Published: Dec 22, 2012 06:00 PM
Modified: Dec 22, 2012 03:09 PM
CARY - The trees in The Umstead Hotel and Spa’s holiday art installation aren’t perfect. They also aren’t small – it took almost a dozen people to unload the largest tree and set it upright in the hotel’s sunroom.
Raleigh florist and designer Steve Taras, owner of Watered Garden Florist for the past 15 years, has worked with The Umstead to create weekly art installations since the Cary hotel opened. This is the fifth year he has traveled to the North Carolina mountains in November to select “quirky” trees that he hopes inspire creativity and joy at The Umstead.
Taras said hotel guests enjoy watching the process of putting the displays together, and they often stop him to ask questions and admire the finished product. Q: How do you approach the holiday design process? Is each year a clean slate for you?
The first couple of years, we tried to do something different. But starting two years ago, we found a signature look that bears repeating, and we have added special touches each year since.
In the late summer, I sit down and meet with The Umstead’s marketing department and its on-site designer. I already know that their feel and design aesthetic is the idea of marrying contemporary art with nature. We try to use natural elements in a natural way.
The first year, I used pots and containers that were already in place. But I really wanted to install floor-to-ceiling Christmas trees. We selected ornaments, and it evolved into certain trees having certain colors. Q: What are the trees like this year?
We selected three big trees. The first one is in the main hall. It is a 12- to 14-foot natural Fraser fir that is not sheared. We want the trees to look and feel quirky.
The natural side becomes part of the design. The spaces and gaps allow us to hang ornaments and see them suspended. We light the trees from the tip of the branches down to the trunk. Each of the three has up to 6,000 lights. We then hung 4-inch to 10-inch glass balls and added vases in the branches with cut amaryllis.
Each week, the color of the amaryllis changes. During Christmas week, the amaryllis color will be peppermint. Amaryllis are bulb flowers, so when all four blossoms bloom, they are magnificent.
The second tree, in the sunroom, is the largest. It is a double-trunk tree, and it took 11 people to get it into the hotel and get it up and standing. It is filled with turquoise-green art glass ornaments and 3-foot white goddess calla lilies. It’s my personal favorite. It’s a look that is distinctly different. The tree is surrounded by windows, so it looks as gorgeous during the daytime as it does at night.
The third tree is placed at the ballroom entrance. This year, it is a natural blue spruce tree. It has a series of layers of branches and a blue color. We installed big, clear lights in concentric circles. We did art glass ornaments and large, 12- to 15-inch golden brown sugar cones wired over the branches. This tree is the most natural one. Q: How long does it take to create these looks?
It takes about two people all day to light one tree. Then we put on the ornaments and decorations. It’s a two-day process.
We try to bring the trees in at night, but the guests truly enjoy seeing it happen. Sometimes it takes us longer to install the art because everyone wants to talk about what we’re doing! It’s so encouraging. Q: Tell me about the trip that you take each year to the mountains.
We spend all day riding around hunting down these trees. A farmer helps us scout them out. We like to find old growth trees that are left to grow wild. It is a big process to take them down – they are extremely heavy. I was very inspired this year when I saw a 40-foot tree standing in the middle of 8- to 10-foot trees that you might put in your living room. Q: What is your creative process like? Do you use Pinterest?
I get asked this question a lot when we do workshops at the Museum of Art. A lot of my design inspiration comes from the elements in front of us. When I see something like the old growth tree in the mountains, I get ideas. My staff members have their iPhones out all the time, clicking and saving images.