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Designer's Hollywood Christmas dream a reality in Seminole Heights

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Adrian Parrado's longing for a Hollywood-style vintage Christmas began during his childhood in West Tampa.

"If you look at the tree they roll out at the end of White Christmas, it inspired me from the first time I ever saw the movie. I thought: 'When I grow up, I want to have a tree just like that."'

Now 45, Parrado has fulfilled his wish, with panache: His 10-foot-high, 9-foot-wide tree is actually three high-end artificial trees he has so expertly cobbled together it could fool even the most discerning real-tree buff. Draped in tinsel, swirled in fat, jewel-colored lights and dripping with hand-blown ornaments from the last century, it's such a visual knock-out visitors often remark it should be in the movies.

"If you look carefully you'll see that there are big branches at the top, little branches in the middle. Just like a real tree. A Christmas tree manufacturer really ought to hire me," jokes Parrado, who works as a residential holiday designer and manages Seminole Heights Antiques.

He also has a unique side business: He restores antique electric fans from the early 20th century, including the beauty in his own kitchen: a lovely old ceiling fan that once cooled customers at a Woolworth's soda counter.

Around this neighborhood of handsome bungalows and historic architecture (Parrado and his partner, Tony Brian, live in a 1923 Craftsman bungalow) Parrado is known for his tasteful and elaborate vintage Christmas displays, inside and out.

Parrado finds treasures everywhere: eBay and Craig's List, private collectors and unexpected haunts.

"My colored lights on the roof came are from the 1940s and came in their original boxes from a local hardware store that was going out of business," he says.

He jokes that his love of Christmas has cost him as much as a brand new Porsche.

"I'll bet we have 70 boxes of decorations stored over the garage," says Brian.

Neighbor Deda Coy, whose parents moved to the area 70 years ago, is a big fan of Parrado's decorating and cooking. The designer is the son of Italian and Spanish parents

"He's made me all kinds of Italian dishes and even clam chowder," said Coy, whose yards shimmer with Christmas decorations that Parrado sets up for her each year.

On Wednesday night, she stood in the street snapping photos of his completed yard at 206 W Fern St. "Every year, it gets better and better," she said. "My grandkids can't wait to get here!"

On Parrado's front lawn, a cheery flock of mid-20th century "blow mold" choir singers, Santas, sleighs and snowmen congregate tastefully. More handmade Christmas trees twinkle along the front walk; an illuminated wreath shimmers above the porch entrance and glowing candles flank the yard entrance.

The roof and porch drip with colored and white lights, and his vintage trees glow in the front windows. He twined the front porch columns in his signature, handmade evergreen garland that he also uses over fireplaces, doorways and staircase banisters.

A tip from Parrado: Dangling attractive ornaments from garland will give it an extra dash of style. And don't be afraid of festooning the garland with colored lights, either. Plump, vintage-looking lights offer a visual break from the ubiquitous white twinkle variety.

"I tell my clients, 'Remember, it's Christmas. Everything in your house doesn't have to match."

Still, he says, decorations work best in an attractive, uncluttered environment. Though Parrado decorates every room, he does so with a sparing hand. For example: In the kitchen, he fills clear glass jars with shiny red ornaments, decorates the window shelves with vintage holiday figurines.

A pot of fresh rosemary (he uses snips in his beer bread) and a pretty tea-kettle simmering with Christmas spices transform the kitchen into an inviting space for guests to linger. Even his 1920s feather tree festooned with miniature antique glass ornaments twinkles in front of the living window without looking overdone.

He loads the main Christmas tree with lots of ornaments and tinsel for a truly old-fashioned look. His 10-foot tree typically takes him a couple of weeks to decorate, a task he juggles between his other jobs: "I sometimes start at 1 a.m. and I just work until I get tired."

When he's done, the big tree topped with an antique, electric "Paramount" star is so tastefully over-the-top that friends tell him it looks like a prop straight out of an old movie.

"And it is," says Parrado, pulling a bell ornament off a branch and ringing it as a reminder of the tree in perhaps the most famous Christmas movie of them all.

Parrado knows the line by heart:

"Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings," he says a little mischievously. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm the angel."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

Designer's Hollywood Christmas dream a reality in Seminole Heights 12/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 3:30am]

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