Window Wonderland

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N aked trees. Yarny knits. Frosted breath. Schmaltzy songs.

And window displays.

’Tis the season for New Haven’s shop windows to shine. Christmastime is primetime for this most welcome form of retail enticement—the kind that beautifies our city and deepens our experience of a beloved time of year.

Deep into East Rock, the florists at Fleur de Lys (992 State St, pictured first) have some of the most committed Christmas displays in town. Owner Jennifer Ford-Chatfield says the window along State Street is for the kids, featuring a tree of plush polar bears wearing skis and ice skates, navigating roses and holly and red swirly ball ornaments. The other, larger window along Edwards offers enough to inspire holiday awe in adults: gnarled woody branches and white flower garlands; sparkling ornaments in gold and silver and red and crystal; long, tightly wound, spiraling “candy canes”; a tree decked out in so much swag you can hardly tell it’s a conifer; and the centerpiece: a glittering Eiffel Tower replica, several feet tall, laced with Christmas lights.

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Figures of Empire at Yale Center for British Art - Oct. 2 through Dec. 14

You can find traces of France in the front window of vintage home decor shop English Building Markets (839 Chapel St, pictured second), too, where it’s a very white Christmas whether it snows or not. Surrounded by white merchandise and dramatically lit clouds (crafted from chicken wire, coffee filters and white trash bags, surprisingly), the center of the display is formed by a trio of skylines cut from white paper: Chicago, London and Paris, offset but overlapping as if different layers of the same city. Designed by Brittany Solem with help from owner Carol Orr, it’s light and airy, or, as Orr puts it, “pretty and feminine without being girly.” Various white doilies are glued to the top of each window pane, forming lines that curve down toward the center and back up again. “It’s meant to look like the curtains of a dreamy bedroom,” she says.

Further up Chapel Street, from Connecticut Running Company to Hull’s Art Supply, Paier College of Art students have installed incredible paper sculptures of their own, meant in part to celebrate the Shubert Theater’s 100th anniversary this year. Creating cohesion and a sense of seasonality, nearly all of the paper, cut and folded into mind-bogglingly detailed shapes and scenes, is white as driven snow. But they’ve also minded distinctive personalities and visions, producing each shop’s sculptures in consultation with owners, while drawing thematic content from the Shubert’s past performances. The sculpture at Hull’s (1144 Chapel St), for example, filling its huge front window, depicts a super-scene from Peter Pan canon: a feather-capped, knife-wielding Pan leads a nightgowned, necklaced Wendy into the sky; Smee, aboard a flying pirate ship with sails raised and canons ready, looks on through a spyglass; Tinkerbell fights, or at least distracts, a huge crocodile who, the scene implies, has just scarfed down Captain Hook.

Near the opposite end of the Paier installations, the sculptural language at fashion retailer Idiom (1014 Chapel St, pictured third) is decidedly more Christmassy. In one window, there’s a white paper tree with ornaments and a curly-haired girl in red dress, who looks conspicuously like Little Orphan Annie. In the other is a big shaggy dog with red scarf tied into a bow—probably Sandy, Annie’s dog, but perhaps also a supersized homage to Baxter, the shop’s resident Yorkshire terrier.

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Westville for the holidays!

Back in the other direction is WAVE Gallery (1046 Chapel St, pictured fourth), which has some stunning, high-flying designs involving birds. In its lefthand window is a huge bejeweled peacock courtesy of those Paier students, with gold detailing on each tail feather; in the righthand window is a palatial birdcage garnished with pale yellow xmas lights. Spangled, feathery avian figurines are perched about, and tinsel-y nests with metallic eggs in them rest at the base of the cage. Below them is a pint-sized bilevel village, where happy stuffed mice in costumes go about their business.

Over in the slightly larger village of Westville, two young businesses in particular are giving the season its windowy due. Floral shop Any Occasion Creation (847 Whalley Ave, pictured fifth), a year-old business that’s recently changed locations, employs red and gold cones, shiny red beads, mirrored red disco balls and white snow spray-painted into the edges of its windows “to let people know we’re here and welcome them to the new shop,” owner Carrien Davis says.

Just up the street, six-month-old gift/decor spot Barrage Designs (912 Whalley Ave, pictured sixth) is inclined towards disco balls too, just not red ones. Owner Alysia Southern, a residential/commercial designer who says she ends up doing a lot of windows for others, says her guiding theme this year is “paint the town pink,” which doesn’t mean pink’s alone: “We’ve gone with a silver, aqua, purple and pink Christmas all the way around, with disco balls aplenty.” There’s silver in the display’s tinsel (and disco balls), aqua in its tiny tree, purple in its ornaments and pink in its tree lights. If this motif jingles a bell, it might be because you’ve seen the wild setup currently gracing Popup55 (55 Church St), Project Storefronts’s itsy bitsy ex-ATM vestibule just south of Chapel, which Southern designed using the same theme (pictured seventh).

Back the other way—past downtown, past East Rock, past even Fair Haven—wine shop Grand Vin (28 E Grand Ave, pictured eighth), a modern-looking space stocking what employee and resident amateur window artist Carol Cyr calls “the biggest Spanish wine section in the state,” has done a charming display of its own. Six large glass panes across the front are festooned with lights (including white and red grapes) and paint, depicting evergreen trees and white billows curving down from the tops. Aside from the lights, which are also hung all throughout the shop, Christmas comes through in sales language across the middle of the panes: “Give the gift of wine! gift baskets / corporate gifts / gift certificates.” And: “Wine for everyone on your list!”

Christmastime windows are for show, sure, but they’re also for tell, and all the better if they give us the gift of good gift ideas.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories, helped in no small part by a small team of dedicated contributors.

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