A century-old Victorian home is the perfect backdrop for eerie Halloween decorating.
From the moment Larissa Jenkins first set foot in the historic Shenandoah, Iowa, fixer-upper, she was envisioning her annual Halloween party there. “I’m always decorating, thinking about the holidays,” says Larissa, who’d been driving to look at a different house when she and her husband saw the Victorian’s “for sale” sign and called the real estate agent on the spot. “It had been on and off the market for years; nobody had bought it, but I just loved it as soon as I walked in,” she says. “It was in kind of bad shape; there was a hole in the ceiling in the foyer, but it’s my dream house.” The couple made an offer that day and became only the third family to own the storied 1900 “Welch Home.”
With its beveled windows and quirky wishing well, the house is beloved by locals and perfect for holiday decorating, especially at Halloween. As Larissa drapes cheesecloth and cobwebs over antique furniture and candelabras, she can almost picture the grand galas she’s told were once held in her enormous third-floor attic.
Although she loves elegant decor, she admits she is also thrifty, purchasing everyday furnishings and Halloween decorations from Craigslist and dollar stores and also repurposing items she already owns. “Everyone thinks it must take me forever to get my Halloween stuff out, but I really don’t have a lot,” she says. “I like to use what I have. You can make any everyday thing look creepy.”
To keep her decorations fresh, Larissa seeks out one special item a year for her holiday collections. “That way, you gradually get a collection going,” she notes.
When you’re ready to spook up your home for Halloween, she advises getting creative before hitting the stores. “Don’t be afraid to paint things, to think outside the box,” she says. “Just look around your house.”
“I like to use what I have. You can make any everyday thing LOOK CREEPY.”
“Don’t be afraid to paint things, TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.”
OPPOSITE: Busts are a must for setting that ghostly mood. Dress them up with masks, shawls and witch hats, or a Marie Antoinette wig—a fitting nest for some dollar-store birds (always spooky, thanks to Mr. Alfred Hitchcock). Drape cheesecloth for that elegant, moth-eaten look, and black plastic garland gives a hint of something once beautiful, decaying. RIGHT: A chalkboard behind a decorative antique frame lets everyone know what day it is. A clearance-rack owl donning a gold crown perches regally among pumpkins, pinecones, and matching candelabras.
ABOVE: Larissa Jenkins repurposed the witch costume she wore on a previous Halloween to festoon a dress form. The hat placed on top gives the figure a headless look, and green hands plucked from a drugstore aisle add the perfect creepy detail.
ABOVE: It pays to be thrifty like Larissa: The fabulous tufted couch is a Craigslist find, the coffee table is from a garage sale, and the spiderweb backdrop is actually a tablecloth!
BELOW: Larissa collects secondhand mirrors all year long and then haunts them with window clings from the dollar store. A standard party-store skull is spray painted gold and topped off with a vintage hat. White pumpkins sewn by Larissa make the black birds and cage look even more creepy. Turning all your books backward is a quick trick that doesn’t cost a penny.
ABOVE: Larissa prints out spooky pictures, or browses Etsy for doctored Victorian portraits, and temporarily swaps them with existing photos just for the season. Encasing a black bird and nest inside a kitchen cheese dome is instantly unsettling.
RIGHT: This regal French armchair is yet another Craigslist find. Maleficent the cat hangs out year-round but looks especially dashing in October. Tossing a hat and broom on the furnishings gives the feeling that a witch just left the room.
ABOVE: Cobwebs and cheesecloth wrap the family piano as well as the pieces it holds. Larissa opts for a palette of black and white over the more traditional orange, demonstrated perfectly with black ostrich feathers and white roses. The doe mount joins the party with a black shawl and lace mask.
BELOW: Larissa hung a French tapestry above the cobwebbed buffet to boost the Halloween mood and brought in leaves and spray painted gold sticks from the backyard. Black ribbon has many uses when haunting a dining room scene, whether tying around linens and white pumpkins, or creating masks on statue girls. Don’t forget to perch some black birds in the chandelier.
ABOVE: White roses and pumpkins offer natural contrast to the crystal ware and Larissa’s grandmother’s china (white with a single black rose). Miniature cauldrons from the dollar store anchor each place setting.
LEFT: Another thrift-store bust is brought to life with a mask and creepified with natural elements from outside. Larissa keeps these black lace spiderweb panels on hand for when the white cheesecloth or cobwebs just won’t do. She wrapped a standard black feather boa around grapevine to form a wonderfully strange wreath for the mirror.
ABOVE: Meet Fred, the talking butler who greets guests in the foyer each Halloween, unless he’s out on the porch distributing candy to neighborhood kids. Fred is especially popular on Larissa’s Instagram page and with her 4-year-old son.