November was a hectic month for Stephen Lovegrove, a 26-year-old life coach from Los Angeles.
He spent most of that time attending weddings, juggling meetings with clients, planning a family Thanksgiving celebration and preparing to relocate to downtown Nashville, Tennessee. While all that was going on, he internally battled with himself: “Do I hire someone to decorate my home for Christmas or not?”
“No, that’s overboard. It’s overkill. That’s too much,” Lovegrove recalled saying to himself.
But after landing in Music City with just 30 days to settle in before the Yuletide holiday, and looking around at his pre-furnished high-rise condo with a “hard to match” color palette, Lovegrove caved. “It’s not too much. It’s not too much. I’m doing it,” he said.
He is just one of many adults who forgo the annual battle with tangled holiday lights in favor of sipping warm peppermint cocoa while an expert decks the walls with dazzling blinking lights, shiny silver bulbs and garnet-colored garland.
“One year, I did it myself using Funfetti rainbow decorations, but this year I really wanted a beautifully and tastefully decorated space,” Lovegrove said. “Sure, it feels like a splurge. But I’m happy with my decision.”
How much of a spurge?
After hiring a decorator, his budget almost tripled. For the past few years, he’d gather everything he needed to decorate his home in one swipe with a trip to a local Target or Lowe’s, spending between $200 and $300 on lights, ornaments and a tree.
This year, his budget swelled to just shy of $1,000.
“I quickly learned that just getting the tree decorated can take a substantial amount of time. That alone can cost $300,” the self-proclaimed America’s Life Coach said.
For those who can afford it, hiring an expert is worth the extra cost, according to Michelle Simkiss Dunk, a 43-year-old owner of two businesses and mother of two teenage girls.
“If you truly want to enjoy the holidays, and you’re a mom who’s overwhelmed with tasks, it’s an investment that you should consider,” Dunk said. “You’ll gain some time back, which is a worthwhile investment.”
She said she got a quote from a local company to install lights in the trees in front of her home. “They were charging $3,600 for that. We decided just to have candles in the windows and spotlights out front – traditional stuff,” Dunk said.
The holiday decorating industry is ripe with around-the-clock experts and design enthusiasts who can do everything from install lights on third-story rooftops to hand-make 6-foot-tall wreaths.
Vinny Nicastro runs The Christmas Decorators, a lighting sales, installations and decor removal company based in Staten Island, New York.
“There’s never a bad season,” Nicastro said. “The window of opportunity is small, and there’s always more jobs than we can handle. We just don’t have the time to get to everyone.”
The Christmas lighting company services more than 150 homes in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey between Nov. 10 and Dec.15 each year. His team of up to five employees arrives with a truck full of lights, wreaths and garland to wrap around trees, weave through bushes and attach to the gutters.
Upon request, they set up mechanical holiday statues and configure animated dolls.
“No job is too big or too small for us. We’ve had mansions that take three days to decorate, and we’ve had one story houses that take us less than two hours to finish,” Nicastro said. “You don’t even have to step foot out in the cold. We hook everything up, and we’ll circle back in January to take everything down.”
But, it’ll cost you.
On average, clients pay the Christmas Decorators $1,400 for the first installation. Prices start at $499 for simple jobs on small homes.
Nicastro started his small business in 2001. “We’ve been lighting up New York for over 15 years,” he said. “I enjoyed decorating my family’s home when I was a teenager. As time went on, I built more clients. The rest is history,” the entrepreneur said. He runs a costume store and sells merchandise on Amazon the rest of the year.
Kim Scribner, founder of Christmas Designs in Dallas, said she never turns down a client.
“We can use stuff you already have, or we can bring in something new for that wow factor everyone wants,” Scribner said. “We had our first home this year on Oct. 1, and, by the end of the month, we were working every day.”
Scribner said her team of up to five designers will do whatever needs to be done. “Being a small independent business, we have to be flexible. We do the mantel, the tree, the lights. We do all of it.”
While she charges between $100 to $175 per hour depending on the task, she said you can get the expert decorated look without paying a premium by using Google Images and Pinterest.
“Most people do a pretty good job if they have the right photo inspiration,” Scribner said.
Joannie Smith, a tree embellishing expert who has adorned thousands of trees in her lifetime, agrees.
Smith is the owner of Yule Log Cabin, a destination in the woods of Scott City, Missouri that houses 165 uniquely designed artificial trees and over 100,000 ornaments. Smith redecorates each tree annually with various themes from First Time Moms to sports teams.
Smith and Scribner offered tips for getting the professional look without having to pay the professional price.
10 holiday decorating tips from the experts:
- Place LED lights into empty glass jars you have around the house.
- Create Christmas vignettes by grouping objects that will bring holiday cheer to various areas of your home like small ornaments and holiday figurines.
- Spray paint pine cones and branches and group them in window sills or in the center of the table.
- Use fairy lights instead of traditional Christmas tree lights.
- Hang ornaments on places other than the Christmas tree like on picture frames and Christmas wreaths.
- Adorn a vase with pine cones and twigs.
- Don’t be afraid to bundle ornaments on the tree. Use wire to string them together.
- String pine-cones together using twine or strips of an old flannel shirt for rustic garland.
- Replace standard light bulbs in your home with colorful ones.
- Use colored tape to candy stripe table and chair legs.