Years before most people had heard of Martha Stewart, Bill Hixson had us covered locally with his sophisticated, easy to replicate interior and floral designs.Known…
Years before most people had heard of Martha Stewart, Bill Hixson had us covered locally with his sophisticated, easy to replicate interior and floral designs.
Known as “Mr. Christmas,” at 84, Hixson continues to be hired annually by the White House staff to help them decorate for the holiday season.
Although he no longer operates his Christmas Store in the Chagrin Valley, he made a return visit recently to a packed house at The West Woods Nature Center in Russell Township to dispense decorating tips and demonstrate his craft.
Some of his sage advice included, “Always use warm water to water plants and avoid restricting the stems” as well as “Never say you can’t afford fresh flowers.”
He pointed out that today, nearly everyone in the average household has a car, a TV in their room and computers, indicating the cost of fresh flowers should also be within reach of most household budgets.
He said people can save money by harvesting the trees in their yards to avoid paying for green foliage.
“Cut yours first,” he said. “Then, at midnight, go over to your neighbor’s yard,” he teased.
No visit from Hixson would be complete without his insider stories from The White House.
“This year, I decorated a bedroom and the Green Room,” he said. “I like to work in the State Room. I take a box to steal cookies to bring back. I used to put them in my pocket, but by the time I got home, I only ended up with crumbs. At my age, I can get away with it. They think I’m harmless,” he quipped.
With security measures in place, his access to the first family is limited these days, but he manages to attract their attention and come away with a snippet to tell his many fans.
He said security personnel may be a little nervous around the workers using knife blades to ply their decorating skills.
Hixson told his stories as he quickly created 10 different arrangements in little over an hour. His creations ranged from a boxwood kissing ball favored by Nancy Regan, to nosegay tree ornaments from the Laura Bush era.
He said Nancy Regan wanted kissing balls hung everywhere, including near the elevators on every floor where people had to stand and wait.
“They never missed an opportunity to smooch,” he said.
He told the story of being caught in mischief by Barbara Bush. The workers had just finished trimming a tall tree and were adding Styrofoam flakes as snow.
“Somebody thought it would be funny to dump a box of Styrofoam on my head and a snow fight ensued,” he said. “About that time, Mrs. Bush walked by to inspect our work. I apologized and she stopped me, saying to wait right here and don’t clean anything up. She came back down with her grandchildren to participate in the snow fight.”
It’s not all fun and games, however.
Hixson said Laura Bush hated the color purple and did not allow purple to be used in the decorations.
This made it difficult when gifts of flowers would arrive that had purple flowers, he said.
“The staff was instructed to use them high up on the tallest trees so she could not see them,” he added.
For the Obamas, this year he created an elaborate centerpiece with a Victoriana theme. It included fresh flowers, an antique doll, oil lamp and a lace parasol that rained water drops from hidden melting ice cubes.
Hixson created one quickly at The West Woods without the ice cubes.
Of course, his skilled hands and artistry made it all look so easy to achieve. His tips are to cut flower stems at different lengths and to divide the circle of the centerpiece into five areas.
“Five,” he said. “You can’t make a good circle from three or four, it has to be five.”
He also cautioned to make table centerpieces short enough to see over.
“There was one state dinner when the centerpieces ended up on the floor because no one could see across the table,” he said.
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