Ken Hobart, a creative director with the Becker Group, was incorrectly identified in Sunday's Distinction magazine.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Mantels are a natural for holiday decorating. They define the fireplace -- the focus of any room, particularly when a fire is blazing.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
But, with Christmas trees, door decorations and table arrangements getting top priority, mantels often get token attention at holiday time. A few red candles and some pine branches are often the extent of ornamentation.
So this year, we asked five of Baltimore's top floral designers if they could create mantels that are visually exciting and out-of-the-ordinary. They accepted the challenge and presented us with five marvelous mantels.
Mark Fabian and Suzanne Rafferty: Mark Fabian and Suzanne Rafferty describe their work as "loose and airy, with lots of movement."
"We like designs that dance and sing," says Ms. Rafferty. "We also like to bring nature into the house by using vines and other natural plant material," continues Mr. Fabian. Witty and outgoing, the pair have a natural enthusiasm that is reflected in their work. "We like to take a design and go as far as we can with it," says Ms. Rafferty.
The inspiration for their mantel design was an elegant Guilford dining room -- a unique blend of English and Mediterranean architecture -- and the room's fireplace itself, which had an elaborate poured-concrete mantel and surround. A 1913 Baltimore original, the fireplace called for something "sensual and lush," says Ms. Rafferty.
The team complied with five dozen pink, peach, coral, light salmon and soft yellow roses, peach lilies, hydrangea and milkweed pods touched with gold paint, ivy, honeysuckle vines and one large, gold-tipped Oriental cabbage. Swished carefully through the flowers and plants were yards of silver-glazed crushed silk. Each wall sconce was decorated with its own bouquet of roses.
The designers have some practical advice on working with flowers to create a mantel arrangement: To extend the life of flowers, cut stems under water; plunge the stems of wild plants like honeysuckle vines into boiling water for six or seven seconds before using them.
Their most important advice, on holiday decorating in general, is offered by Mr. Fabian: "Get out of the Christmas rut and try something new."
Ken Robart: Ken Robart does holidays for a living. As a creative director for the Becker Group, a Baltimore-based company specializing in seasonal decor, he zips around the country designing holiday decorations for corporate buildings and shopping malls.
For his own holiday decorating, as well as the work he does for private clients, he often dips into the past for inspiration. "To me, Christmas is a collection of memories," he says, recalling his childhood in New York state. "So when I think of holiday decorating, I often think of using collections." His list includes angels, nutcrackers and Christmas ornaments.
"The most unforgettable mantel I ever saw was decorated with a collection of 100 cream-colored candles in every size and shape you could possibly imagine," he recalls. "Instead of greens, mixed in with the candles were bare tree twigs. It was wonderful."
For his holiday mantel, Mr. Robart combined collections of gingerbread ornaments, tin toys, tiny knit stockings, birdhouses, bird nests, artificial apples and pears, all entwined in a thick garland of greens and looped with a red burlap ribbon. To complement the mantel design, he created a unique tree made from wood moss.
"I think my mantel is whimsical yet very homey and family-centered," he says. "I used artificial materials, but you could use real gingerbread that you baked yourself; you could string cranberries and use them; you could use real pine, fruit and berries." The trick, he adds, is to combine in the garland whatever makes you feel like Christmas.
Barbara Taylor: Barbara Taylor is well-known for her lush and romantic floral designs. Her cottagelike home is surrounded by gardens and decorated with window boxes. Inside, flowers are everywhere -- floral fabrics cover chairs, giant pink roses are splashed on the dining room wall covering, hand-painted flowers dance along the kitchen floor.
For her holiday mantel, she used what she loves best -- flowers. Her choices -- casa blanca lilies, tineki roses, white wax flowers, lisianthus buds -- tumble from 19th-century porcelain mantel vases. Complementing the flowers and the vases are two elaborate girandoles, designed with dangling amber crystal teardrops. Ivy, entwined with flowers, runs across the mantel and decorates the fireplace surround.
While flowers are the dominant element, the inspiration for the design came from the 19th-century pine mantel. "This mantel is my most prized possession," says Ms. Taylor. "It has everything I love -- swags of roses and morning glories tied with bows, birds, acorns, even dogs -- carved into its design."