However the tragically hip twentysomething Portlander might identify his or her interior design aesthetic—shabby chic, modernist minimalist, midcentury ironic—those studio apartment walls begin to look a bit naked and lonely come the cold snap. In a season that unequivocally embraces kitsch, your average urbanite might find herself struck down with something approaching grief (closely resembling seasonal affective disorder, intimately tied in with the winter solstice).
Or maybe I'm just projecting.
My family is 940 miles away as the Google Map flies, and the familiar trappings of my Christmases—including a well-loved froggie puppet in Santa hat, affectionately and inexplicably known as "Freddie" who has served as tree topper since the Reagan administration—aren't making the trip up.
It was time to mark my own territory for the yuletide, keeping in mind the restrictions that come with always being broke (and with due respect to the limited storage afforded by my 475-square-foot apartment). After a few trips to the big boxes and locally owned mom-and-pops alike, I found that $30 is a small fortune when you're looking to deck out your digs, and that December decor needn't be put away in a hungover fog on the first of January.
ELECTRIC LIGHT PARADE FOR ONE
Thirty-inch standing buck light sculpture ($14.96), a pair of 2-foot mini spiral tree lighted yard sculptures ($6.94 each).
Origin: Wal-Mart (4200 SE 82nd Ave., 788-0500) . Low prices at the considerable cost of undermining the American economy, small town by small town via questionable business practices: granted. But Christmas is not the time to deny your heritage.
Justified by: The warm glow only an electric stag can provide when flanked by two luminous shrubs.
Installation: A snap, although decidedly graphic printed directions were included, with instructions to "open the deer's back" and "pull out the head."
Seen to best advantage: In "Winter Wonderland" arrangement next to the sofa, with all the lights turned off.
Overall effect: Enchanting, to be perfectly honest.
Says: "Come sit a little closer to me, darling, and let's celebrate the plans that we made." Alternately: You probably come from the suburbs.
Sustainability: Limited only by your willingness to have arctic fauna on display in your home year-round.
Suggested uses: Resurrecting the "earring tree" popular in the early '90s, or hanging those neckties in style.
Goes well with: An AstroTurf area rug.
Bonus Hanukkah tie-in: Lights. Margot Lurie, a dear friend who holds a master's from the Harvard School of Divinity, explains: "It's the Festival of Lights. We have to light the menorah, but there's nothing that says we can't add to the light and festivity by having more around—if it's joyful, sustainable."
A VERY ISIG CHRISTMAS
From the Isig line, a 64-piece collection of gilt ornaments that bear a passing resemblance to glass baubles, and gaudy garland ($6.99).
Origin: IKEA (10280 NE Cascades Parkway, 282-4532) . Prices comparable to Wal-Mart, but any fleeting discomfort as to how a high-quality bath mat could possibly cost less than $12 is overshadowed by the more palatable imprint of streamlined Swedish innovation. Happy holidays!
Justified by: The basic (and base) human attraction to shiny objects.
Installation: Easy and everywhere. String from molding, exposed rebar, hanging light fixtures and the antlers of 30-inch standing buck light sculptures. And should the spirit of the season overtake you in violent and unexpected ways, there is some comfort in knowing the sparkling trinkets are (IKEA assures) durable, and will not break when dropped or bounced from wall to wall.
Seen to best advantage: Lining the perimeter of your living room.
Overall effect: Mildly blinding, but still delightful.
Says: "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual."
Sustainability points: Low, unless an assemblage of mass-produced tchotchkes inspires your inner installation artist.
Goes well with: The Isig linen/cotton blend stocking, the Isig candelabrum (which bears a passing resemblance to a menorah), the Isig line of candles...
BRISTLING AT THE HOLIDAYS
One-foot-tall "White Christmas"-inspired mini tree made from broom bristles ($22), accompanied by assorted bristle woodland creature tree ornaments (choose from donkey, zebra, fox or rooster, $9 each) or a stainless steel mini tree ornament for a cannibalistic tree-on-tree effect ($9).
