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Tea lights and white candles in assorted sizes lend a romantic look to the room.
Tea lights and white candles in assorted sizes lend a romantic look to the room.

Keep it cosy and cliché-free this Valentine's Day

How can I avoid the usual clichés of Valentine's Day and do something that I can organise easily at such short notice, and still make sure that it's romantic?

It's St Valentine's Day today and - even though it's last-minute - I want to do something special. Rather than go out, I want to create a warm, sensuous ambience at home. How can I avoid the usual clichés, do something that I can organise easily at such short notice, and still make sure that it's romantic? St Valentine's Day is, of course, overloaded with clichés, whatever you choose to do. But there is a lot of romance and fun hidden amongst all of that - it's just a question of knowing where to find it and how to make it your own.

St Valentine's Day is, of course, overloaded with clichés, whatever you choose to do. But there is a lot of romance and fun hidden amongst all of that - it's just a question of knowing where to find it and how to make it your own. Having a night in together at home, away from the crowds, can be one of the most romantic things you can do - and you can easily change the mood of your usual living space to make it intimate and welcoming. Candlelight sounds like a cliché but it's an essential. Fill your living room with soft, flickering light. White candles have the most sophisticated look. Vary the size and formations - from tea lights to traditional dinner candles to church- pillar styles - and mix and match holders, to range from twinkly Moroccan glasses to slender glass stems, throughout the room to give an intimate and elegant look.

The key is getting the number right - too many and you'll risk ruining the romantic atmosphere; too few and you won't know where your Valentine is for the evening! Scatter them everywhere, not just on tabletops. Placing them at different levels creates a wonderful effect: put them on bookshelves high and low, mantelpieces, on side tables as well as the dining table. And don't confine them to the living or dining areas - the atmosphere should continue throughout, so keep lighting subdued and place candles in the hallways and bathrooms, too.

Red roses seem a little obvious, so why not go for arrangements of elegant, fresh-cut lilies in clear glass vases - either Stargazers or the simple white or pink kind, which will lend a sensuous fragrance to the room too. Ideally you would order them in advance from your florist so they that are open in time for your special day, but just choose stems that have slightly open blooms and place them near some fruit until this evening, which will encourage them to open faster. And don't forget to pull out the pesky stamens, as they tend to stain. Lilies have great staying power and you'll have a beautifully scented room for days to come.

Creating a meal together is a great way to spend the evening. Dig out a favourite recipe that you know you both love, purchase all the ingredients beforehand and get creative. The table setting is important - but don't go overboard (an all-red or pink theme is just too much). A simple white tablecloth decorated properly will be much more effective. Rose petals scattered among the table settings and red ribbons tied around the cutlery and napkins will add an elegant touch of detail. A single rose bud - and it could be white or pink, rather than red - with the stem wrapped in a red ribbon, placed on the place setting would be sweet and romantic. And don't forget to load up your iPod with all your favourite songs. Keep these playing in the background throughout the evening to bring back memories of shared experiences.

Once the main course is over, why not enjoy dessert away from the table? Move some of the furniture around to create a cosy, casual and relaxed picnic area on your living room floor, with a soft blanket and a few pillows and cushions scattered around. Serve dessert - heart-shaped or otherwise - on big plates with rose petals scattered around the edge, or try sugar-crystallised petals as a fun (and edible) alternative.

Emily Davies was talking to Catherine Synodinos and Tasneem Alibhai of Artaaj Events and Promotions, Dubai. www.artaaj.com

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