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“If you love this series, then season two is going to blow your mind,” says Simon Doonan, the ex-window dresser, author and a judge on NBC’s Making It, which kicks off its sophomore outing on Monday. Along with hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman and fellow judge Dayna Isom Johnson, Doonan will be seen in a special holiday run of the competition devoted to all things crafty, airing every weeknight for the next two weeks. “The contestants are even more outrageous and interesting. And it’s coming at the perfect time if you’re looking for gifts or decor ideas,” he says over the phone from his home in New York.
Doonan was taking a breather after a recent swing through Los Angeles for the 50th anniversary of Maxfield, the iconic retailer where he started dressing windows in the late 1970s, fresh from England, before a long career at the soon-to-be-shuttered Barneys New York, where he was most recently creative ambassador-at-large. (Of the bankruptcy, he’s sanguine: “It’s really no one’s fault. Everyone wanted the best for Barneys.”)
But, happy to turn to the holidays, Doonan says, “Over the years, I’ve done it all. So, there’s just about nothing I haven’t incorporated into a holiday décor. Not just with gifts and objects, but also with crafting,” (giving it the British pronunciation “crahfting”). For American audiences, he says, “I had to learn to say ‘craaafting.'”
Doonan’s trademark in window displays over the years was using what he calls “hokey” materials to create vistas that contrasted with the expensive designer clothes within. He brings some of that same DIY dash to Christmas decorations.
“Making big holiday wreaths out of copper pot scrubbers, for instance, that was my way of approaching everything,” he says. It turns out that Doonan is quite enraptured with the little metallic wire puffs: “Copper pot scrubbers are very inexpensive and the great thing about them is you can hang them on the front door and they reflect car headlights, so you don’t have to wire the wreath. You don’t need lights around it. You can also mix silver and copper ones together and they make a great garland, or you could just hang millions of them on your tree to give it texture and warmth.”
He further advises, “Take any mundane household objects and use it in a clever way. Like, one year, we got boxes and boxes and boxes of rusty old keys and we used them as a decoration for garlands. Any time you’re re-contextualizing found objects or household objects, people love that. That’s the thing that really got people stopping in front of Barneys windows — ‘Oh, look, this entire tree is made from old scratched CDs.'”
When it comes to the holiday tree, Doonan’s edict is “treat your décor as personal expression.” “There’s a million ways to trim the tree. Why not trim it in a way which which reflects your personal worldview, your tastes, your particular interests?” He adds, “I myself, I love birds. I’m always bird-watching, I have binoculars right by the window. So, cover your tree with bird motifs — and this could be something as simple as little color postcards of a particular bird which you simply attach to a branch with ‘roach clips.’ Or one time I did a Warhol tree, with millions of postcards of the art and it looked really great. You can do that with your favorite artist.”
Doonan recalls another idea from working with the White House. During the first Christmas of the Obama administration, they sent ball ornaments across the country to community centers for people to decoupage with symbols of each state, like peaches for Georgia or palm trees for Florida, for the tree in the Blue Room.
“You can take your old Christmas balls that maybe you’re a bit bored with and get the kids involved and decoupage them with Mod Podge, which is a great product, and tear pictures out of old magazines and make them into something personal and interesting,” Doonan says. “If you’re a collage queen or a decoupage diva, you can make people gifts out of unusual objects, or usual objects. If your friend loves Doris Day, maybe you could get a little table and decoupage pictures of Doris Day all over it, or Kim Kardashian. People love things like that because you’ve put a lot of effort into it and thought about who’s receiving it.”
The great thing about crafting, he adds, is that there are no rules. “The whole point of crafting is it you enjoy the process, right? Even though I’m an expert judge, I do have a philosophy of no judgments, which I know it’s a paradox. We just want to inspire people; it’s a Clarion call to fire up the glue gun,” Doonan says. “And crafting is great refuge from the cacophony of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Crafting gets you away from it few hours.”
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