Grimm & Gorly's father-son duo Jeff and Zach Bair were up for the challenge: Decorate a fireplace mantel so, with just a few alterations, it could suit themes from autumn to Christmas and even into the new year.
"Don't think of this as fall, but transitional," Jeff, 49, said of two far-from-formal design options that brought the outdoors in. He has owned the florist shop in downtown Belleville since 2000.
Both arrangements mixed dried and silk greenery, interspersing natural colors, textures and shapes, such as the red in a tropical, cone-shaped dried flower called protea, and the yellows and orange in tiny artificial bittersweet pods dangling from their branches.
"It's such a bountiful and rich time," Jeff said of autumn's leaves, cornstalks, fallen branches and pine cones. He and Zach like to make their designs "rich and thick."
While they like the "more is better" philosophy, they cater to their clients' wishes, Zach said.
Both noted that nearly all the materials used in their designs are fire retardant and that your own design could be altered -- perhaps using less hanging greenery -- if you were decorating a mantel on a wood-burning fireplace, for example, or had pets that might be a bit too curious.
With the exception of fresh asparagus fern, all the material Jeff and Zach used is either dried or artificial. Not only can it remain on the mantel for an extended time, you can store everything in a box until next year. Throw in a dryer sheet or moth balls to keep it all fresh and help preserve it.
Jeff and Zach created a horizontal arrangement with muted colors. It's a design that could stay up through Thanksgiving, they said. Here are the materials they used:
Dried green hops
Dried ears of corn
Dried lotus pods
Preserved oak leaves
Large preserved shelf mushrooms
Masses of dried green hops (yes, as in beer) were first draped across a mantel in the shop.
"It is natural hops," Jeff said, though artificial is available (and used in the second design). "We use it mostly for outdoor weddings."
He draped it down one side of the mantel, but not the other.
"We're not symmetrical people," Jeff said. "Asymmetrical is where it's at."
Dark brown dried lotus pods were added next, followed by ears of dried corn. Wide wired burlap ribbon was looped through the arrangement. Because nothing is permanently put in place, the two could stand back, look at their work, then move a piece or two if needed.
For color and shape, the spiky red protea stood out vertically in the background, while Zach fanned out small branches of real preserved oak leaves that looked as though they had been just cut from a tree. The saucer-size mushrooms found homes tucked horizontally under the hops on the mantel, or sidled up against the long narrow corn husks.
For the holidays
Thick branches covered in moss
Artificial hedge apples
Fresh asparagus fern
Zach leaned upright and criss-crossed moss-covered branches to start this arrangement and give it height. He then rested a few pieces on top of the mantel. The bright color of the soft moss stood out against the rough texture of the bark. "Yes, that's real," said Jeff of the vivid green.
Zach, 26, pointed out that "you can spray moss with water and it perks back up."
Twisted and bent branches of bittersweet and hops were wedged in between the branches. Hedge apples and giant pine cones, called sugar cones, filled in gaps between the mossy wood. Smaller ones dangled down from a wire.
The pine cones in particular add an element that can take the arrangement through the winter, Jeff said.
As a last note, fresh asparagus fern was added, cascading down the front of the mantel.
Want to turn it into a Halloween theme? Simple: Hang a glittery big spider off a branch and a few picks with miniature black witch hats.
"Halloween has turned out to be almost bigger than Christmas," Jeff said about decorating.
"We get the opportunity to ham it up," added Jeff.
After Oct. 31, remove them (and possibly the fern, depending on its condition) for Thanksgiving.
When December rolls around, add Christmas ribbon and other holiday decorations that will take you through New Year's Eve.
Jeff and Zach are booking now to decorate homes for the holidays. You can reach them at Grimm & Gorly, 324 W. Main St., 234-4455.