Dr. Christmas Decks the Halls for Celebrity Clients
Sleigh bells aren’t ringing. In the lane, no snow yet glistens. But for Dr. Christmas, tree stylists to the stars, ’tis the season to be jolly, even in September.
Bob Pranga and his business partner, Debi Staron, operate a custom design company called Dr. Christmas, and for them, “the most wonderful time of the year” is every day.
“I always liked Christmas,” Pranga said, “and found out that people liked what I did with it. The more I tried to pass that on, I realized the best way is to help people by giving back their time. Either they can hire me to come in and do it for them, or I give them the tools to do it for themselves so they can enjoy the holiday again.”
Pranga and Staron met as struggling actors in New York, and they seem perfectly matched. His approach is more emotive and from the gut, while hers is more thought-out and practical. The combination makes a golden partnership that has them rolling out the holly for celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds, Teri Garr, Shaquille O’Neal and Heidi Klum.
Thanks to his family, December was always his favorite time of year, said Pranga, a native of Sturgis, Mich.
“My parents and grandparents went out of their way so I had a Wonder Years Christmas every year -- it was a big deal,” he said.
Staron shares his enthusiasm. Growing up in New Jersey, she also learned early about the joys of holiday decorating.
“My dad was a huge Christmas decorator,” she said. From him, she developed her meticulous attitude toward the task. “He was methodical, and I always helped him,” she recalled.
Later, when Pranga lived in New York City, he took a job at Macy’s to make ends meet, little knowing that this would steer his life’s path.
“I ended up working in the Christmas department, and this buyer came along and said, ‘I need you to decorate this tree,’” he said.
One day, actress Mia Farrow came in and told the young clerk that she admired the job he’d done and that she wished somebody could do that for her house. So he offered to help her.
Later, when he decided to relocate to the West Coast, he asked Staron to go with him. They shared an apartment while pursuing individual hopes for stardom.
Then in Los Angeles, Pranga got another job at a Christmas shop.
“He was hired over the phone,” Staron said with a laugh, “and when I came home, he says, ‘You’re my assistant -- do you wanna?’”
It was mostly florists who offered part-time “seasonal adornment,” but it wasn’t long before Pranga started doing decorating house calls himself -- and he brought Staron in on that as well. Eventually, the two decided to open a prop shop to help them meet their specialized ornamental needs, and that’s when year-round Christmas began for them.
At the beginning, he called himself the Christmas Guy, he said with a chuckle. Later, a new client asked when he worked, and Pranga answered truthfully: “24 hours a day during the holiday season.”
To this, she responded, “Oh, you’re like the doctor of Christmas,” and the moniker was born.
Since then, Pranga and Staron have become the go-to people in decorating for Hollywood’s movers and shakers--whether for their residences, businesses, or huge corporate functions.
One project that’s close to their hearts is the awe-inspiring seasonal decor they create for the Hollywood Museum, housed in the landmark Max Factor Building.
“We do this every year,” Pranga said. “At the Hollywood Museum, most of the trees are very theatrical -- over the top. It’s an Art Deco building that’s all about the golden age of the silver screen, so I really try to honor what the place is that I’m doing.”
Pranga confided that perhaps the best feeling he gets working on the museum is being an annual part of Hollywood history.
“I love the museum,” he said. “I like to keep things like that going because it keeps the Hollywood culture going.”
The man who helps make the moguls’ mansions merry and bright has a simple formula that turns working on a tree into something exciting and glamorous.
“Because I’m in Hollywood, I use those metaphors,” he says, proposing that would-be decorators “consider your Christmas tree like a movie: You have your stars, your co-stars, your featured players, and your extras. Like a movie, it becomes this harmonious balance of a lot of different shapes, sizes and colors that really give your tree a sense of dimension. That’s the secret to it!”
Likewise, Staron suggests that the look of one’s tree actually can differ from year to year.
“Contrary to popular belief, your ornaments do not have feelings,” she said with a wink. “You don’t have to put every ornament on each time, and just changing out some will give it a completely different look!”
Other insights include some often-overlooked bits of common sense, such as the recommendation that once the lights are up, people should add the garland before any ornaments. “This way, you’re assured it will drape in the most aesthetic way, as well as provide you with a guide for placing your ornaments. It’s little things such as this that make a huge difference.”
The two collected some of these ideas in a colorful, photo-packed book titled Christmas Style, from DK Publishing. It showcases the wide variety of decorating styles the two have worked on for celebrity clientele. The book has plenty of magnificent approaches and easy tips.
“You could actually learn from it,” Pranga said.
Both point out that the main goal of the book is to show that the average person can achieve stunning results -- and have fun doing it.
“Deb and I specifically designed it in three sections, with the first part showcasing different styles -- a lot of ‘eye-candy’!” he said.
The center is devoted to over-the-top Hollywood, “which was something fun to do, ’cause nobody else has that in a Christmas book.”
In fact, this chapter includes “The Twelve Dames of Christmas” — photos of a series of themed trees dedicated to a dozen of the cinema’s most dazzling divas.
“The third section is really where we show you how to do everything,” Pranga said. “Debi was meticulous about explaining the different ways to do things.”
These final pages also contain a list of the suppliers, he said, “so if people see something that they really like, there’s information where you can contact that vendor.” He recommended not waiting until Santa Claus comes to town: “September or October ought to do it.”
“People agonize over Christmas,” Staron said, rolling her eyes. “It’s tragic! Just adapt. If you’re gonna have arguments, have a two-sided tree -- she gets one side, he gets the other (or in the case of a gay couple, HE gets one side and HE gets the other!). This is supposed to about celebration!”
Pranga couldn’t agree more, “This is pure fantasy. Have fun with it. It’s really about you!”
To learn more about Dr. Christmas or to order a copy of Christmas Style in time to craft plenty of holiday magic of your own, check out www.drchristmas.com.