Photos by Janis Nicolay.

When designer Gaile Guevara came on board to decorate this home in West Vancouver last year, she knew she wouldn’t go for a typical Christmas vibe. First of all, the McLeod Bovell-designed house was modern, clean, gorgeous—not really begging for traditional tinsel accents. Second, the home was a part of the 2020 Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays virtual tour, so having a thoughtful message was important to Guevara. Third—and most critically—the world was facing both a pandemic and a climate emergency. “I thought, how do I make a Christmas design that’s meaningful for me and the homeowner, and that’s all about sustainability?” she says. “I wanted to honour the architecture and be responsible around celebrating Christmas as genuinely sustainably as we could.” 

Guevara started with what the homeowners already had on hand, both for their own Christmas decor and what was hiding in their cabinets for everyday use. “The number-one thing in sustainability is reducing what you buy,” says Guevara. “Recycling can’t catch up with what we produce—it can’t keep up with people’s junk.”

She searched for pieces that could become vessels to hold colourful fruit, natural greens, pine cones and DIY decorations. Out came steaming baskets, red mixing bowls and wooden trivets and dishes. After all, a bowl of green limes and red apples can bring in those classic Christmas colours without leaving as much waste once the season is over.

During one of Guevara’s visits to the property, the gardener was there to do some seasonal maintenance work. The designer collected those cuttings and took them offsite to dehydrate and preserve for holiday arrangements. She also worked with Granville Island Florist for larger arrangements—and, instead of using fresh flowers, the florist designed a sculpture using a Martha Sturdy tray and dried leftover flora from her other work. 

READ MORE: How to Bring a Beachy Vibe to Holiday Decor

Even discarded oyster shells became a low-impact decor item, adorned with fresh cranberries and kosher salt grains. “B.C.-grown oysters are one of the most sustainable products out of the ocean,” she said. “Oysters filter our water—they’re a net-positive species. And the shells are also great to use later as a permeable landscape surface, or to incorporate into your garden.


Even the Christmas trees themselves were salvaged. Guevara called up her friend Kenneth Torrance from Barter, who is known for his sustainably designed wood stools and planters. “I asked him, aren’t you making room on your land for a greenhouse?” she says. “And he brought us one of the trees he had to remove.”

That tree and the others are decorated with solar LED Christmas lights and reusable glass spheres that can be opened and filled with seasonal decor—in this case, snips of evergreen and holly berries. “They’re great, because they can be used for anything—birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, showers—you just change up what’s inside,” she says. “In spring you could do cherry blossoms gathered from a walk with the kids.”

When determining the overall colour palette, Guevara led with what she’d discovered in the homeowners’ cabinets—and, as it happens, they had a fair number of red platters, dishes and more. But while the red she found is that classic holiday colour, she would have been just as happy to go another way, says Guevara: “The holidays tend to be disposable because we give them this specific colour. I grew up with the belief that red and green is Christmas. But it really doesn’t need to be.”

And in terms of gifts? Guevara encourages everyone to think about less-tangible items. “If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, It’s that people need to be reminded to take care of themselves and take care of others,” she says. “If you’ve going to give a gift, give time rather than buying something for a friend or a family member. I’m sure that if you took the time to pick flowers from your garden and wrote a nice card saying, ‘I’m really thinking about you,’ that will be remembered more than another thing to add to their home.”


More of This Eco-Friendly Holiday Home

Presents are wrapped with recycled paper that designer Gaile Guevara had saved over the years, and then decorated with snips of holly and evergreen from trees around the neighbourhood.

The black beeswax candles are from Barter, and the black “vases” are actually packaging that Guevara saved from a shipment of vases for a client. “They were so well made, from Japan,” she says. “I used them for the dehydrated flora, and they’re just perfect.” The two balls in front are actually for organizing long cords and cables. “It looks like a jingle bell,” she says with a laugh. “Anything can be Christmas decor!”

An oversized resin bowl by Martha Sturdy from Provide holds oyster shells—a surprising and organic choice for holiday decor.

Guevara hangs reusable glass baubles on a charmingly simple tree.

The large art installation in the living room is a piece from Damien Hirst.


Originally published November 26, 2021