Cover Story: Decorating ideas that will carry you from fall through winter
Decorating ideas that will carry you from fall through winter
Story: Christine Walsh
Photos: Christine Walsh and Eric Bartell
As Central Illinois transitions into the darker and shorter days of the year, it’s time to begin planning how to switch out that light and summery décor to something that will welcome the autumn and winter seasons.
Within each season are themes like rustic, glittery and nostalgic that will inspire the hidden interior designer in you.
No longer just a holiday for kids to trick or treat, Halloween has become a celebration for many adults. “Halloween keeps growing and growing,” Prairie Gardens design consultant Brian Woodrey said. He explained that the color scheme is moving away from the traditional orange and into grays, off-whites and gunmetal with items like white pumpkins and green gourds serving as transition pieces into fall decor.
When Prairie Gardens in Champaign started in September 1964, it carried primarily garden supplies and Christmas décor. Today the store has furniture, home décor, food collections, framing, women’s clothing, accessories, jewelry and décor for every season of the year.
These days, Christmas at Prairie Gardens means just about every tree, wreath, garland, ornament and accent that you can imagine.
Prairie Gardens’ Steve Brown said the design team there starts planning for each year’s Christmas offerings a year in advance. “It starts by listening to the customers this year,” he said.
The store has 13 fully decorated Christmas trees with various themes displayed during an annual open house. Customers are entered into a drawing to win the fully decorated tree of their choice. “That’s really the beginning of us getting feedback, in terms of what people are looking for,” Brown said.
All of that variety is key since some customers have a tree in every room of their home. “A large percentage of our customers decorate more than one tree,” designer Barb Knapp said.
It takes the Prairie Gardens team several hours to decorate each tree. After it’s completed, it’s used as a template for the sister Jeffrey Alans stores in Normal, Springfield, Peoria and Terre Haute, Ind. The designers at the other stores may combine the same collection of décor items in a totally different way, though. “It’s fun to see their personality come through,” Brown said.
Woodrey said social media websites like Pinterest are making consumers more aware of current seasonal design trends.
“All of the departments work together,” Knapp said. “So we do create a story throughout the house. We’re also selective in what we feel the Midwest will accept.”
Brown explained that demographics like age groups are taken into account when selecting merchandise, too. “You can’t be too focused on one look; you’ve got to have a broad kind of appeal,” he said.
The core group of designers does a lot of market research, including attending a number of trade shows throughout the year.
Prairie Gardens’ team designs and hand makes all seasonal floral wreaths, swags and arrangements locally. All of the store’s bows are hand-tied. “Everything we do has a personal touch to it,” Knapp said. “It gives value to our product.”
“It makes us unique,” buyer Diane Lazuka said. “Everybody wants something different.”
Brown noted that well over a quarter of Prairie Gardens’ customers live outside of Champaign-Urbana. Some customers travel from places like the Chicago suburbs once or twice a year because they want to have decorations different from their neighbors’. Woodrey said he’s seen customers spend as much as six hours browsing through the store’s vast selection.
Prairie Gardens has 100 trees in one area alone. “Pre-lit trees have changed our lives,” Brown said, explaining that it used to require a massive amount of man hours just to light all of the store’s trees.
Even with the handmade quality, Prairie Gardens’ team strives to get its products at an affordable price point. Lazuka said it’s not unusual for customers to comment that they saw similar items online at a much higher price. “Everything is a really good value,” Woodrey said.
The farmhouse style, which has been popular for the last few years, continues to have staying power. The style resonates with many of Prairie Gardens’ customers. “With our small towns, that’s what people do; they’re farmers,” Woodrey said.
Brown noted that a fresh twist on the style, however, is the emergence of black and white buffalo check plaid. “It really changes the whole look,” he said.
Lazuka and Woodrey said that along with the traditional red and green, hints of blue, turquoise and pale green will be trendy colors during this year’s Christmas season, and on into the spring. Woodrey creates displays that demonstrate how to tie the seasonal decorations in with home décor pieces in coordinating colors, such as the robin’s egg blue that many people bought at the height of its popularity five or six years ago. He also shows how the newer hues can be combined with neutral colors like gray and textures like wood for a rustic look, or with silver for a dressier look. “We’re making them think outside of the box a little more,” Woodrey said.
“Brian is able to put this together like no one else can,” Brown said.
Christmas nostalgia pieces are also popular. Last year, Lazuka found a line of products that proved to be a hit with customers, and so that will be back this year for Christmas, along with other merchandise for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July and the fall season as well.