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Ghosts and goblins, witches and brew, bats, spiders and other creepy-crawlies -- these are the symbols of Halloween that can send chills down the spines of little ones during this holiday season. And, of course, pumpkins are ubiquitous, fresh at farmer's markets and grocery stores, picked to line porch steps and grace tabletops indoors, often after they're carved into fanciful or spooky designs -- a practice that has captivated generations of families.

But if you've never felt skilled with the tools, no worries. There are plenty of no-fuss, less perishable pumpkin options, which also can be stored to enjoy season after season. In styles that are suited to your home, decorating for Halloween has emerged as a seasonal event that, for retailers, has become almost as huge as the Christmas holiday.

It's a scary thought. Last fall, it was estimated by the National Retail Federation that Americans would spend a record $9.1 billion on Halloween. That includes costumes for pets! Of that figure, about $2 billion or more go to decorations.

And Halloween ornamentation has becoming more sophisticated over time. 

Trend forecaster Michelle Lamb, founder and chairman of Marketing Directions, which publishes The Trend Curve for designers, architects, retailers and manufacturers has tracked the Halloween development for years and devotes an entire report to the topic for her subscribers. In this year's installment, "Haute Halloween and Fall," Lamb notes that Halloween has a new point of view, with themes emphasizing fun rather than fear. In addition, the ofrenda trend of Dia del los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, "now extends beyond its original Mexican heritage" and is "more celebratory than hair-raising." Alongside Halloween motifs, such as werewolves and bones, is typical fall fare drawn from autumn foliage and brilliant color changes.

Some of the impetus for design has come from fine craft. There are communities that have long celebrated the Halloween season, and some, like the charming towns ringing Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin, go full tilt with fabulous displays that highlight Mother Nature's own spectacular fall canvas during the month of October. There you'll find pretty, artisanal, hand-carved wood pumpkins painted in soft pastel hues that mirror their real heirloom counterparts in apricot, sage and ivory. Patchwork scarecrow wreaths, wood and fabric cats, witches, pumpkins and other commercial fare are also to be found.

Grandin Road sensed the trend a decade ago, when the company began ratcheting up its orange and black themes. Its Halloween Haven assortment of unique upscale products that work nicely in home decor, features around 350 items ranging from $12 to $1,800. The annual dedicated catalog is a delight for those who look forward to this seasonal decor. The offerings have evolved beyond kitschy, and the palettes have expanded to purples and now rich burgundies. There are pumpkins bedecked in fashionable patterns. Beads and glitter add glam notes. 

"We are definitely about celebrating every day," says Grandin Road senior merchant Kelly Lambert. "Our customer likes to decorate her home year-round. That's why we really went after Halloween and harvest to give her something more sophisticated."

Harvest naturally is key, with russets, golds, aubergines and sage greens drawing from the landscape.

"We also test other palettes -- like burgundies and reds, in addition to neutrals that kind of work with outdoor or graveyard looks, with dried leaves, twigs and moss," says Lambert. "Unexpected motifs like florals. Also brights -- there's a vibrant group with more hot pink and turquoise." It's a direction seen in Christmas decor as well.

"We play with scale, too, in ways that are not traditional," says Lambert. "There's an opportunity to mix and match styles. Our customers enjoy decorating -- they just get into it."

Almost everything analogous to Christmas applies -- lights to outline home exteriors or nestle into mantel or wreath decor, ornaments, garlands, even snow globes. The Halloween variety may have a graveyard scene instead of a Nutcracker or angel. Anything graphic -- like spider webs -- has great potential for design. Decorated pumpkins stacked in graduated shapes become sculptural objects, perhaps an alternative to trees in planters near the front door.

Many retailers now have a tab devoted to Halloween on their websites. At Pottery Barn, there are stunning hand-blown pumpkins of recycled glass that look amazing with strands of LED lights set within. Or pumpkins in a wide range of media, like punched ceramic pumpkins crafted from terra-cotta clay, some with leafy motifs; German silvery glitter; mosaic and bronze mercury glass in rose gold, and even one in an electric shade of teal blue.

At Pottery Barn there also are tombstone chalkboards with messages like "art attack," lit oversized spiders, skeletons in coffins and haunted tree yard stakes with scary face outlines in the flat black trunks. There are fab skeleton wine glasses with metal stems and bony fingers that reach up to clutch the glass. Or a full-body metal skeleton that is the base of a wine glass. Skeleton hand serving utensils and place card holders add to the fun.

Entertaining, of course, is a big part of Halloween hoopla. Whether it's light strands with pumpkins or bats, these can brighten mantels, stair bannisters or mirrors. Seasonal grapevine wreaths can be tweaked with the addition of skulls, pumpkins, black cats, ghouls and spiderwebs. Accessories like cookie jars, dinnerware and accent plates bring fun to the table, as do tablecloths and runners, including a beaded Day of the Dead example at Pier 1. 

Some witches have morphed into downright glamorous creatures, figures cloaked in attractive garb that is reminiscent of angel figures. Even the dangling witches' feet from Raz Imports are more fun than fear-inspiring, with spiderweb bedecked stockings and festive marabou feathers collaring the ankles. 

Crate and Barrel invites its customers to "decorate if you dare," and clearly its offerings are on trend and consistent with the retailer's modern style message. The chic black matte trend seems perfect for Halloween fare, as at Crate and Barrel with a set of modern faceted black iron pumpkins with orange interiors that glow with light. Even matte black iron letters that spell out BOO are classic and on message. At Granin Road, a black pumpkin sports graduated cutouts along the spines, which look like stripes with a warm white glow from inside.

MacKenzie Childs offers its signature courtly black-and-white check pumpkin taper candleholders of poly resin, accented with gold leaves spilling over the top for a festive look. And Jay Strongwater, known for high-end bejeweled ornaments and objets, features a gilded pumpkin box made of mouth-blown glass and hand-polished metal, which sells for $725 at Horchow (www.horchow.com), and is destined to become an heirloom.

Outdoor Halloween decor has grown as well, with more options for lighting, including broomsticks and candelaria to mark pathways. For lawns, there are a variety of werewolves, coffins and graveyard markers, with skeletons as well as ghosts, which when lit, as in a set of three from Grandin Road, can add an eerie glow.

So bring on your creepy, playful or even elegant creativity. With retailers all-in for Halloween and fall decorating, time is ticking to see if you've got game -- either DIY or with some of the colorful, fun symbols of the season. 

 

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