Christmas may come just once a year, but for Festival of Trees President Scott Killingbeck the holiday is always on the brain.
Killingbeck, who has adored Christmas since he was child watching his grandmother trim trees at the family’s nursery in Livonia, is all about tree decor. He decorated five trees at this year’s festival, which is always held the week of Thanksgiving. It featured more than 50 trees and raises money for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation.
“It’s a passion,” admits Killingbeck, a food and beverage director. “...I drive a lot so I have a lot of time to think (about tree ideas).”
One of Killingbeck’s trees this year, which won Best of Show (I was one of the judges and didn’t meet Killingbeck until afterward), was made almost entirely of green hand-blown glass bulbs by Toledo glass artist Randy Kuntz. The bulbs were suspended at different lengths with fishing line from a metal wagon wheel to look like a Christmas tree.
Killingbeck got the idea from a friend who showed him a picture of something similar. After a bit of experimentation – the line, for example, got twisted if it was hung up before the bulbs – he figured it out. And it showed.
“It was a learning experience,” says Killingbeck.
If Killingbeck is any indication – and Festival of Trees, which just marked 32 years – tree trimming is now about so much more than lights, garland, bulbs and tinsel. Visit any local garden store or nursery, especially those with holiday shops, and you’ll quickly see how much trees have evolved with pre-lit ones, unusual color palettes and unique motifs.
At Bordine’s Christmas Shop in Rochester Hills, there are 20 themed trees, 10 mantels and four chandeliers designed to work their way around a suspended light fixture. Each themed tree is fully decorated in a range of motifs, from more winter-neutral themes to one decorated with a Shiraz wine color palette. Each tree is given a name and all the materials are right nearby.
Merchandising Manager Jonathan McGowen, who was getting ready this week to go on his first buying trip for next year’s trees, says color is often the starting point for most of Bordine’s theme trees. Several trees feature a metallic mix.
“You’re mixing bronze, silver, gold, champagne, pewter,” says McGowen. “All of those can be mixed together.”
One tree, named Northern Exposure, has a unique rustic look. Instead of garland, a conduit normally used for lighting runs throughout the tree. A designer spotted the material while Bordine’s was having some lighting work done. “I told her just go for it,” McGowen says.
So as you decorate your own tree this season, tweak it or even think ahead to next year’s trimmings, McGowen says one of the easiest ways to change a traditional tree with ornaments collected over the years is by changing the ribbon. For “the cost of a couple bolts of ribbon, you can get that new twist,” he says.
If you’re more of a silk picks with a limited number of ornaments person, pick one color and don’t skimp on picks, say both McGowen and Killingbeck. Killingbeck goes by the Rule of 12.
“If you have a 7-foot tree, use 12-poinsettia picks. Anything you get, you get 12,” he says. “If you’re getting ornaments, 12 boxes. You say, ‘What will make this tree pop?’”
Killingbeck, meanwhile, is already tinkering with tree ideas for next year’s festival. One will include wood and pictures frames.
“It’s definitely a 12-monther on this one,” he says. “It doesn’t end.”
Tree Trimming Tips
Sub out the ribbon: A new ribbon or garland is an easy and inexpensive way to give your tree a new look, says Bordine’s Merchandising Manager Jonathan McGowen.
Don’t skimp on picks: If you like to add picks to your trees, buy 12, at least, of one kind. They add fullness and texture. McGowen recommends as many as 18 or 24.
Skip the tinsel: There are other ways to give your tree glitz. Tinsel is dated. “Let it go,” advises Cydni Penn of Cydni Charise Creations in Southfield.
Shop everywhere: Penn says you don’t have to just go to nurseries or garden centers for tree trimmings. Look at the dollar stores, antique stores, anywhere. Penn bought the purple bulbs for her Prince tree from a discount store.