The holiday season at the King of Prussia mall isn't just about deals, steals, and sharpening your elbows to ward off crowds of shoppers.
It's about stepping into a wonderland, gawking at 30- and 40-foot trees heavy with ornaments and Christmas lights. It's about taking a break between shops to look at the strings of garland that hang across the corridors. It's about soaking in cheer while trying to cross as many items as you can off that to-do list.
That cheer is the work of Exhibit Masters Productions, a Middletown, Del., company that specializes in professional holiday decorations. Its business is creating lavish displays for places like King of Prussia, Montgomery Mall, and Oxford Valley Mall.
You might not have a mall's worth of space, but you can pick up ideas from the pros. They may have more resources to put together displays at area hotels, malls, and public spaces, but here's what they've learned that you can use in your home.
Start with what you have. The King of Prussia mall decorations aren't new, said Adam Malerman, chief executive officer of Exhibit Masters Productions. His company reuses decorations, just like we do. The current decor was created for 2003. "In the off-season, we refurbish the items. We bring them up to date, repair whatever needs to be repaired," Malerman said.
Most companies that hire Hoffman Design Group of Folcroft to do their displays - spaces such as the Ritz-Carlton, 30th Street Station, the Shops at Liberty Place, and the Cira Centre - already have their decor as well, says Hoffman designer Nancy Hall.
However, Hall offers subtle changes every year to update classic looks - a concept that works well at home since most of us don't buy new decorations every year.
If your decorations are old, check the lights. You'll find a major cost savings if you switch from incandescent to LED lightbulbs, which Malerman did for King of Prussia three years ago.
Match your space. If you're looking to add something new, says developer Curtis Bashaw, who helps create holiday decor for his hotels in Cape May and Atlantic City, look at the space available, especially if you live in an older home.
The Chelsea, a boutique hotel in Atlantic City, is set in a midcentury modern building. "There we have a big silver Christmas tree. It looks like tin," Bashaw said, describing a tree style that was popular in the 1950s. That wouldn't work, say, in the Brown Room, the bar at Cape May's Congress Hall that is themed to a 1920s speakeasy with deep-chocolate walls and a zebra-print rug. There, he says, the main decorations are garlands adorned with small Tiffany-blue gift boxes.
At her home, Hall has a ready-made theme: her kids. "My main tree is all the things my son and daughter made in school," she says. She then adds trees to rooms around the house that are themed to color.
Pull from the runway. If you want to freshen your decorations, look to the fashion world for more modern cues.
When creating the Ritz-Carlton lobby's display, Hall looked to what colors were showing up on the runway. "The Ritz wanted something new and contemporary, so the colors we're doing there are with fashion trends," Hall said - specifically, touches of pink, orange, and platinum.
Go big. "Do your decorations in the scale of the space you have or oversize in the space so it makes an impact," Bashaw says. "If you have a big room, it needs to be a really big thing that you're doing." He used to do that in Congress Hall, putting an oversized tree covered in lights in the lobby. This year, though, the hotel has put a 40-foot tree on the lawn, ringed with a train that kids can ride.
"The fun thing about decorations is you can surprise people," Bashaw says. Best way to do that is to go big.
Anchor right. Make sure you're not just slapping things up on the wall, especially if you have children running around or you're hosting a party.
"You want to make sure it's supported properly," Malerman said. He suggests taking special care with big wreaths, especially those for the front door; he advises buying door hangers from a hardware store made for those wreaths, rather than trying to jerry-rig your own setup.
You also can hide anchoring methods on your tree, said Hall, by using floral wire to hang ornaments instead of metal wires or paper clips. This works especially well, she said, with silk elements such as silk poinsettias.
Her tip for anchoring lights on a tree - since even professional designers struggle with those wound-up strings: "Buy one with lights that are prelit," she said, if you're thinking of an artificial tree. "It takes half of the hassle out of it."
Take a break. If you find yourself wanting to punch the smiling face of a miniature Santa, stop. Instead of trying to work through it, Malerman suggests temporarily giving up. "It's a smart thing to walk away from it and come back and look at it with a fresh face," he said. "You don't want to put up something that you're going to hate."