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Put everyday Christmas objects in unexpected places to create drama

ST. PETERSBURG — This season, let the ordinary become extraordinary. A plain fork, a cup, a wrapped peppermint candy and a red pipe cleaner . . . and voila! You've got festive Christmas decorations for the kitchen. • Cathy Martin makes this merry sort of magic in her St. Petersburg home this time of year, and her decorating philosophy is simple: "If you hang it on a tree, it's an ornament.'' For that matter, hang it on a chandelier, lamp, mantle, banister or anywhere else — the more, the merrier.

Just imagine the possibilities waiting on closet shelves, in kitchen drawers and stuffed into boxes stored in the garage. Anything and everything can be a holiday decoration. Believe, and it's so.

Tie ribbons on your tin cookie cutters, and you've got ornaments. The same goes for buttons and thread spools, parade beads, Beanie Babies, costume jewelry, paper cocktail parasols, baby booties, even your old Barbie collection. Dust off your memorabilia and stashed stuff, add a little glitz and let your holidays be bright.

"A lot of what I have to work with has been handed down to me. I'm lucky that way," Martin says. "The other day, my sister Mary was cleaning out her basement and sent some things. I don't go out and buy stuff. I work with what I have."

Martin's holiday ornaments number well into the thousands — she has lost count — and include vintage balls and baubles that remind her of childhood holidays in Pennsylvania. "Christmas was a big deal at our house. I remember coming home from school every day after Thanksgiving and there would be something new," she recalls of her artist mother's creations.

Martin starts her holiday decorating at Thanksgiving, too, and sometimes earlier if company is coming. She does a little each day, sometimes before sunrise with coffee in hand. Just about every room of the 1922 colonial revival home she shares with her husband, Jim, celebrates the season. There are decorated trees in all the places you'd expect — and in places like the bathtub. Last year, when the Martin home was open to hundreds of visitors on an annual holiday tour, there were 16 fully decorated trees!

What's hung on a tree one year might be displayed on a shelf or table top the next year — or hung from a light fixture. Last year's vintage wooden houses and churches that adorned a tree in the living room are on a shelf now with an assortment of spindle trees, looking like a snowy village. The colorful glass ball arrangement hanging from the foyer chandelier last year now hangs from a bedroom fixture.

Martin, who has a day job as a partner in a consulting firm, makes it look easy. "It doesn't take nearly as much time as you'd think," she explains. "I never feel like it's work. It's always a joy and a privilege."

The youngest of six, Martin was raised to believe in thrift. Finding new uses for old things others might toss adds meaning to the holidays.

"This is all about memories for me," Martin says. "It's about the traditions and the fun."

. fast facts

Old and new

Cathy Martin's tips for creating new holiday looks from ornaments you already have, or even from everyday items:

• Group items together for impact. A collection of teddy bears or red balls looks better in a group than spread all over the house. Cluster like items on a small tree, in a bowl, on a shelf or hung from a fixture.

• Use ribbon. "A red bow makes everything more festive," she says. Pipe cleaners do, too, and you can create fun shapes like curlicues.

• Use homemade items. "Anything that's handmade by the kids is going to start a beautiful tradition," Martin says.

• A hot-glue gun is essential for crafting decorations. Find them at craft and discount stores.

• Experiment. "Some things work, some things don't. It's not a contest. It's not an achievement. The important thing is, did you get a kick out of it?"

• If you must shop, start with thrift stores and yard sales. One of Martin's best finds: framed Christmas trees shaped from vintage jewelry, which she displays year-round. Another score: Yellow glass duck ornaments for the bathtub tree at a 90 percent discount.

Put everyday Christmas objects in unexpected places to create drama 12/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 1:59pm]
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