Origin: Cargo (380 NW 13th Ave., 209-8349) , a locally owned clearinghouse for home arts, a World Market with a worldlier feel.
Justified by: The gaping hole left in your floor plan (and heart) when your budget does not allow for an in-home Douglas fir.
Seen to best advantage: As an interpretation of, rather than a replacement for, the iconic holiday shrub. Clear out the corner where you would normally situate the tree, were you able to afford one, and set the mini atop a lone wrapped present.
Overall effect: Comes across as miniature shrine to holiday gods and a sparse statement on man's need for ritual.
Says: "I never stopped caring."
Sustainability points: Through the roof. The tree itself has already been reincarnated from a household object, and, if you're hell bent on continued use throughout the year, it can be retired to the utility closet and returned to its humble origins.
Goes well with: Other "mixed-use" decor, like the infamous "plastic baggie and wire hanger" homemade wreaths ubiquitous in grade schools throughout the country.
Hanukkah tie-in: The Hanukkah bush exists, Margot assures me, although it is "the Christmas tree's redheaded stepchild, designed to let young Jewish children 'participate.'" Margot would not sign off on my argument that a refurbished broom head qualified as a "Hanukkah Bush," however, and had her doubts as to the validity of Hanukkah bushes in general. I defer to her judgment.
FOR HOME AND HEARTH
Kitchen accoutrements and party favors. Plaid cloth napkins in greens and reds, pot holders bearing the ominous smile of Frosty the Snowman, an assortment of stockings, surge-edged table runners in seasonal gold and mauve and the requisite Santa hat. (Needless to say, $1 each). Also: tapered candlesticks in red, green and white.
Origin: Dollar Scholar (3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 235-2222) , the homey discount store on Hawthorne that encourages play while shopping.
Justified by: the tremendous amount of good $15 will do for your seasonless kitchen.
Installation: Effortless. The biggest challenge is figuring out which of your appliances (and lamps) is most deserving of the velvet St. Nick hat.
Seen to best advantage: By admiring friends and neighbors, when stopping by for a strong cup of nog.
Overall effect: Heartwarming.
Says: "I can't believe airfare is so prohibitively expensive," but also, "To hell with It's a Wonderful Life . Do they still show that stop-motion flick with the Abominable Snowman?"
Sustainability points: High. All practical items being equal, there is no need to cycle out kitchen accents once the holidays are through.
Goes well with: A call home to mom.
Hanukkah tie-in: Says Margot: "Well, it's a holiday originating in Greece. Why not celebrate the defeat of the Seleucids by appropriating their cuisine? Not really a decoration, but it sure would be fantastic to have a plate of dolmas (even, or especially, the ones from Trader Joe's) with the traditional latkes." Exactly. And what better way to serve dolmas than atop a plaid napkin?
ROCKY MOUNTAIN MAJESTY
Inflatable moose head.
Origin: Greg's (3707 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 235-1257) , a Hawthorne shop of small wonders and curiosities.
Justified by: That Oregon-bred passion for the outdoors, and a distinctively Portland sense of humor.
Installation: Easy. A steady pair of lungs and a single thumbtack, and you've suddenly made your abode into a comfy hangout that smacks of ski lodge chic. You are also paying gentle homage to one of the Pacific Northwest's most regal creatures.
Seen to best advantage: Mounted on the wall opposite your front door, for maximum visibility.
Says: "I just really like the cold, to be honest."
Sustainability points: Off the charts. There is no need to ever remove an inflatable moose head from your living room, and you've just tripled the hanging capacity of your wall. And you are at the very least making a pointed statement to the National Rifle Association about the senselessness of sports killings in an age of plastics.
Goes well with: A $1 Santa hat or Feel Good Paper Tinsel ($7), recycled strings of typing paper that playfully suggest "sparkle" in large black letters, rather than depending on toxins for twinkle.