DECORATORS FOR HIRE

Companies fill a seasonal niche: putting up Christmas decorations

Firms help residents and businesses put up their decorations

kward1@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2011 

Some people enjoy dragging boxes of Christmas decorations down from the attic or up from the basement to transform their homes into winter wonderlands.

For others, not so much.

And for them, there are a number of decorators in town willing to do the job.

"This type of work has really increased the last 15 years," said Best of Flowers owner Mary Jo Johnson, whose company decorates 10 to 20 homes each holiday season. "Every year, it gets a little stronger."

J. Stuart Hurt, one of the owners of the home décor and design boutique House, said decorating homes and offices for Christmas makes up "a large portion" of the company's business.

He said House's commercial clients include Fifth Third Bank, 17 branches of Central Bank, Central Baptist Hospital and the Wesley Village retirement community.

Earlier this month, Hurt was in Chicago, designing showroom displays for Roman Inc., a company that specializes in Christmas products.

He said most homes take about 21/2 hours and might include placing garlands on the stairs, hanging wreaths, decorating a dining room table and setting up "the showcase tree."

"We've sort of got it down to a system," he said.

Hurt said House charges a standard rate of $50 an hour, plus an additional fee if more help is needed.

The company starts booking houses for Christmas in June, and slots fill up quickly. By the week of Thanksgiving, Hurt said, he had already turned down about a half-dozen people who wanted their homes decorated.

On one November afternoon, he said, he started his day at a customer's home at 8 a.m., drove to Cincinnati to do some work there and was on his way back to Lexington to decorate two more homes at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Until about Dec. 15, Hurt said, his schedule will be packed with such appointments, seven days a week.

Johnson said the first week of December is always the busiest for Best of Flowers, but November has its share of customers, too, because some people want the decorating done just before Thanksgiving.

Most of the decorators, including Johnson and Hurt, said their clients are loyal, coming back to them year after year to have their houses and businesses swathed in greenery and bows.

"Once you experience it, you don't want to stop it," Johnson said. "When we leave, the customer's smiling from ear to ear."

Joe Richardson, who works at the interior design firm Hubbock & Co., also does Christmas decorating on the side for clients who come to him year in and year out, although he said he has two new word-of-mouth customers this year.

He said the recession dampened people's decorating spirits for a while, leading to a shrinking market for companies that focused on exterior decorating. But this year, he said, he thinks people are feeling better.

"I'm doing at least a third more than I normally do," he said.

Richardson said he went to Naples, Fla., during one week in November to decorate for a client.

"My wife wanted to climb in my suitcase," he said.

Joanna Sadler started having Richardson decorate her home in Lexington about five years ago, after her daughter had him in to help decorate before a big party.

"I saw her house, and it was so beautiful, and I thought, 'I'm just getting too old to do this,'" she said. Now, "we turn on the Christmas music and I sit back and watch him work his magic."

The "magic" includes dressing up fireplace mantels, placing garland and lights on stairs and around mirrors, adding table centerpieces and generally putting "little touches everywhere," Sadler said. She no longer puts up a big tree now that her children are grown.

She said Richardson returns the week after Christmas to repack her baubles, label the boxes and stow them away until next year.

"It's just wonderful," she said. "It's really a pleasure to watch him work. We get right in the Christmas spirit."

Richardson said he thinks his clients want him to look at their belongings with fresh eyes, seeing possibilities they might overlook.

"All of us, no matter who we are, we do things the same way. They want somebody to come in and see it in a different way," he said. "They're expecting you to be pretty creative and artistic."

While each of the decorators said they work with what customers already have in their holiday collections, they said most can't resist adding a few new touches each year.

Hurt, of House, calls it "fluff" — little things that liven up the décor.

For Johnson of Best of Flowers, customers are "usually captivated by the ribbons that we have, the berries, the branches and the ornaments. If you love Christmas, you get excited about it."

Some clients, Richardson said, "make it a party," meeting him with hors d'oeuvres and chardonnay.

Others are gone when he gets there and enjoy coming home to a decorated house.

For Richardson and several other decorators, in-home decorating gets plugged into their schedules wherever it can, squeezed among other work duties. For some companies, though, the schedule is certainly squeezed.

Tom Ulshafer, who works at My Favorite Things, said the store does some Christmas decorating for longtime clients "as a favor to them" but isn't looking to grow that line of work.

"We don't have time," he said. "Our other businesses have picked up."

He said the store charges $100 an hour for the service, and it prefers that customers pick up some new items from My Favorite Things' merchandise.

He said banks and insurance companies are among the businesses he serves, in addition to private homes.

"We do enjoy doing it," Ulshafer said.

Johnson said she does, too. When she goes to markets to choose new Christmas merchandise for the store, she often keeps specific customers in mind, shopping for their homes just as she would her own.

Johnson's delight is palpable as she shows off wide, stiff velvet ribbon trimmed in jingle bells, heavily flocked swags studded with life-size cardinals, and red silk amaryllis that are as tall as people.

"It's just the most satisfying thing," she said of decorating homes. "It just depends on ... what their Christmas dream is."

Reach Karla Ward at (859) 231-3314 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3314.

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