…). Mother Nature is clever like that.

Back to candles. Most of the good fragrance brands bring out a festive candle or two. The White Company’s “Winter” candle has fragranced every single Christmas I’ve had as an adult. One year, someone bought me a three wick version – three wicks! – and it lasted me about 3 Christmases. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous scent of oranges and cloves, and one whiff always transports me to Christmases past. I love the way scent does that. It’s always going to be my nostalgic number one winter fragrance.

However, being the fragrance tart that I am, I don’t restrict myself to one candle. Perish the thought. I’m here for as many winter scents as I can cram in to one season. I also don’t restrict myself to candles. There’s a whole world of scented oils, room sprays, reed diffusers and electronic diffusers out there. In the same way we layer up our beds and sofas with cushions and throws like the Princess and the Pea, we can also layer our scents! Hurray! Reed diffusers give a constant scent, which you can supplement with a candle for a more intense fragrance when you fancy it. Surprise visitors (otherwise known as an absolute nightmare)? A quick whizz round with a room spray can quickly make your house smell like a posh hotel lobby.

Here’s my selection of the best of the best winter fragrances. Where I haven’t managed to give some of them a sniff in real life, I love, and have other candles from, every single brand, and would be prepared to bet a week’s wages they’ll be fabulous*.

*I’m very poorly paid.

Top row, L-R: The OG – “Winter” by The White Company, Diptyque “Feu de Bois” (exactly like a roaring log fire), “The Old Solstice” by Chapter Organics – I remember wanting to try this last year and it sold out quickly, so I’ll be getting an order in sharpish this year.

Middle row, L-R: “Christmas Wish” by Neom – always a safe bet, “Fir Tree” reed diffuser by The White Company, “Sapin” candle by Diptyque – a mixture of pine and woodsmoke.

Bottom row, L-R: “Ember Remember” by Lo Studio, inspired by Bonfire Night, “Orange Bitters” by Jo Malone, “Christmas Trees” by Jo Loves.

Light Up Your Life

Can you believe how dark it is by 4 o’clock? I can’t. I’ve talked about layering soft furnishings, I’ve talked about layering scent, and I’m nothing if not predictable – I’m now going to talk abut layering lighting. A simpler way of saying this is that we want various types of light going on in a room, to make it its best winter hibernation self. We all have “the big light”, the pendant light in the centre of the ceiling, which only gets turned on if you’re trying to find a dropped earring. The big light does no-one any favours and, to me, adds a sense of gloom used in isolation, despite it lighting things up.

Our best bet, then, is to keep the big light off, and to use lamps. Floor lamps, table lamps – they have the advantage of being portable, so we can illuminate dark corners and highlight artwork or exciting architectural features. You can position a floor lamp over an armchair for dedicated reading light. I like to use lots of lamps. I have about 6 or 7 in most rooms, and switching them all on on a dark evening makes me very happy indeed. My husband does not understand this at all, and spends a good deal of his life turning my lamps off. We have lamp incompatibility issues. I’ve just ordered some special plugs from Amazon too! I haven’t got them yet, but I have high hopes (although, as always, the reviews on Amazon go from five star adoration to furious, one star rants). You can find them here – you get a remote control and you can use it to turn 5 individual electrical items on, so I don’t have to go fettling round on my hands and knees.

You can supplement the cosy lighting with candlelight or firelight too. There’s always something magical about flickering candles or a fire and, if you have nowhere else to be, cocooning yourself in a blanket by candlelight for the evening is heaven. Using a group of pillar candles in a fireplace (presuming you have no fire there) always looks lovely too. Fake it ’til you make it.

I’ve picked out 9 very lovely lamps, in case you’re feeling the urge to add another 5 or 6 to your winter scheme. I tend not to go for lamps with naked bulbs or clear glass shades, despite there being lots of great looking ones on the market. I prefer lamps with opaque shades, to give a softer light – naked bulbs give me that thing where you see the imprint of the filament on your retina for an hour afterwards, if you look at them directly. Not ideal. Oh, and also remember to go for “warm white” bulbs – I accidentally ordered “cool white” once and lit my kitchen up like a laboratory.

Top row, L-R: Pleated shade table lamp from H&M, Tamri brass table lamp from Oka, Brigadier yellow table lamp from Pooky (shade separate).

Middle row, L-R: Boster table lamp from Pooky (shade separate), cone candles from Zara, bamboo hanging table lamp from Asda Living.

Bottom row, L-R: Woven ceramic lamp base by Matilda Goad (shade separate), Edie prismatic table lamp by West Elm, Simone task lamp from Anthropologie.

There we have it. Three easy ways to make winter an altogether happier time. Do you do anything else to prepare for the colder months? Let me know in the comments!

4 Comments

  1. Helen Palmer
    7 November 2021 / 8:23 am

    Beautifully written Sandra as always. Got me chuckling under my Mizz Knits knitted blanket this morning!

    Without wanting to get smutty, what you’re suggesting appears to be Christmas tree foreplay. A bit of titillation to get you in the mood. This is very helpful for me, as I only ever start thinking about Christmas decs when everything has already sold out. I’m going in!

    Also, can I thank you for the ‘futility room’ article. Mine is remarkably similar in shape and status to yours. So much so I’ve just asked Stuart to come and work his magic! Thanks for the inspiration! My Christmas gift to myself!

    Happy November!

    • 25 November 2021 / 9:21 am

      Apologies for the late reply to this Helen, the comment has been hidden from me! Christmas tree foreplay, why didn’t I think of that?! And I’m so glad to hear about the utility room – you’re in very safe hands with Stuart 🙂

  2. Amanda
    7 November 2021 / 10:42 am

    Fabulous post as always Sandra. I definitely feel like hunkering down now. Have you noticed how dark it’s getting by 4 o’clock!

    • 25 November 2021 / 9:22 am

      Thanks Amanda, I can’t believe how dark it is by 4pm! 😉

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