Deck the halls with tips from Hawaii’s top Designers

Christmas is about atmosphere as much as it is a celebration of a season of hope. It’s the time of year when kids come home from college, and friends and family from afar come to lay their hat in your nest. And how would your home welcome them, and more importantly, embrace you daily with holiday comfort and joy? Here, three of Hawaii’s best in their field of design – floral stylist Evan Morita, interior designer Shari Saiki and couturier Eric Chandler – share their perspectives on making the home merry and bright.

Eric Chandler, “More is more”

Just catching his breath from co-directing the successful F.A.C.E. of Nuuanu fashion week with 2Couture partner Takeo, and currently immersed in details of the Miss Chinatown pageant, local couturier Eric Eugene Kamakahia’ai Chandler has his hand in everything from cuisine to fashion design to motivational speaking. And he does it all in a big way. One tends to get that feeling when walking into the 2Couture design studio where creativity thrives for them in the presence of the front half of an Air Molokai plane fuselage, a prop in the lobby that remains from an advertising agency that last occupied the space.

Chandler is all about drama and theatre, and his approach to the holidays is no different. “What (Takeo and I) do is never on the small scale.”

Chandler has decked the holiday halls of shopping centers such as the King of Prussia in Pennsylvania, one of the largest shopping centers in America, often working with budgets in the millions of dollars. “In that setting I used a 50-foot carousel, topped with a 70-foot Christmas tree… that’s the kind of drama and superior design theory that is required to draw millions of shoppers, and a fortune is spent to make that a reality.”

His formula – using elements of proportion, drama and intense color – have produced stunning results, for instance in Washington Place during the Cayetano administration, where he once dressed Hawaii’s first family’s tree in obi belts.

Proportion in the form of “grandness, throughout history, has always been the most visually stimulating, whether it’s the Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower,” says Chandler. And translated into the home? “A carousel horse in your Christmas tree, not an ornament with a carousel horse on it. Or an 8-foot Christmas tree with a 6-foot canoe paddle, which would be extraordinary, or large family portraits tied to the tree.” And he’s not talking snapshots, but framed portraits.

As far as drama, Chandler, who is on tap to dress the Hyatt Regency Waikiki for Christmas, achieves that by using unfamiliar products in a familiar way, as in the Washington Place tree in which obi 15 inches wide by 10 feet long were woven throughout as ribbons. “A piece of ribbon from Mary’s hair is not drama,” he said. Repetition is also a device that exudes drama, where he suggests not just using an ornament ball on a branch, but 30 ornaments in a grapelike cluster.

Sometimes the planning stage for Christmas decorating could take three to five years depending on the client’s wishes. “If someone is executing a tree that uses French porcelain dolls, it might take five years to get that doll. For people who are passionate about the holiday season, it’s an investment.”

Drama also involves staging, “so setting up an ex- quisite French antique chair next to the tree as if Santa was going to sit and have home-baked cookies – that’s drama.” The element of drama would also be tear rendering, said Chandler. “When you look at it, it evokes such a powerful statement that you are left breathless.” Which often happens in homes left in his hands for Christmas, he says. “The setting evokes such tremendous childhood memories,” they are touched to tears.

And what would Christmas be without color, and he means intense color. To Chandler, the electric nature of color makes it appealing. Pure colors tend to come across flat, and not as sophisticated, so he prefers the “illusion of a color that’s saturated with more than one color – for instance using blue-green or pearl, which would be pink and green and blue.” The contrast of a blue with chocolate brown is more striking, he says, than say, lavender with pink, which doesn’t have much contrast.

As far as his own tree, the 2Couture studio will be graced with a tree using 12 Venetian chandeliers. “So it will be a green tree and this overwhelming crystal presentation – no lights at all,” except for the chandeliers. “The entire tree will be ablaze with Venetian elegance,” with a total price tag in the thousands. “But I promise you, you will weep with joy.”

Shari Saiki, “Less is more”

Award-winning interior designer Shari Saiki of Shari Saiki Design Studio has a ” ‘Less is More’ minimalist Christmas décor” approach for the holidays.

“‘Less is more’ is a quote from German architect Mies van der Rohe, who was a pioneer in the Modern Movement (1920s to 1970s) – it’s about taking everything back to bare essentialism, minimalism,” says Saiki, who just returned from a Thailand buying trip. “It’s the inspiration for the type of work that I do” not just for the holidays, but in general.

