Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Spirit Made to Order, at $95 an Hour

"Interior designer finds a holiday decorating niche"
Value Added, Tom Heath, Washington Post (December 14, 2009)

"My love for Christmas started when I was a kid in Syracuse, N.Y.

"The holiday was a very big deal in our house. I would go up into the attic and fetch the decorations with my mom. My sister and I would bake Christmas cookies with my aunt Mimi, who lived upstairs in our two-family house. We would gather on a Saturday afternoon before the holiday and put up the Christmas tree. Bing Crosby crooned on the record player.

"Each of us would hang our favorite ornament, some of which my aunt had purchased for us. (I had an angel that went on top of the tree, which will bring some laughs from people who know me.)..."

The column isn't about Mr. Heath's reminiscences: it's about Andrea Hickman of A. Hickman Design. She told the Washington Post columnist:

"...that preserving those traditions can be the toughest part of her Christmas decorating business.

"The family heirlooms may be old and falling apart, but 'I've got to make those things work and make [the client] love them again' so they don't stick out like a sore thumb, said Hickman, who talked to me from her studio as she was preparing to decorate a hall for a big Christmas party at Mary Washington College...."

She doesn't just to Christmas season decorating: that's around $5,000 of her $80,000 or so a year income.

The column gives a pretty good overview of the interior decorating business, with particular attention on the 'fix up other people's homes for Christmas' aspect of the profession.

When Hickman's on the clock, she charges $95 an hour. Jobs range, we're told, from about $500 for an afternoon's advice to $10,000 for a week of making a mansion or office look good for Christmas. We also find up that a 30 percent markup from wholesale is an industry standard for decor items.

We get a (very short) look at what pointed her toward interior decoration as a career, and how she got started.

I'd never pay someone $500 to tell me how to make my home look good. let alone $10,000. But, hey: if someone has that kind of money, and lacks either time, energy, or ability to do the job, why not?

One thing I've learned is that not everybody lives the same way. Take "family heirlooms," for example. One of ours is an iron-bound wooden chest that carried one set of my ancestors' worldly possessions across the Atlantic in the second ship they tried. The first ship sprang a leak or something - but that's another story. The lock hasn't worked for about a generation, but we've got the pieces, and if it's needed someday, we'll fix it. Meanwhile, it's a practical storage locker: a serviceable, fairly rugged item. And currently assigned to the household of one of my daughters.

But that's us. We're of the class that might work for some of Hickman's clients. But that's another topic.

Bottom line? This is a pretty good article: a little nice holiday sentiment; a peek inside a specialized profession; and a look at one facet of American culture.

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