The Unhorrible Halloween

Stress style, not spookiness, with holiday decorations that are more tasteful and less terrifying

October 29, 2006|By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub | Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

ARE YOU CONVINCED THAT TASTEFUL Halloween decorations are an oxymoron?

If your neighbors decorate their yards with homemade tombstones, line the walk with garbage bag pumpkins or hang ghosts made out of old white sheets from the trees, you may be convinced good taste has taken a holiday.

But designers and party planners say Halloween decor doesn't have to be a horror show. Forget heavy chains, skeletons and creepy skulls. You can have fun decorating without setting off an alarm for the "style police."

"I have observed that Halloween has taken on a whole new flavor and a whole new fashion," said Cecil Hayes, the Coconut Creek, Fla., designer who is best known for decorating homes of actors Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson and football stars Derek Brown and Ty Law.

"Now that adults have gotten into the holiday, it has gotten more elegant. I see it in catalogs like Gump's. They have ceramic pieces and decorations you can put away and use again. It's just like Christmas. It's no longer a throw-away holiday."

Next to Christmas, Halloween is the second most-decorated holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, Americans were expected to spend $1.3 billion decorating homes for Halloween, according to a survey conducted for the federation.

Big spending means retailers, catalog and Internet companies are responding with tasteful items that can be used year after year. You can find attractive items at retailers such as HomeGoods, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Target. Gump's, Ballard Designs and Grandin Road also have stylish items in catalogs and on Web sites.

What do the design pros have to say about how to use this cool stuff?

"There's always that temptation [to go tacky] with Halloween," says Bryan Rafanelli, of Rafanelli Events, party planners in Palm Beach, Fla., and Boston. "Of course, Halloween can be chic."

Rafanelli suggests avoiding the obvious themed stuff and going with a simple palette. One option is to use everything white -- cloths, china and pumpkins. Spray the pumpkins with a white enamel paint to get a shiny finish and seal with polyurethane. Or buy chic white pumpkin soup bowls with covers and line up five to seven of them down the center of the table.

Too serene for your taste? Add black accents with napkins, glasses and votives.

"Or all black would be stunning," he said. "Stay away from cats and witches' hats. An all-black party is about as close to Halloween as you can get." (Rafanelli's only nod to traditional Halloween images is addition of black crows that you can find in gift shops and Pottery Barn.)

Ask your guests to wear black instead of a costume, he said, and give them each a white boa when they come in the door.

"It's sophisticated, costumey, but it's not a mask, not a witch's hat. It's tipping your hat in a sort of a chic way to a costume on Halloween."

Hayes, of Cecil's Designers Unlimited in Coconut Creek, Fla., loves to make her own decorations for Halloween.

"If you buy something, adorn it in a special way," she said. "Rather than making a scary scarecrow, make him friendly. Attach candy to his body so the children can take candy from him even if you can't answer the door when they come. You can make it really elegant and keep the intent of Halloween."

How you decorate depends on how literally you interpret the holiday, said Michael Saruski, of Saruski Design in Miami.

"Some people take it as a festival of the fall," he said. "Some take it as a trick-or-treat or spook holiday. The only way to tastefully do it is to use fall colors, wreaths and candles. Make it more of an earthy interpretation of the season it's in."

Saruski prefers floral supply houses as a source for exotic flowers in oranges, browns and blacks. Add them to candles (black pillars, pumpkins or gourds) to make a centerpiece. Then wrap the edges of the tables with thick twine or raffia and wrap colorful napkins with raffia or beaded candies. Smoking caldrons, with the fantasy created by dry ice or smoke machines, make a good centerpiece for a buffet table.

The problem is people who try too hard, Saruski said. His tasteful suggestion for decorating outside is to line the walk with orange lights and use a few symbolic items.

"Don't turn the whole front yard into a garish display of a spook house," he said. "Pick one theme and go with it. You can do jack-o'-lanterns with different shapes and different faces." Saruski suggested using lighting to play with shapes, colors and to create a mood. Lighting behind figures can cast shadows.

"Halloween is a time when we can pretend we have a Disney World atmosphere, but it's definitely not tacky anymore," Hayes added.

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.

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