Looking for ideas on how to set your table for Christmas dinner?

KATE RYAN talks to Suzanne Mellin about upcycling, getting crafty and turning decorations into cherished heirlooms
Looking for ideas on how to set your table for Christmas dinner?

Some decoration ideas from Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.

CHRISTMAS is full of nostalgic moments!

One of my favourite memories as a child was on Christmas Eve, arriving home after spending a mini-Christmas with my gran while my mum and dad whizzed around the city gathering the last of the presents.

The last few jobs would be to decorate the tree, lay out the festive treats on the big, old dresser in the dining room and, of course, set the table.

These things were invariably done after bath time, robed in a new set of Christmas pyjamas. A festive movie would be on, my mum would be banging pots and pans together in the kitchen singing Christmas songs and also issuing orders from a never-ending to-do list to my father.

A beautiful wreath made by Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.
A beautiful wreath made by Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.

But what I loved the most was decorating the tree. The decorations, having descended from their lofty abode, would be subjected to an inspection. Each little glass ornament was carefully unwrapped from its tissue paper blanket, scrutinised for breakages or re-threading if the cotton had snapped, and then the oh-so important decision about where to place them upon the tree branches.

These decorations had been in the family for generations, passed down and treasured every Christmas for decades. My mum still decorates her tree with the same foil and glass decorations today, and I delight whenever I see them.

I recognise that those heady days of childhood Christmases gave way to an excess of indulgences. There were no heirloom-worthy decorations for the tree. Rather, each year new decorations were purchased against a backdrop of that year’s theme or colour pallet. Decorations became disposable, and lost their emotional value.

2019 has been the year when talk of climate change, zero waste and plastic free have broken through into the mainstream. My own social media feed is telling me not to buy mass-produced crackers containing little pieces of plastic nonsense that immediately head to the bin — not to mention the nightmare scenario of how exactly to recycle a spent cracker!

Table decorations by Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen
Table decorations by Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen

So, this year, I want to bring that sense of nostalgia, together with a mindful approach, to decorating my home for the festive season, but I still want it to look beautiful and sophisticated, as well as having that hand-made feel.

Suzanna Mellin, of Banana Melon Kitchen, based in Bishopstown, has such a gorgeously curated Instagram feed, I thought, who better to ask about creating a stylish setting for my Christmas table this year, all the while with one eye on sustainability. She is definitely not short of ideas and was only too happy to share them with us.

But before we delve in, let’s find out a bit more about her and her business.

When did you set up your business?

I established Banana Melon Kitchen about two years ago after moving from Dublin.

I had no definitive plan, just an Instagram account and a big appetite! Whilst doing other food related jobs and design work, the business grew slowly (very slowly!) but organically on the side.

Instagram, without doubt, has been a catalyst for our relative success and despite a modest following, the creative projects and collaborations we have done just wouldn’t have happened without it.

What is your background? How did you get into food styling, food photography and cookery?

I have a very diverse background! I have a Masters Degree in Interactive Design. Whilst in Dublin and working in Web Summit, I changed to a more plant-based diet. I wasn’t excited with the food options so decided to make my own! I think I always wanted to work for myself, and despite the non-linear career path, everything I have done feeds into what I am doing now.

Some decoration ideas from Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.
Some decoration ideas from Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.

Describe a typical Banana Melon Kitchen pop-up?

I like to position Banana Melon Kitchen where art and food meet, so expect to find this ethos in each event we do. We focus on plant-based food with an emphasis on colour and creativity; the introduction of alchemy and beautiful presentation makes it an interactive experience you won’t forget!

The end goal is for people to not even realise they are eating vegan food.

Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen with some of her edible sugar designs.
Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen with some of her edible sugar designs.

What was the highlight of 2019 for you?

The highlight was definitely DesignPOP. I partnered with Shane O Driscoll to create a pavilion that was an edible museum of sugar art inspired by the stained glass artist Harry Clarke. As a result of that project, I have produced stained-glass window inspired sugar-craft lollipops for Crawford Art Gallery and Brown Thomas.

What is in the pipeline for Banana Melon Kitchen in 2020?

Establishing a proper Banana Melon Kitchen! Having a permanent HQ where we can operate will be game-changing for us.

We have some exciting collaborations to come and also plan on getting into the product side of things: sauces and plant-based cheeses. I have wanted to do food products for the longest time as it’s the perfect food/design hybrid, and of course any excuse to design some beautiful packaging!

Looking to Christmas 2019...

When I spoke to Suzanna about sustainable Christmas table settings, her eyes lit up.

“I’ve just got a new dining room table, so this is perfect timing! Plus I’ve been experimenting with a few design ideas around the idea of sustainability and reusability too.”

Here are some of her top tips and ideas…

“The key to my table is layering; I build it with an abundance of textures and colours to create an opulent look. Using plates and boards, usually circular, I create a platform to layer things up on like candles, flowers in the middle of the table, having things at different heights creates contrast and draws your eyes to them.

“You will always find foliage and flowers at the centre of my table, and I like to use spare foliage from the centrepiece and place it on the napkin and then tie it up with some velvet ribbon or brown string.

“I have an extensive and varied ceramic collection. Beautiful plates are a must and I have lots of mini plates and bowls I use for sauces.

I have a bit of a weakness for gold cutlery, and this looks particularly well for Christmas time.”

Charity shops and swap shops are a great place to pick up second hand and pre-loved crockery, cutlery and glassware. The trend for shabby chic and vintage style hasn’t really gone away either, and mismatched items work for this aesthetic.

“Every table benefits from the warmth and atmosphere of candles, so find an abundance of these, especially beeswax ones.”

If scent is an important factor to you, create this using good quality oils in an oil burner instead. Scented candles should never be on a table anyway, as it can play havoc with your sense of taste!

“I will use more neutral toned tablecloths and runners, if at all, to really let the food, plates and flowers stand out — so no prints round here!”

If you have limited storage for such things as table linens, invest in a beautiful table that has instant appeal.

Suzanna recommends consciously thinking about creating a beautiful table setting with sustainability in mind to create a table that overflows with festive exuberance, luxury and a very personal touch.

Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.
Suzanna Mellin of Banana Melon Kitchen.

Here are her top six tips for creating a beautifully festive and sustainable Christmas table setting.

Use linen, not paper napkins

“They can be washed, reused and reinvented in years to come i.e. dying, or adding beads and embellishment.

“They also feel far more luxurious than paper napkins.”

Using natural materials for your center piece or decoration

“Dried flowers, which can even be partially spray painted with gold or silver, add decadence and can be mixed in with Christmas foliage, such as holly, eucalyptus, spruce or mistletoe.”

Become a conscious consumer. Purchase mindfully

“Taking a few seconds to ask yourself “‘ill I use this in years to come?’ and ‘do I love it?’ will eliminate mindlessly buying more unnecessary plastic.”

Create your own festive wreath

“I love using Eucalyptus in wreaths. To make one of your own, take a wooden embroidery hoop, some fresh eucalyptus, dried flowers and fairy lights (preferably led powered instead of batteries).

Use some clear wire or cat gut to secure everything and, voila, you have a beautiful and sustainable Christmas wreath!

Any spare eucalyptus you have can be hung around your shower head to create a luxurious aromatherapy, spa experience.”

Create your own ornaments

“I love putting a tree branch up above the table or anywhere else and hanging ornaments from it for a Scandinavian and elegant feel. Attaching the ornaments with ribbon looks even more beautiful.”

Shop locally

“Try shopping locally and buying decorations from Christmas markets, that way you are supporting local business and saving on the excessive packaging that comes from online goods.”

You can find Banana Melon on Instagram or on Facebook

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