Slideshow: Designers trim Christmas trees

Trees to display at Festival of Trees Saturday at Deschutes County Fair & Expo

By Penny Nakamura / For The Bulletin


Published Dec 3, 2013 at 12:01AM / Updated Dec 3, 2013 at 06:31AM

If you go

What: Festival of Trees benefiting Hospice of Redmond

When: Saturday, 10 to 2 p.m. for family festivities; 5 p.m. gala

Where: Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center

About: Family festivities, including live entertainment and Santa Claus, with decorated Christmas trees on display; gala and auction take place at 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free; gala costs $40

Contact: 541-548-7483, hospiceofredmond.org

Yes, it’s time to start thinking about getting your Christmas tree decked out for the holiday season.

This year, find inspiration from professional Christmas tree decorators who have been decorating and designing trees for years, all for a good cause.

We spoke with three designers who decorate 7-foot firs for the Festival of Trees. It’s an annual event at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center that benefits Hospice of Redmond — and this year’s event takes place Saturday (see “If you go”).

The Christmas trees are auctioned off, some fetching thousands of dollars, which all goes to benefit the hospice and its Camp Sunrise, a summer camp for grieving children.

Donna and Frank Porfily are a good design team when it comes to the Festival of Trees.

Frank gives his wife the credit for being the brains behind the creativity and design work, while Donna credits her husband for being the brawn and skilled carpenter.

They start planning their Christmas tree designs in the summer, and by July they start making ornaments and sketching out designs.

“We decided to do a country Christmas theme for this tree, in memorial to Frank’s mother, who passed away in 2004, because hospice was so good to her during her declining months,” said Donna.

“We did country, because she raised her family on a farm in Post, so you see there’s a lot of sheep ornaments. She loved her sheep.”

Most tree designers say the hardest part is deciding on a theme and color palette for the tree. If you go with too many themes on a tree, it won’t have a cohesive look. But Donna also stresses there’s nothing wrong with that either and people shouldn’t get stressed out about decorating their trees.

“It should be about fun, and what appeals to your family,” says Donna. “I love the Christmas trees that have the handmade children’s ornaments on them. I make those every year with my own grandchildren, and those can easily be incorporated onto a tree without it looking hodgepodge.”

To go with the country theme, Donna printed out a large country Christmas letter that is framed, and Frank built an easel on which it will stand. The other piece of art to go alongside this tree is a decorated handcrafted juniper tree mailbox, which Frank also built, gathering the wood from his mother’s property.

“For the theme of country Christmas, you must also develop all these things to go around your tree and gifts to put under the tree,” said Donna, explaining the winning bid will not only get the tree, but also all the art and gifts in and around that tree. “First step is to make sure all your lights on the tree are working, and then you start draping and weaving in your ribbons.”

The ribbons give it a high-end designer look, and Donna says it will make it more cohesive. She says texturized wired ribbons are a fairly inexpensive way to add color.

Decorators say you probably want about 100 lights for every vertical foot of tree. The lights will enhance the overall sparkle effect, which looks beautiful in the evening and nighttime hours.

Next you’ll want to hang your larger, usually solid-color ornaments as the backdrop color.

Glass ball ornaments will sparkle with your lights, and can be used on a traditional designed tree or a modern tree.

Traditional trees, like this country-themed tree have red glass ornaments, but for a more contemporary look you could use colors such as bronze, fuchsia or chartreuse.

When going for a traditional look, you’ll want to use solid red, white, silver and gold.

Placement of ornaments is important for that pulled-together look.

Donna says to give your tree more depth, you’ll need to place the larger ornaments, evenly spaced, on the inside branches closer to the trunk.

“Hanging ornaments on the inside of the tree, gives it the added dimensions; you don’t just want ornaments on the outside edges,” said Donna. “Your more valuable, sentimental or detailed smaller ornaments can go on the outside branches.”

By placing the more detailed ornaments on the outside branches, you give these special decorations a showcase branch.

As an example, Donna pointed to one of her handmade angel ornaments that she started making in the summer.

