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by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Dec 19, 2011

If you're looking for a prescription for holiday cheer, the doctor is in! When it comes to festive decorating, L.A.'s best-kept secret is Bob Pranga-aka Dr. Christmas-and he's ready to share with you some tips that keep celebrity clients like Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, and Diane Keaton coming back for holiday happiness year after year.

"You'll find that celebrities are really no different than anyone else. They are more traditional than you think they are," said Pranga. "They like to recreate their childhood, and most are not born to the mantle. So there is just a family feel to many things. Many celebrities want something specific for a Hollywood party or special event. So I try to figure out what they're decorating for. Barbra wanted a Hanukah display and all this other stuff; I can pretty much do anything."

In 1984 Pranga was an aspiring New York actor working in the Christmas department at Macy's when actress Mia Farrow walked by and said, "I wish someone would do that for me."

"I'll come to your house and decorate!" said Pranga. He teamed up with longtime friend and business manager Debi Staron and after a successful stint decorating for New York celebs, he relocated to Los Angeles to work for the Hiltons. Now, he decorates for the stars, and occasionally, for high-end hotels, parties, and the sets of Hollywood movies.

His career has provided him with the opportunity to meet many fascinating people, including Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Kate Hudson, Heidi Klum, Jaclyn Smith, and Billy Bob Thornton. He has decorated for institutions including the Beverly Hilton, Hollywood Museum, Tiffany & Co., Macy's, MGM, and Walt Disney Studios.

But don't ask Pranga to play favorites; he says, "Everyone always ask me who is the most difficult person to work with. I tell them, 'I am!'" But he admits that among his favorite clients are the Hiltons, who helped get him started, and talk show host Leeza Gibbons.

"Leeza's family celebrates everything, so she wanted a multicultural theme," said Pranga. "The white dining room was a way to decorate neutrally so that everyone was represented and no one was overpowered. I find in businesses that everyone wants to do a winter wonderland theme, because it doesn't step on anyone's toes."

Pranga doesn't understand the need for contention during the holidays: Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, they're all celebrations. "I don't see why people get insulted if someone wishes them a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah," said Pranga. "It's not a bad thing!"

Top Tips for Fabulous Holiday Decorating

Americans celebrate Christmas more comprehensively than any other country, and we are fond of creating new legends. But while high-end parties demand an elaborate, over-the-top display, Pranga said that when it comes to home decorating, it's best to stick to the basics. By starting with a strong foundation and focusing on a few key accents, decorating can be fun, fabulous and easy.

"I always say to start with a good attitude about it, because this is supposed to be fun. If you don't enjoy it, why are you doing it? Call me instead!" said Pranga. "Aside from that, give yourself enough time. Everyone is so rushed; if you are rushing through this, it becomes a chore. I started my career wanting to get people their time back so they could enjoy the holidays."

First, decide whether your tree will be real or artificial. If it is real, consider safety. Don't place your tree to close to a fireplace or heater, or even a sunny window: the heat will dry it out and create a fire hazard.

And think about your supplies: did you get the things you run out of? "People tend to forget ornaments, extension cords, new lights, something to put beneath the tree to protect the floor -- all the stuff that when you're getting in the groove, you then realize you have to run to the store for," said Pranga.

Pranga said that decorating works best if you plan it out and think about what you really want to do this year. "If you want to put up decorations you already have, then God bless," said Pranga. "But if you are going to trick it out, it's all about organization."

"If you have a tree full of red ornaments and then you put a picture of Judy Garland on it, it becomes a Judy Garland tree," said Bob Pranga. "One larger piece changes things dramatically."

When it comes to decorating, Pranga admits that everyone wants a traditional Hollywood Christmas: snow, carols, and all the stuff that goes with it. Even in California, where it doesn't snow, people are looking for a white Christmas, รก la Bing Crosby. To capture that vintage look, check Christmas movies from the '40s for decorating tips.

"I love when we call it vintage, because what that means is it's basically from our childhood," said Pranga. "Christmas is always about the past, so people are trying to recreate the past in the present. There are always elements of our childhood that show up."

That vintage look demands big, colored Christmas lights. Pranga said that during World War II, people stopped importing lights from Germany, and instead, General Electric began making "Shiny Bright" Christmas lights and decorations. The big bulbs quickly overheated, proving a fire hazard. These days, you can get new ones that look like Shiny Brights, but have cool-burning bulbs.

"People got carried away in the '90s with overdesigned trees, but now, what we grew up with is our authentic look," said Pranga. "So go to the flea markets, antique sales, into Grandma's attic, and look for these pre-war or post-war ornaments. The new technology then was plastic, so you'll see a lot of that. If you're looking for vintage, you'll know it when you see it."

A Very Au Courant Christmas

Because Pranga's clients have a public image to present, he doesn't tend to create anything too outlandish for them. He saves those designs for special events like those at the Hollywood Museum, where he once put a mannequin in a Christmas tree.

"You can do that in public places, but a person's home Christmas tree is seldom like that," said Pranga. "Even my gay clients are pretty conservative and upscale. There is a sense of style and design, but for the most part it is very classic. I don't get very many requests for the 'La Cage Aux Folles' treatment, very over the top. That's not to say that I'm not going to walk into a gay man's home somewhere and find a fabulous feather and peacock tree, but I haven't encountered that yet."

As with everything else, people tend to follow fashion. Pranga points out that whatever colors and styles are popular in fashion tend to show up in decorations, as the Christmas industry often buys the materials left over from producing clothing.

White House residents matter too, said Pranga. When a Republican is in office, decorations tend to be more conservative. When a Democrat is running the show, the holidays tend to be more sparkling and trendy.

Regardless, the best way to make your holiday decorations turn heads is to go big and bold.

"A common mistake most people make with a tree is to get more little things. But the key is to find larger pieces that actually create a statement," said Pranga. "If you have a tree full of red ornaments and then you all of sudden put a picture of Judy Garland on it, it becomes a Judy Garland tree. One larger piece changes things dramatically. Adding ribbons and changing things out from year to year can be helpful. I tell people to keep their base colors silver and gold, and you can change the accent pieces every year without much cost."

When it comes to his own tree, Pranga loves colored lights, and said, "My Christmas tree looks like it's from the '60s; it's not like the work I usually do for others. But you don't have to be limited to multicolored or clear lights. You can mix and match, and get very creative. It's a personal choice."

A general rule of thumb, advises Pranga, is to make sure your decorations match your home. "If you've got a mid-century, contemporary house with very clean, industrial, sharp lines, you can get away with a vintage silver or aluminum tree. But placing something so kitschy in a Victorian or Craftsman home may look funny.

"Similarly, you shouldn't put an old-fashioned, country-style tree in a modern home. It may be jarring," said Pranga. "But then again, if that's what you like, go for it. It's your Christmas tree, so do what you like!"

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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