A floral tweak on tradition

Times Staff Writer

A study by a Harvard researcher found that people felt less stressed and more compassionate toward others when they had fresh flowers in their homes. How does this translate to the winter holidays? Showcase those repressed creative urges and feel good at the same time with do-it-yourself seasonal decor. "You can do wacky stuff that you just wouldn't do the rest of the year," said Mark Held, co-owner of Mark's Garden in Sherman Oaks. Armed with a glue gun, the designer -- who has flowered the Emmys and the Academy Awards Governors Ball -- offered tips on how to create that calming holiday ambience.

Strategy: "Concentrate on one focal point rather than placing stuff all over the house," Held said. Bold architectural elements such as the mantel, staircase, dining room table, bar or sideboard are great places to start. Don't think in terms of a single centerpiece, though. "It's more interesting to look at an assortment rather than one centerpiece plopped in the center of a table," Held said. For the composition shown here, Held used white candles in green votives and holiday topiaries made with crabapples and chrysanthemums.

Entrance: In addition to highlighting a home's architectural details, one other important task is decorating the entryway. Held likes to place candles in hurricanes outside the door. "It looks really pretty, and as people are leaving, it is a lovely exit for them," he said. Hang unlit candles from trees or place candles in votives for a dramatic path leading to the door. Scented or unscented candles? Held has to go with the latter. "Why overpower flowers and greenery that smells so good?"

Glue gun: For inside the home, Held used a glue gun to cover foam shapes from a craft store with inexpensive chrysanthemums that will last for days. "They are flat, the color is striking and the price is right," he said. It's a fun project for families to do together. Kids can decorate with small nuts or greenery and add an assortment of decorative glitter. His only caveat: These projects do require patience. It takes time to glue items, one by one.

Traditional colors: "It's odd," Held said. "People think there is a wide variety of flowers for the December holidays, but there's not that much selection." For a true red, he recommends ilex berries, tulips, roses and amaryllis. For winter whites: Casablanca lilies, paper whites, hyacinths and amaryllis.

Alternatives: Held said his floral shop is doing more with browns, golds (including white gold) and greens (such as green orchids) in nontraditional arrangements. Acid green, used on the topiaries pictured here, also is popular. "Do bring in something that is a little unusual," he said. "The brown in a pear or orchid, or a tangerine, will brighten a holiday display and make it distinctive." Succulents look great with moss. For a bit of glitz, Held spray-painted some short succulents gold and paired them with tall, elegant paper whites.

Fruits: They're great decorative touches at the holidays but won't last long. Pomegranates, which can be glued or wired onto wreaths and garlands, look dramatic but will bleed. "When you put the wire through fruit, some of the juice will come out," Held said. Dry any pierced fruit before attaching it to decorations. Once the rind is pierced, the fruit won't last long.

Combinations: A bowl of tangerines looks terrific paired with pine. "It's so simple, yet it looks great and it will last, and it smells good too," Held said. Bosc pears are also great this time of year and work well with holiday greenery and gold ribbon.

Simplicity: Minimalists can go with a clean and simple look with amaryllis, paper whites or orchids. Held recently visited the lobby of Paris' Four Seasons Hotel George V, which was decorated with ilex berries and red amaryllis. "It was clean and simple and very beautiful," Held said. Another option: filling glass vases with nuts and adding one flower or candle.

Garlands: Held likes to decorate with garlands because they are reasonably priced and they last. "Placed outside, garlands can get you through the holidays," he said. "If it dries out, it still looks cool." He prefers cedar because of the way it dries. "It petrifies in a pretty shape," he said. Don't make them, though. "You'll be better off buying a garland. You know it's going to stay together." Use the store-bought garland as the base, and add your own ornamentation. It's all about experimentation. "Buy what you like and don't be too serious," Held said. "It's fun to decorate."


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