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Decorating: leaving it to the experts

Two couples discuss what it takes to surpass, blind the Joneses


Dedicated downtown Christmas decorators Joan and John Knull, inside their one storage box teeming with display items. - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Photo by Brienne Boortz
  • Dedicated downtown Christmas decorators Joan and John Knull, inside their one storage box teeming with display items.

I put up a tree and string a few lights, but when it comes to the holiday season, I'm a bit inept and a tad lazy. Which has made me wonder: What makes these industrial-strength interior and exterior holiday decorators tick? And how do they manage it all?

I didn't have to look far for answers. Each year, our friends Dutch and Joan Schulz transform the interior of their lovely Cascade Avenue home into a holiday wonderland. I always marvel at the painstakingly arranged Christmas scenes throughout the house.

Finding the Schulzes' exterior doppelgangers those who create outrageously memorable outdoor holiday displays was my next step. When asked, almost every person, regardless of where they lived in the city, pointed me to Dale Street.

After driving around for a while one afternoon, I stopped to ask a gentleman standing on his porch, cigar in hand, if he might know of the house.

"Yep, it's this one."

After a brief introduction, John Knull and his wife Joan agreed to speak with me about their Christmas craziness.

Here's how the two profiles stack up:

John and Joan Knull

Married: 39 years

Decorating since: Late '60s, "best we can remember."

What started it all: A 1945 Santa sleigh with three reindeer, made and handed down by John's father.

Claim to fame: Animated lawn displays, ski slopes, Santa's workshop with elves, an ice rink and a life-sized nativity scene.

Little-known fact: John Knull, a retired machinist and welder, has hand-crafted each display. His latest work, a train complete with coal car and caboose, took a full year to create. This year, he and Joan plan to animate it.

Decorating start date: First week of November.

Time to assemble: 50 hours, excluding the time it takes to inspect thousands of lights prior to mounting.

Musical presence: Two different kinds of Christmas music playing in the front and back of house.

Memorable mishap: Joan, for a moment, electrified the fence while stringing lights.

Notable quote: "One we call it a garage," when asked how many boxes they use.

Small concession: Waiting behind the cars of those who come to see the display, before being able to pull into their driveway.

Dutch and Joan Schulz

Married: 27 years

What started it all: A 2-by-2-foot David Winter Christmas Village, which now extends over the entire piano and onto a table.

Claim to fame: A 20-foot Christmas tree featuring thousands of ornaments and family mementos, including dog tags of pets lost.

Storing Christmas: In a 12-by-8-by-7-foot space in the basement, hundreds of perfectly labeled and stacked boxes. Says Joan: "I know where everything goes."

Decorating start date: First week of November.

Time to assemble: The tree alone takes 40 hours to decorate, not to mention hauling boxes from the basement.

Musical presence: Joan adores Christmas music, so Dutch has to restrict her listening.

Entertainment: When the daughters of friends complained about missing out on seeing the decorations, Joan started hosting an annual mother-daughter tea.

Memorable mishap: Dutch falling out of the front-yard tree, while stringing lights.

Small concession: After nearly killing themselves in thigh-high snow searching for the perfect tree (and also having one pollinate in the house), they went artificial.

As I figured, achieving a monumental display isn't just about possessing a passion for the season. Creating this much Christmas cheer takes patience, a lot of hard work and extreme organization skills traits not all of us possess.

So the next time I pass a house that is a personality-exposing, tiara-wearing, look-at-me showpiece, I'll think of the Knulls and the Schulzes and toast their whimsical, humorous spirit, in all its fantastic, electricity-sucking eccentricity.

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