Halloween doesn't scare Melanie Brzozowski into a fit of random decorating. She treats the holiday with the approach she takes to other seasonal events.
Two weeks ago, Brzozowski switched out the blue seascape decor from the warmer summer months in favor of a little black magic perfect for October's spooky vibe.
"It's not so much about the gore. It's embracing a great holiday," said Brzozowski, the event design consultant for Chef's Expressions. "I am like a mad scientist with my Halloween entertaining: I add a cup of funky, a spoonful of elegance and a pinch of sparkle — always have to have sparkle — to get the proper balance with my decor, events and menus."
Even though Halloween is usually associated with over-the-top kitsch and gore, it doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice good taste. Local designers and event planners say that with a little thought, a tasteful, high-end Halloween can be within reach.
Brzozowski strives for an upscale appearance without spending exorbitantly, which is why she shops at Michaels and Target. She also goes to Pinterest for some ideas, but mostly dreams up ways to incorporate her decorations on her own.
"Entertaining is an art and should be treated as such," she said. "Even with the 'fun' holidays, like Halloween, you should still use the proper silverware, glassware, real linens, etc. If you are going to do something, you do it right."
Carmen Brock, owner of Trohv, a home furnishings store in Hampden, prefers a subtle approach.
In past years, she's filled her home with various knickknacks and stylized figurines. Now, she fills her two stores with them. She reserves her at-home decorating to the exterior of her Charles Village rowhouse. This year, Brock scattered white pumpkins along the porch and staircase of her home.
She suggests that customers decorate spaces such as mantels in a less flashy manner, perhaps skipping the traditional orange and black in favor of texture and nature.
"Do not over clutter with a lot of pieces," she said. "It's good to keep it simple and monochromatic. Throw in something organic — from nature like driftwood colored sticks and dried leaves. Stay within that palette. Add some coziness and sophistication. And incorporate some other textures: burlap and dyed canvas."
She also recommends purchasing fancy figurines like the ones designed by Bethany Lowe, which are sold at her store.
"They are a great mixture of fun and creepy," she said. "They have this mysterious and spooky, almost off-limits element about them. But I think they are balanced really well. There is something sweet and charming to them."
Unlike less expensive, disposable decorations, the figurines, which range in price from $24 to $48, can be heirloom pieces and used year after year.
"They're really popular," she said. "We've sold out of the really small ones."
Philip Smith, a design consultant at The House Downtown, thinks that small touches using minimal materials can make a big impact during Halloween.
"Hang a single hanging light bulb from your front porch," he said."Give it an eerie, neglected look."
Glamorize the typical white sheet ghost silhouette by using tulle. "If you have a little girl, use pink tulle," he said.
Smith arranges Halloween figurines or small pumpkins along a table or mantel. He also anchors tablescapes with "really cool" topiary jars. Fill the jars with small gourds or candy corns. The more tiers and layers, the better, he said.
"If you're not crafty, simplicity is very good," he said.
Smith also suggests decorating a chalkboard in seasonal designs for an additional piece of art. In his home, he decorated his chalkboard with a "spooky" picture of his home surrounded by bats.
"It sounds kitschy, but it's really nice," he said.
And for those ambitious do-it-yourselfers, Smith suggests creating a wall piece by alternating luxurious fabrics in black and orange.
At Brzozowski's 2,000-square-foot Middle River apartment, the magic starts at the front door. Her entrance is adorned with a black-and-orange wreath and "Happy Halloween" sign. The patio is filled with goldenrod and mums in colors of eggplant and burnt orange from Richardson Farms on Ebenezer Road.
"I set the tone as soon as you get to the door," Brzozowski said, adding that she strives to give each room a distinct feel.
Brzozowski has loaded her living room with sparkly pumpkins. She's also filled vases with items such as plastic skulls and glass ghosts to give them a different look. She crowns each vase with pillar candles.
The dining room has a "black widow" theme. The table is adorned with a black spider web tablecloth, silver-and-black runner with spider web lacing, and black roses centerpiece.
"There's lots of sparkle," she said. "Everything goes together."
In the bathroom, Brzozowski uses a black shower curtain and hand-tied cloth banner to give it a "fun, crafty Pottery Barn look," she said.
She uses black cheesecloth in the dining room instead of curtains. "It looks much better than it sounds," she said with a laugh. "I place little purple spiders on it. It looks nice."
Even the kitchen's dishwasher is adorned with festive window clings.
"I make sure each room is different, but the overall house goes together — it's the transition from room to room that builds excitement," Brzozowski said. "I love to have items that complement each other, not that match. It is more appealing to the eye to look at a room of things that go together, in different ways, than a room that has all things matching."
Most importantly, you should keep yourself in mind when decorating your home, according to Brzozowski.
"Remember that you will be the one looking at it the most, so surround yourself with things that make you smile or that remind you of your childhood," she said.
Melanie Brzozowski, event design consultant for Chef's Expressions, advises setting the tone with invitations, preferably on paper. "There is a joy that overcomes me when I open the mail and there is a nice paper invitation; already I want to go to the event because I feel the host has put time and energy into it," she says.
"Make sure your menu fits the time frame of the event," Brzozowski says. "If you are hosting a party that starts at 5 p.m., serve enough food so it is equivalent to dinner. You can still do a cocktail-style reception during this time, but you have to go heavy on the hors d' oeuvres so you satisfy your guests. You never want guests to leave hungry. If you want to do a lighter meal, then opt for a later start time and serve wine, cheese and some desserts."
Carmen Brock, owner of Trohv, says the best way to incorporate that Halloween feel is through homemade treats. "Use orange frosting for a chocolate cake," she says. "You don't have to do a million things. Take one item and put a Halloween twist on it. It will also photograph well."