Special ARRANGEMENTS Designers offer a cornucopia of ideas for holiday floral displays

November 05, 1995|By MARY COREY

Holiday flowers are as festive an addition to any celebration as homemade cookies and hand-wrapped gifts. They bring charm, color and fragrance to the season, giving the mind and eye a peaceful oasis during days too often filled with shopping, baking and fatigue.

While some floral designers speak of trends around this time of year -- silver is popular, angels are in, and ribbon is the rage -- there's also tremendous variety. For some florists, a Christmas display might involve cayenne peppers and greens strewn up a stairway. For a more traditional decor, it might be something as simple and striking as a basket brimming with magnolia leaves and apples. And if whimsy strikes, there are flying fruit characters, bronze sculptures and even rusted bedsprings to incorporate into displays.

Such a spectrum will be evident next Sunday at the Carriage House Collection, a benefit organized by the Johns Hopkins' Women's Board. This year, organizers have added floral designs to the benefit sale and silent auction at Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St. Nine local designers have created displays to complement everything from the front door to the drawing room of the historic mansion. (The event runs through Nov. 14.)

Similarly, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Homes for the Holidays Tour is incorporating the work of area floral designers in its festive stroll through Ruxton homes on Dec. 1 and 2.

"To me, more is more, especially around the holidays," says Andrea Steiff, a Roland Park floral designer who is decorating the entrance hall at Evergreen. "I add more lights, more ribbons, more ornaments, more greens. It never looks like enough."

When it comes to holiday displays, many designers pay particular attention to the base of their creations. Urns, bird cages, candle globes, metal cans, woven baskets and painted clay pots all serve as the humble beginnings of flower-filled masterpieces.

Floral designer Susan Uhlig is decorating the library of Evergreen with an antique reproduction sleigh. In it will be winterberry holly, white lilies and magnolia, she says.

"When I first started doing design years ago, a lot of what we did was in plastic containers. We tried to hide the container with the flowers," says Ms. Uhlig, who owns Branching Out, a floral and landscape design business in Ruxton.

As for what goes inside, she says natural elements presented in unfussy ways are the most inviting and the least stressful to create. For Thanksgiving, she favors grasses, seeds and pods. In her own home, she often arranges sunflowers, gourds and cornstalk Pilgrims to complement the turkey and pumpkin pie.

A holiday centerpiece doesn't always have to be floral. Ms. Uhlig likes the look of fruits and nuts in a wire basket on a table. She also encourages people to add a personal touch by incorporating collections they own, such as Santa Claus characters or choir figurines, in floral designs.

Last year, she was asked to decorate a local country club undergoing major remodeling. While the work had created grumbling among some members, she decided to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to decking the rooms under construction. She festooned wreaths, trees and tables with gilded plumbing supplies, glittery doorknobs and bejeweled screws. In addition to being festive, her work drew a chuckle from many guests.

Susan Kershaw, a floral and interior designer, believes in tailoring her handiwork to a client's home. In the drawing room of Evergreen House, she's opting for a formal European style with elegant topiaries. For the BSO event, she's taking a more playful approach -- festooning a Ruxton home with Western motifs. Hanging from the mantel will be cowboy boots instead of stockings, and peppers will be incorporated into the lilies and amaryllis on the holiday table.

"It's important to look at the colors in your home. If you have a lot of mauve, don't buy red poinsettias," says Ms. Kershaw, who grows many unusual varieties of flowers on her Glencoe farm.

Generally speaking, many local designers shun trends. "The star thing, the duck thing, the pig thing -- I'm motifed out," says Ms. Steiff. "I love the look of big bowls of apples and boxwood."

When people are totally confused about floral design, she offers them a fail-safe suggestion: Take a swan decoy, put a bow around its neck, add leftover greens and a few apples. "I call it the emergency centerpiece," says Ms. Steiff, who has demonstrated the arrangement to glowing reviews at craft shows.

"We also have a joke in this industry, 'If you don't know what to do with it, spray it gold,' " she says.

One decorating element she strongly believes in is ribbon -- velvets, damasks and silks that can cost as much as $20 a yard. She finds it fun to combine various widths and textures, joining thin strands of raffia with wide, hefty brocades.

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