Each of the angels has a round, wooden face, which Donna patiently hand-painted, before dressing each in hand-sewn angel dresses with wings.

“All those angels took Donna about three days to make,” said Frank, clearly proud of his wife’s crafting talents.

Taking the spotlight off of herself, Donna pointed to the top of the tree, where a crocheted angel stands majestically on top.

“My neighbor and friend made the angel toppers; aren’t they beautiful?” asked Donna. “Normally, you put the angel topper on last, but we wanted you to see it. I still have quite a bit of work left to get these other ornaments wired on.”

The country Christmas tree is the Porfilys’ second tree. The couple also decided to do another tree dedicated to a friend and neighbor who passed this year. Donna took a few steps to the tree she started decorating first, which is almost completed.

“I call this tree, ‘Margo got her wings,’” says Donna. “Hospice was also so good to Margo, so naturally we had to do a tree in honor of her, so I found all the things Margo loved in life, and incorporated it in her tree.”

The color palette choice was easy because Margo loved the color rose, and she loved hummingbirds and angels, said Donna.

“We went to the state fair and saw this artist, Lawrence Eichmann, who was glass-blowing ornaments, so we commissioned him to make a dozen hummingbirds for Margo’s tree, and that’s how it started,” said Donna.

To fill the tree, Donna suggested buying floral picks for your tree. She found glittered, rose-colored flowers and bought dozens of these to fill in the spaces, which says was perfect because Margo loved her garden and flowers.

“When we first started doing Margo’s tree, my granddaughter was helping me. And at first she was intimidated to work on it, but I told her how to put the ornaments on and how to arrange it, by spacing them,” said Donna. “Don’t get too organized, though, about where you’re putting everything. If it stresses you out, take a step back, and you’ll see where you need to fill in.”

White Wonderland

Carol Rank has been decorating trees for nine years. She plans each tree at least one or two years in advance.

She likes to plan early because she’s often able to buy ornaments and the tree at half price the day after Christmas.

This year she’s doing an all white Christmas tree, which will highlight her bronze ornaments, which gives this tree a more contemporary look.

“I’m calling this tree the ‘Bronze Beauty,’ and it’s in memory of my brother-in-law, who passed away this year,” says Carol. “In memory of him, the bronze color also happens to be the color of beer, and he was a connoisseur of fine beers from around the world.”

Local brewers in Central Oregon donated beer for this hospice tree. Carol was surprised at the overwhelming response she got from local breweries that happily donated bottles of beer and growler fills.

Even though she wasn’t finished decorating her tree, the boxes and piles of beer and growlers around the base already made the tree look festive.

“I still need to put the ribbons on and more ornaments,” said Carol. “I decided, because the tree is all white, we needed a little more color than just the bronze, so we’re using subtle highlights of blue with the glitter-frosted branch picks.”

Carol started donating a tree to the hospice auction when one of the students at Terrebonne Elementary School, where she works, was diagnosed with cancer.

“I did a NASCAR tree, because he loved car racing,” said Carol. “NASCAR even donated some items to go underneath the tree for us, and Make-A-Wish Foundation sent him and his family to one of the NASCAR races.”

Carol showed a snapshot of the student standing next to the NASCAR tree and said, “After I did this tree, I knew I wanted to do more trees. (He) passed away two months later.”

Carol said picking a theme for these trees isn’t too difficult because she tries to gear it to the person she is honoring, considering the person’s personality and what he or she enjoyed.

“I’ve done a tropical, Hawaiian-themed tree, a pink lady-themed tree, a grandma’s garden tree, a Santa’s workshop tree — there are so many themes you can go with, and I just love doing this for the Hospice of Redmond,” said Carol. “If you don’t know what you want to do with your tree, you should come down to the auction and just see the 30 or more trees on display to get some ideas.”

Of course, if you don’t want to decorate your own tree at all, the designer-decorated trees will all be auctioned off during the Festival of Trees, and if you place the winning bid, the tree is already decorated and will be delivered free of charge to your home, along with all the presents underneath that tree. Who says Santa Claus can’t come early?

— Reporter: pnakamura@bendbulletin.com