You can’t cancel Halloween. It’s already dead.
Ahem. Now that the terrible dad jokes are done, this year is not going to be normal. We cannot romp through the streets and dive bars, toasting with tequila and hugging the nearest zombie.
But! It’s still a fine year to celebrate Halloween.
I moved into an old house on Esplanade in New Orleans last year. It was built in 1824 and survived several fires, making it one of the oldest homes on the avenue.
Yes, I have a ghost.
He made his presence known the first week, and we’ve been living together ever since. He likes to slam doors, turn on lights and occasionally put things in strange places. I like to do the same, actually.
This October, if you arrived at my house, you’d notice I’ve actually decorated more than previous years.
I’m inside to enjoy the decorations this October. The gatherings are tiny—one or two friends max—and the whole season feels more thoughtful, slower and more memorable. I’ve been invited to one outdoor horror movie night, I’m throwing a socially-distant pumpkin carving party next week, and the boyfriend is grumbling less when I turn off football and turn on Hitchcock.
Halloween is in full swing, despite Covid-19.
Like I said—you can’t kill it.
Here are a few tips, tricks and treats that I’ve learned in decorating a haunted French Quarter home for Halloween.
Pitfalls to Avoid Before You Get Started
- Beginning big installations too late
Midway through a month, you are already over it. Start arranging the biggest pieces when September is waning.
- Underutilizing Pinterest
Pinterest as a tool is amazing; it’s free and might change your ideas entirely once you deep-dive and begin to build a board. Here’s mine.
- Choosing an ambiguous theme
Get more specific than “scary.” The more specific you are in any type of art project or home design, the more cohesive it will be. This year, I choose Apothecary Voodoo. It felt both evergreen and apropos.
Lighting and Backdrop
- Lights come first
Just like your Christmas tree, start with lighting. I like to use a combination of Micro LED Fairy String lights for a romantic effect under netting and then also strobe flashers in hallways and bathrooms, for an actual party or haunted-house effect. It’s nice to have one lighting effect you can live with every day, and then one for a wow factor on the 31st. Don’t give yourself epilepsy.
- Follow with creepy
Make sure to choose battery operated for the most flexibility in placement. Follow lighting up with your “tinsel” –in this case, creepy netting and/or stretchy spiderwebs.
Pro-tip: There are also hundreds of people trying to get rid of old holiday lights, creepy cloth, fishing net and strobe lights on Ebay.
- Thank God You Drink a Lot of Wine
For old apothecary jars, all you really need (besides a penchant for drinking rosé) is dirt and a piece of sandpaper. Here’s a quick tutorial how to age your bottles. Then, Etsy is a great source where I found these Apothecary Label Stickers. Etsy is a also great source for hair and fake eyeballs.
- Creepy is in the context
Is a pair of pliers creepy? If they are rusty and stabbed into the head of a doll—yes. Is a pool ball unnerving? It is when you put it next to a dead rose and cover it in fake blood.
- Scour junk stores
You’ll save a ton of money and it’s a more sustainable, local choice. In New Orleans, I like:
Bywater Bargain Center
3200 Dauphine Street
Old Arabi Marketplace
7002 Saint Claude Avenue
Magazine Antique Mall
3017 Magazine Street
Second Line Art & Antiques
1209 Decatur Street
- Add old books
Find a few Stephen King novels lying around, horror-plot beach reads or leftovers from your British Lit class in college. Take paper covers off hardbacks, haul them to the driveway and scrape the top edges of the spines against the concrete. Voila! Apothecary charm.
The Final Touches
- Candles, candles, everywhere
You cannot have too many candles at Halloween. CB2 has these super-sexy, black spindle candlesticks on sale right now. I also purchased my brass, Cobra candlesticks.
- Get hooked on Hollywood Fashion Tape
Hollywood Tape is a godsend for all sorts of things around the house. I use it at Halloween to stick cobwebs to smooth corners, to prop up skeletons that keep slumping over or to stick playing cards to mirrors. Buy the Value Pack.
- Plaster of Paris strips
I found these at my local hardware store and I’m using them to create big skulls out on the front balcony this year. It could not be easier. You just wet them and lay them down. In 10 minutes, you’ve created a hard, plaster shell.
- Dare to do dry ice
Here’s a list of suppliers for dry ice in New Orleans. Make sure to keep it well out-of-reach of kids, pets and drunken party guests. Note: Putting dry ice in actual drinks is dangerous and should not be done.
- Flickering chandeliers
If you have a chandelier and don’t use these flickering light bulbs, you are really missing a prime opportunity for Halloween ambiance!
- Digital decorating: Go for broke?
AmosFX Digital Decorating Kit is just one company offering projectors for digital decorations. A system will run you about $250, and there are certainly other, more affordable options out there. I did a lot of research on lumens, projector quality, placement and the sheer range of holiday effects. The cost came to about four meals out. When I thought of it that way, I felt it could be justified this year. I’m not going out. There’s a plague. I deserve it.
Happy Halloween, everyone!