Saiki is also proprietor of mesh by Shari Saiki, an Iwilei home furnishings and accessories store that follows her less-is-more philosophy, which she operates with husband and business partner Bryan Kitashima.

You’ll be able to see her touch in the lobby of the Waikiki Parc Hotel this holiday, with a design that’s being executed in two phases. The final portion will be unveiled next Christmas. Its centerpiece is currently under wraps, but she will say this: “I’m excited about it, and it will be something to see once finished.”

In the meantime, Saiki offers these simple, minimal techniques she’s used for clients.

The Dining Table: Use two or three large glass cylinders filled with equally large scented candles. Surround the candles with small clear glass balls or imitation crystals. Equally space these cylinders on a simple silk runner along the table, lengthwise.

The Coffee Table: Adorn your coffee table with various sizes of gigantic glass balls or ornaments interspersed with small, sparkly objects in silver or gold. Set all of this in an oversized bowl or platter. Alternatively, float green or red glass balls in a simple, rectangular tray filled with water. Add to this a few tiny floating candles for glimmer.

The Wreath: The doughnut-shaped wreath is in itself a clean, simple shape. When the wreath is simply adorned with several of them arranged together they create a very modern look. Wreaths can be made of almost any material. The more unusual the material, the more modern the look. Some examples of these materials are glass balls, metal discs, pine cones, dried lotus pods. Using a single material and weaving in white tree lights will create a modern, stylized wreath. Three or five of these wreaths placed together in a line complete the look.

The Tree: A green, fresh or artificial tree with large clear glass ornaments, an abundance of clear LED lights and small pewter, silver or gold, funky, simple-shaped ornaments create a modern, hip tree.

The Child’s Tree: Your modern, minimalist tree, although perfectly suited to your modern décor, has no room for the playful, colorful ornaments and decorations that children love. Have a second, smaller tree in a family room or children’s bedroom. This tree can have multi-colored lights and should be decorated by your child with whimsical decorations, ornaments made at school and other Christmas delights your children love.

Evan Morita, “Tradition is key”

When it comes to Christmas, floral designer Evan Morita of Floral Grand is a traditionalist at heart, and clients are drawn to him for that aspect.

Christmas in particular is synonymous with tradition, Morita said, a time when the family dusts off the storage boxes so that symbols of memories that they’ve amassed over the years can again see daylight. “People collect things that make them happy, or make them who they are, things that have been passed down from generations,” he said.

Although some may have an urge to stray from tradition, he advises against it. “People are always looking for something different, but that ‘something different’ dates itself. For example, Lion King is really hot right now, and all the kids want a Lion King Christmas tree, but what happens next year?”

To achieve the perfect traditional holiday home setting, Morita titillates the senses. Visually, the backbone is the Christmas tree, and its arrival into the home heralds the season. Therefore, assorted pines such as cedar, noble, silvertip, and holly are used in sporadic splashes throughout the home, for instance, on the dining table, buffet, and entry of the home.

Organic elements, such as pine cones, complement the greens, followed by flowers. “Because I’m going for a classic holiday look, flowers used will be your reds and whites.”

To arouse the sense of smell, he uses eucalyptus, nuts, cinnamon sticks and apples, all traditional scents of the season.

Morita also keeps culture in mind in his stylings. He filled a Hawaiian-themed house one Christmas with tropical flowers, such as protea, heliconia and anthurium. Koa bowls already in the home were used as vessels for his creations that involved use of pine cones and Christmas greens for fragrance.

“So many people who travel come here for the holidays and bring different traditions with them.” Hawaii in itself is unique with its cultural diversity, says Morita, it’s one of the main elements in the design process.

“It’s a good fusion, like Pacific Rim cooking, how did it come around? Different ethnicities, coming together and creating a whole new kind of cuisine. It’s the same with decorating,” says Morita. “During the holidays, people bring in all their different cultures,” resulting in an intriguing mix. “It’s a unique, individual style for the islands” that translates to the homes, he says.

And whether a client spends $100 or thousands of dollars is irrelevant in the design process. “It doesn’t matter how simplistic or grand,” Morita says, “Conceptually it takes the same amount of skill because you are creating. It’s a lot of work, but the final product is always rewarding.”