Deck the halls: 2 Dubuque home decor locations with women at the helm share their holiday decorating tips

Christmas decorations and other holiday products make up the ambiance at Ooh La La in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Christmas decorations and other fine holiday products at Ooh La La in Dubuque, Iowa PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Among the decor are ornaments, wreaths, garlands and other holiday trinkets for the home. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Kris Gorton is the owner and designer behind Living on Main in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Cathi Olson. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Dan Soat is a design consultant for Creative Touch Gallery and Ooh La La in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Dan Soat tweaks a holiday garland design Ooh La La in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Jane Kaesbauer is a design consultant for Ooh La La in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Jane Kaesbauer makes adjustments to one of Ooh La La’s displays. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Carole Borel is a design consultant for Ooh La La in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Carole Borel works on festive floral arrangement for Christmas. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

They say there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Cathi Olson and her team at Ooh La La and Creative Touch Gallery would concur.

Beginning in November, the paired Dubuque home decor and art and framing shops began the task of prepping tri-state homes for the holidays. Additionally, Ooh La La began its transformation into a winter wonderland in October for its annual Christmas open house.

“This year, because of COVID, customers were only allowed in small numbers and could only spend an hour at a time in the shop,” Olson said. “Usually, we host the open house for one evening, and everyone comes at once, but we spread it over several days this year. Customers loved it, and it was very safe. People just enjoy coming in and seeing the lights.”

Olson, who manages Ooh La La and has worked for the shop since it opened 27 years ago as an

offshoot of Creative Touch Gallery, said that while the stores are open year-round, it’s the holiday season that steps up the pace.

It’s a tradition for the shops and for the Dubuque community, Olson said.

Creative Touch Gallery opened its doors in 1978. In 1993, Ooh La La followed.

“My parents felt the need for a home decor store,” Olson said. “The gallery was already open, so they felt thought it could go along with that.”

Since then, the shop has gone from helping customers pick out paint colors to selling art, furniture, lamps, clocks and more.

“It a full-service shop for every season,” Olson said. “And it has been a great partnership with the gallery.”

During the holiday season, the focus shifts from vases and florals to wreaths, garlands and other festive decor, with the locations’ eight staffers — each with lenghty tenures — playing a unique role.

“Every year that we decorate, if anyone needs something, we call on each other,” said Dan Soat, who has worked for the businesses for 21 years and specializes in making wreaths, garlands and tree toppers, in addition to designing and building frames for the gallery. “We all really work well together.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jane Kaesbauer, who has focused her efforts on Ooh La La for 24 years as a decorator, display designer and assisting with sales, shipping and in other areas.

Her husband, Mike Kaesbauer, owns the locations.

“We actually started as a kitchen store, then over the years, we evolved,” Jane Kaesbauer said. “We’ve been able to work with customers virtually, where we exchange pictures, and they can pick up what we create for them. We also ship. People can stop in the store. It’s a place that customers can go to get everything, all at once.”

That comes in handy for the holidays, when called to visit homes. Staffers have erected such merriment as 12-foot Christmas trees, multiple Christmas trees and lavish archway garlands, in addition to bringing in a touch of the season to homes even outside of the Dubuque area.

“We decorate a variety of homes, based on the person’s wants, and many of our clients are like family that we have worked with over the years,” said Carole Borel, who started at the gallery before decorating homes and designing florals. She has worked for the businesses for 28 years. “Everyone here also is known for having very different tastes, and no one is afraid to share their opinion.”

Olson said that she and staff have noticed a marked increase in customers decking the halls a little earlier this year and with a lot more decorations.

“I think that people are needing joy right now,” Olson said. “The tradition of Christmas decorating started a long time ago, when people would go out, cut down a tree and create handmade ornaments. There is something about decorating that makes us think of our loved ones. And this year, with so many spending so much more time at home, we have needed it more than ever.”

For those looking to spruce up their holiday surroundings this year, pops of black, white and red colors are all the rage.

Ooh La La also boasts a lot of inspiration to get the creative juices flowing. Additionally, the shop will take in existing decorations, such as wreaths and garlands, and give them new life.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at what you already have and thinking of how you can change it up to make it a little different this year, or seeing where else you can put something that’s different from other years,” Soat said.

“People walk around their homes and are so happy and excited,” Olson added of working with customers. “And it makes all of us happy to be able to do that for them.”

Living on Main

Another Dubuque-based home decor store, Living on Main, also is decked out for the holidays.

Kris Gorton, who has owned the Main Street shop for the past seven years, brings her professional touch to the table for her Christmas-inspired creations, working as a display designer for Marshall Fields in Minneapolis before moving on to residential work.

Her husband’s job relocated the couple and their two daughters to Dubuque.

“It’s the coolest job,” Gorton said. “I went from creating these huge displays to bringing joy into people’s homes. It’s such a pleasure.”

For the holiday season, she suggested keeping your design taste in mind when decorating.

“It’s always good for people to have a sense of who they are and what their style is,” Gorton said. “Flip through a magazine. Even notice your clothing choices and how they reflect who you are. All of that will influence how you decorate.”

Gorton said Living on Main caters toward a cleaner and more modern aesthetic, with a “less is more” approach — something she believes can be implemented in even the most ornate of homes.

“Cutting down clutter and making intentional design choices offers a simpler way to live,” she said. “This can be applied equally to holiday decor. If you have a collection of nutcrackers, for example, think of grouping them together, rather than putting them everywhere for a bolder look. Maybe you fill a container or bowl with ornaments in one color for one room and a different color for another room for a visual pattern that’s consistent. It’s the same approach as basic merchandising principles you see in stores. It really can make your home look good.”

At Living on Main — which includes everything from furniture to art, lamps and a variety of home decor — Christmas is in full swing with throw pillows, table top trees, garlands, candy cane platters and more for those looking to switch or or enhance their holiday home decor.

“Traditional colors, like red and green, are popular this year,” Gorton said. “Something else we have in the store every year are inexpensive ornaments that can be added to napkin rings with a ribbon. You can write the recipient’s name on the back and gift them. They way, they can build an ornament collection that’s from you. It’s really sweet.”

Gorton said she, too, believes people are doing more with their holiday decorating this year.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary in order to help us feel somewhat normal,” she said. “People are working from home, and their kids are at home. Now more than ever is the time to enjoy decorating for the holidays and creating those traditions.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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