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Local experts share their secrets for indoor holiday lighting

November 28, 2012

» click to enlarge «
This mantle display at Sherwood Forest Garden Center demonstrates how lights can be combined with other decorations to create a warm and elegant atmosphere for the holidays.

Just like kids’ wish lists for Santa, trends in holiday décor are ever-changing.

When it comes to lighting, there are more options than ever to choose from, whether it’s strands on a tree or bulbs on the mantle. That’s why there are plenty of places around metro Detroit where families can go to get advice on turning any home into a glowing winter wonderland.

For more than 55 years, Ralph Bellisario of Bellisario Florist in Eastpointe has been helping customers create the perfect holiday atmosphere with floral arrangements and other unique decorations. When it comes to creating memorable Christmas trees, he said great lighting is all about patience.

“Most of the trees nowadays are pre-lit. But if you have an old-fashioned tree, I start from the bottom up,” he said about wrapping strands of holiday lights on a tree. “Branch by branch, I work from the outside of the branch to the inside.”

He added that when he’s lighting an artificial tree that’s assembled one branch at a time, he prefers to light each row as he attaches it.

“I put one row in and light that one. I find that way easier, instead of putting the whole tree together at once.”

The process of lighting Christmas trees and holiday wreaths isn’t the only thing to take into consideration. According to Blair Gilbert, owner of Gilbert’s Pro Hardware in St. Clair Shores, the style of lights being used is just as important.

Known to many as “Mr. Hardware,” Gilbert says he stocks all kinds of holiday lights in his store, and each type has its own benefits.

“All the new stuff is LED lighting. It uses far less electricity than our conventional neon bulbs that were in our old Christmas lights,” he said. “When you put a bunch of strands together in the old days, it was pretty easy to blow a circuit. Now that LEDs draw a fraction of the electricity of the old ones, they can put twice as many lights up and still draw less electricity.”

Another advantage of the LED holiday lights, Gilbert said, is that the bulbs emit almost no heat, reducing the chance of the lights overheating and catching fire. He shares these tips and more on his website,

“The downside is they’re more expensive, but they’re coming down every year. They cost approximately double what the old-fashioned neon fixtures were. The electricity you save, the safety you’re achieving — they’re all good things, I say. For that, the price is minimal.”

If you ask Carol Thomas, though, nothing compares to the soft glow of the traditional incandescent lights. As co-owner and designer at Sherwood Forest Garden Center in Rochester, Thomas knows a thing or two about how to create a memorable holiday interior. She claims to have seasonal décor down to a science.

“We do 1 1/2 times the height of the tree. So a 6-foot tree would have about 10 sets of lights on it,” she said. “Most people are satisfied with that. They want to see their own decorations.”

Thomas said she always recommends pre-lit trees and wreaths to her customers, which can range anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 1,600 lights.

“It’s all wired,” she said. “The other route takes us five to six hours. Then, we start at the top and work our way down.”

But if a family has a certain look in mind for their seasonal design, custom lighting is a must. She has plenty of tips for those who want to show off their creative side.

“Clear lights have a more elegant look, and multi-colored lights work for any color scheme. The color pulls out the colors in the lights,” she said, explaining that she used multi-colored lights on a teal-themed Christmas tree, and despite the mix of colored lights, only the complementary tones are noticeable.

If that’s not enough, she said, customers can seek out specialty holiday lights, like those sold by Bethlehem Lighting. The lights, which are sold at Sherwood Forest, are the same bulbs used at Disney World and come in a variety of color schemes, from multi-colored and clear to unique combinations like Caribbean, which comes with just blue and green, or Renaissance, which comes with alternating red, orange and purple.

“They’re good lights,” said Thomas. “You pay a little more, but they last for years. It’s worth it, in the long run.”


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