Nothing can bring so much joy as a home decorated for the holidays. But sometimes decorating the house can be a chore sandwiched between the school pageant and the office party. Little problems can turn December merrymakers into cranky Scrooges when the pine garland falls apart, or the bows sag, or the lights on the tree refuse to twinkle.
Well, if you need help, Baltimore has professional floral designers who will come to your house and decorate it to the nines or simply create a special wreath for the front door. We asked four of these people to share some of their thoughts on holiday decorating and their own personal style, to give us a hint or two on making the decorating job as painless as possible.
Andrea Stieff found her career in the Yellow Pages. She attended the Maryland Institute of Art and was looking through the phone book for job ideas when her finger landed on ABC Floral Design School. A few years later, after learning the mechanics of arranging and assisting other designers, she launched her own business.
"I think my style is kind of country, very feminine, and has a flower-garden look," she says. For winter, she uses a lot of dried ++ berries, magnolia leaves, greens of all types, dried hydrangeas, potted or cut paper-white narcissus. "I really wouldn't dismiss any flower for Christmas because not everyone wants to do red and green," she says. "Why can't you do Christmas with peach?"
Having just moved to an older home in Roland Park, Ms. Stieff is not exactly sure how she will decorate it for the holidays. But, as always, her tree will be decorated by her children after she arranges the lights. When the girls are finished decorating, she always adds what she calls a "unifying factor," which changes every year. One year, it might be dozens of burgundy bows; the next, candy canes.
Ms. Stieff says most of her clients have their own traditional ways to decorate their own tree. "A tree is very personal," she says. "If people want to try something different, they usually save that for the door, mantel or sideboard."
One year for a client she used a wooden swan on a bed of greenery as the centerpiece on the dining room table. She surrounded the swan with all types of candlesticks tied with bows. Sometimes she does a Williamsburg treatment but always with her own touch. "If I make an apple tree, I make it three times larger and embellish it to death, perhaps weaving some wonderful ribbon through it," she says. For a simple design, she might fill a silver bowl with polished apples and tuck a few sprigs of holly into it.
Ms. Stieff thinks holiday decorations should stay in character with the design of the home. She wouldn't do the same thing for a Georgian mansion as she would for a contemporary house, although she might use the same basic materials. She loves grapevine wreaths and uses them in her own home, but for a more formal home, she might spray them gold and add small gold decorations.
Green wreaths, either evergreen or boxwood, are favorites of hers and she uses them not just on doors, but on walls, on tables and even hung on backs of chairs. She likes to see collections grouped together and displayed with ribbons and greens for the holidays. And, she says, always find a pretty container -- a basket or ceramic bowl -- for a poinsettia plant rather than leaving it shrouded in foil.
One essential for house decorating is wired ribbon, which comes in all types of materials -- velvets, metallics, silks -- and can be easily shaped into bows, she says. She also suggests "taking non-traditional things and making them traditional." One year she decorated her front-door wreath with hand-painted wooded animals from Pier One Imports. The wreath was a hit.
When you walk into Barbara Taylor's house, you know someone who loves flowers lives here. The living room's chairs and sofa are covered in rich floral chintz and a huge bay window is filled with green plants and a collection of brass watering cans. Scattered about the room are flower vases in all shapes, sizes and vintages.
The wallpaper in the dining room is filled with roses -- not just tiny, ladylike roses, but giant pink cabbage roses that run from the floor to the hunter green molding that edges the ceiling. The chairs have flowers needlepointed on the seats, the table has linens hand-painted with flowers, and flowers are even painted on the kitchen floor.
About 12 years ago, Ms. Taylor was working for a caterer who needed some flowers for a party, and she volunteered to do them. Today, she makes her living arranging flowers for clubs, restaurants, hotels and private clients.
"Some people might say my style tends towards English or French country, but really country is too informal for me," she says. "I love anything Victorian, and I like sensuous flowers that feel good to touch and that smell good." For holiday decorating she might use magnolia, roses, amaryllis, cyclamens and anemones.