At Home with Joanna Buchanan

Joanna Buchanan at home
Photograph by Jane Beiles

Known for her love of colour, sparkle and unmistakable vision, designer Joanna Buchanan shares her home style, Christmas decorating tips and hosting secrets with us below...

What is your favourite part of the holiday season, and how do you and your family like to celebrate?

We have a small drinks party at home on the 22nd or 23rd of December – just for local friends and family. It’s a chance for us all to get together before the true ‘busyness’ of Christmas.

The house always looks lovely (it’s good for me to have a deadline for the decorating). I serve Champagne, a fresh cooked ham with French bread and have a fabulous cheese plate. It’s a variation on a party my mother used to give over the years in Hong Kong and then in Norfolk, England.

Last year my daughter sat down at the piano and played and sang Let It Be to all the guests. I am not sure how we (she) will ever be able to top that… it was certainly a party for the memory book.

How do you style your home for Christmas, are you a traditionalist or do you mix it up each year?

I am absolutely a traditionalist... if only I could remember what I did the previous year.

Occasionally I will buy new ornaments (that aren’t my own collection). I got some fantastic huge glass balls in seafoam green from Jim Marvin and some lovely bits from Petersham Nurseries when I was there two years ago, but in essence, the decor remains the same.

I love getting out the ornaments with the children and having them talk about their favourite ones and memories of where they came from. I have some ornaments from my great grandmother which are wonderful. It’s what I am trying to achieve in my Christmas collection… heirloom pieces that will be loved for many years

Designer Joanna Buchanan and family
Photograph by Jane Beiles

What are your three top tips for decorating for the holidays?

Fresh flowers are wonderful – paperwhites or amaryllis – I get them from the flower district in Manhattan and they last forever.

Get the gifts wrapped early... they look festive under the tree and then it’s not a last-minute wrapping panic. I have had too many years of teary (and sloppy) wrapping on Christmas Eve and gift wrapping is one of the bits I love the most.

Don’t forget the outside of the house… I love to have some festive greenery and decorations on the porch as you come in it really sets the mood.

You have homes in New York and Connecticut, are they similar in interior design or have you styled them differently? What are your favourite spaces in each home and why?

Manhattan is much more clean and modern – high ceilings, bold colour. The windows in the office are on the most beautiful block in Chelsea and I just love to sit and watch life on the street. Never a dull moment in Manhattan.

In Connecticut, I watch the animals and wildlife... not the people. Our home is much softer here – lots of textiles and feminine colour. I love my studio here...it’s in what used to be the greenhouse of our house, so it has tons of glass and fantastic light and fantastic views of the garden.

In both places, we have let the world outside really inform the design choices inside.

Joanna Buchanan's dining room
Photograph by Jane Beiles

When it comes to setting the table for Christmas dinner what are your favourite finishing touches to make it extra special?

I designed some fabulous Christmas crackers that won an award in the Glasgow Times for being the most over the top crackers. A huge achievement. So, we love to use those. They have a fun game in them and really lovely prizes that I designed and manufactured, so the quality is excellent.

And then the children have created their own tradition of creating rather large place cards for everyone at the table… so sometimes my colour schemes go a little askew… but hey ho… Happy Christmas.

What is the secret to being a great host?

I have three secrets: 1. Planning ahead. Know how long it takes you to get everything ready and give yourself that time.

2. Doing what works for your guests. For example, if there are going to be young children there, don’t try to make it too posh.

3. Truly enjoying the party. I am a casual host… plenty of good food, good drinks and let people relax and catch up.

How far in advance do you start designing your Holiday collection, and where do you find new inspiration each year?

We have to have the new collection done by February, so I am really designing Holiday all year round.

You never know what is going to inspire you and I run through a million thoughts and ideas in my head before putting pen to paper. It can be the strangest things that float into your head and you mull them over and ‘bank’ them… if they are good ideas, they will usually resurface again when you really want them.

I do love the mix of the collection, so I don’t like to be too ‘themed.’ Often, once I start sketching and seeing how different elements come together is when I really feel the magic happens.

Do you have a favourite tree decoration from your collection this year?

I am obsessed with the zodiac ornaments. They have been so long in the development and every aspect of the design and the packaging was so carefully considered. They are a fabulous Holiday addition, but I think they are wonderful as gifts all year round.

I was so excited to launch them and so excited that AMARA is selling them so well.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I hope it’s not too early to say this... but surviving the business struggles that have come along with the COVID-19 pandemic have been so challenging and rewarding. Keeping the business going, despite the never-ending and never-anticipated hurdles has been remarkable. The list of challenges was literally endless - from supply chain to distribution to at-home technology.

I have seen so many businesses stumble due to myriad reasons out of their control and it has really been such a difficult time for all retail - big and small. We have had to stay very nimble, super focused on the customer, and also continue to be creative to push ahead.

I actually found myself super creative the last couple of months... so a lot of new designs and product categories in the works... which is exciting. I feel hopeful about real business growth when we are finally through this challenging time.

How would you spend your perfect day off?

This will make me sound like such a granny ... but it would be gardening. I love a cup of tea and an early garden walk spotting all the things that need to get done. Then a full uninterrupted day of getting things accomplished and getting filthy. Then after a shower, a glass of rose for a final review of the day’s work and an early night … it really doesn’t take much to make a perfect day. Hard work and beverages I guess.

Shop Joanna Buchanan's Holiday range at AMARA now.