Santa’s Helpers


Holiday decor experts share their secrets to the magic

If it’s beginning to look a little like Christmas, Stephen Brown, Lisa Foster, and Sam George are in part responsible for the transformation. With floral and/or home decor businesses, these three creative designers are in high gear spreading holiday magic as soon as the Halloween candy has been handed out. Brown offers all kinds of whimsical home accents out of Glitterville downtown while Foster and George deck the halls at homes around the area. In the pages that follow, they offer their expertise to help make your holiday decor, inside and out, picture perfect. And here’s advice they can all agree on: don’t worry about what’s trendy.

Lisa Foster | Lisa Foster Floral Design

Lisa Foster jumps into Christmas right after Halloween. She and her team at Lisa Foster Floral Design in West Knoxville head to North Carolina to deck the halls at Historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville. “It takes us four days, and it’s hard work,” she says. “We leave there sweating every day.”

Then she starts decorating client homes around Knoxville, tackling centerpieces, Christmas trees, and more. She aims for a result that is an all-sensory experience for her clients and their families.

“In my grandmother’s house I’d smell the good food, and I’d see the table with the flowers and the candles. I could feel it,” she says. “And with Christmas music playing, all of my senses were touched, and I could feel the love that she put into it. That’s what I aim for; to help our clients feel the joy and love that Christmas represents.”

She uses mostly traditional favorites to get the effect she wants: magnolia garlands around the tops of doors; big evergreen wreathes with giant red bows; berries and holly, tons of ribbon and “the more glitter the better,” she says. She often decorates using what her clients already own, and she encourages a browse through Pinterest if you’re looking for inspiration.

“The more ornaments and ribbons you use, the better it’ll look,” she says of decorating a Christmas tree. “I don’t love LED lights because they’re really bright and kind of harsh; I prefer the softer, warmer lights. And I like to use wired ribbon because it’s so easy to manipulate it.”

Foster opened her shop in 2004, originally from her home, and moved into her current space in the Windsor Square Shopping Center in 2017. In addition to Christmas decorating, she’s busy helping with winter weddings, often two or three per weekend, at this time of year.

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Sam George | Floral Designs by Samuel Franklin

The old colored glass balls that covered his mother’s and grandmother’s Christmas trees are what Sam George says look like Christmas to him. “The holidays are so much about nostalgia, and it’s important to honor that.” 

When he and his team at Floral Designs by Samuel Franklin in Clinton decorate a home—and they do between 40 or 50 in an average holiday season—it’s much more than putting up a Christmas tree. “There are so many details, accents in every room,” he says. “Some people have multiple trees. One client has six or seven trees, and the one in the entry is 23 feet.”

George relies on lots of lights to really make a Christmas tree shine. “The general rule is 100 lights per foot of tree, but when we do our Fantasy of Trees display, we use 200 or 300 lights per foot.” Stick to the colors already found in the home, George encourages, and incorporate fresh greenery with artificial. 

For those who like fresh Christmas trees, George encourages them to wait—and water. “Don’t put a fresh tree up too early. If you buy it early, leave it outside in water. The interior temperatures of our homes are too hot for a tree, and they won’t last—especially if you’re not watering it.”

It’s important to set a festive tone with outdoor decor, he says, which includes the mailbox and doors—both front and back. But his best advice? “Do you. Decorate the places you and your family spend a lot of time. Use the old ornaments the kids made in kindergarten in the most personal areas of the house. Use the colors you love.”

George got his start in the floral industry while he was in high school. “I’d drive from Norris to Oak Ridge to deliver flowers,” he says. He started his current business in 1985 and moved into its location 25 years ago.

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Stephen Brown | Glitterville

This month and next are sure to be hectic ones for Stephen Brown, creator and owner of Glitterville, the home and holiday design company with a store in downtown Knoxville and retail space around the world. This season, Brown will be in Dallas as Neiman Marcus’s Artist of the Year decorating its flagship store for the holidays. His team will set up full store popups in Soho, Dallas, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, as well as maintain their showrooms in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Amidst the hubbub, they’ll try to keep up with orders for Glitterville merchandise.

The COVID-19 lockdown pushed Brown to think outside the box. “So we started doing tons of Instagram Lives, crafting thing for our followers. It was a time to bond with people and get to know them.” Now with 75,000 Instagram followers, the Glitterville crew is struggling to meet the demand. “It’s a great problem to have,” he says. 

So while he won’t have much time for admiring his own Christmas tree this year, Brown’s advice for making your decor sing is to start by forgetting what’s trendy. “Never decorate your house or for the holidays based on a trend,” he says. “It won’t be something you truly love.” Pair things you’ve had forever with fresh new items. “For a Christmas tree, you need lots of different textures—balls, figures, glass, fabric—at least three or four kinds of ornaments, and lots and lots of lights—at least three kinds.” Add something like glitter to the mix and you have yourself a special tree, he says.

“When I moved to New York (after graduating from UT) I had $100 to decorate for Christmas, so I went to the Christmas store and bought three European glass ornaments by Christopher Radko. They were so special. Every year I’d save up and buy more glass. Two years ago in Atlanta, Christopher Radko wanted to meet me,” Brown says. “It was a full circle moment.”  

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