Home sweet home: Artists give Santa’s house in Milford ‘a little extra Christmas magic’

Santa Claus portrayed by Joe Phillips sits in the newly decorated Santa house in Milford. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Local artists brought their magic to downtown Milford this holiday season one simple task at a time, giving the Santa House a new spark.

“The Santa House sort of fell into the design committee’s lap through Downtown Milford, Inc. for various reasons. We decided since it was kind of a sad, sterile Santa House in there, it needed a little extra Christmas magic,” artist Nadia Zychal said.

That magic came from the hands of the volunteer-run design committee as they painted and decorated the Santa House, right down to the very hooks Elf outfits hang on between shifts.

“I walked into the space and it kind of designed itself. It was magical, Christmas-y… I had time, paint is cheap and I wanted to give something to the community. If you want good things to happen, you have to do good things,” Ms. Zychal said.

Through her business, Nadia Zychal, Decorative Painting & Art, she provides a variety of professional artistic services. But this project, which included murals for the walls and other painting, was done for free as her gift to the children in the area, much like the other committee members.

Jan Broulik and Joey Phillips, owners of Causey Mansion Bed & Breakfast in downtown Milford, pitched in with furnishings found at other local businesses which they then refinished and, in some cases, hand painted. Mr. Phillips also handcrafted brand new outfits perfect for Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Christmas knick-knacks on a shelf in the newly decorated Santa house in Milford.

Les Progar of Progar Accounting pitched in garland for the railings and wreaths for the doors. Not Too Shabby offered a sled now attached to the front railing. Marcia Reed and David Pickrell of Gallery 37: A Destination for Artful Living took on more outside decorations, window boxes and bows. Ms. Reed also painted the chair for children who might not be comfortable sitting on Santa’s lap.
Sherwin Williams even gave the artists “a big discount,” according to Ms. Zychal, to help their endeavor.

“And Nina [Pletcher], well, she kind of runs the whole show,” Mr. Broulik said.

The dedicated group had three weeks to pull it together before Santa, Mrs. Claus and their Elves arrived to start seeing children on Small Business Saturday.

“We were on it the day we got the key,” Ms. Zychal said.

The transformation

She said the inside of the Santa House was “drab.” The walls were cream, and vacant. A small fireplace seemed to help the wintertime vibe as a train rode around the ceiling helping to create an illusion of being inside the top toy maker’s office.

A table decorated for the holiday offered space for Mrs. Claus to put her photography supplies, so each child could go home with a photo of themselves during the visit.

A red bench could be found for visitors between the front and back doors.

If change was going to happen, the group decided they needed to transform the small space into a new experience.

“I had leftover canvas from a project I did. I had enough to do a nice size something, but I decided a theatre background in a space that small would not be very convincing,” Ms. Zychal said. “It had to look like Grandma’s house, kind of cozy. So, I thought, what would Santa like in this space? That’s when the 12 days of Christmas came into my head.”

Two of the three hand painted panels in the newly decorated Santa house in Milford.

Now, intricate paintings of the three French hens and a partridge in a pear tree, among other scenes in the theme, decorate what used to be simple, cream walls.

Mr. Broulik and Mr. Phillips painted the walls a calm golden color. They also painted the doors.

The paintings by Ms. Zychal were done separately and can be taken down once Santa and Mrs. Claus return to the North Pole after the holiday season, so the ice cream shop can resume servicing the area from inside the house.

She also painted the ceiling blue-teal with wispy stars, encouraging the children to dream as high as the skies will take them.

“When the theme came out, Joey didn’t want bright red or bright green. We toned the colors down to a wine red and darker green. We wanted it to be a little more adult,” Mr. Broulik said.

The furniture was changed, too, to continue creating the feel of Grandma’s house from inside the small building. Lighting, which consisted of four floodlights before the artists took to the building, were also changed to bring about a different feel.

“There’s a little more mystery when it’s not too bright,” Mr. Broulik added.

“It was just such a nice group thing to do,” Ms. Reed said. “Nina guided us through a visit and would tell us it was important how the flow of people moving through the space went, she knew the whole process. She knew that some things really were important to keep and decorate.”

Ms. Reed said everyone came together, all doing smaller things that helped the large project stay manageable.

“I did the little baby Santa chair. I painted a gingerbread on that chair. And you know, that’s an important chair for the kids who don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap. I think what Nadia did was spectacular. There’s a string of lights, too. And Jan… it’s just a team thing,” she said. “Everybody supported each other. We just wanted it to look cozier.”

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