In my hometown of Atchison, we have all the ingredients for a chilling Halloween celebration, from creepy Victorian mansions to so many spooks we've been declared the Most Haunted Town in Kansas.
But you don't have to live in a town that's home to lots of ghosts and goblins to have a fun and frightful Halloween. It's easy to add a few ghoulish touches to your fall decor that will take your style to spooky new heights. Here's how.
* Give your basics a macabre makeover: The key to achieving a sophisticated but scary Halloween look is not to go so overboard with decorations that your home looks like a Halloween fun house. Instead, use your cunning to come up with a few well-placed displays that catch guests off guard and make them cackle with fright and delight.
Start by dipping into your cauldron of creativity for ideas on how you can reinvent some of your favorite year-round decorating tools to use in frightening holiday displays. How about your black iron urns? Most garden urns look like they were plucked from a gothic graveyard, so it doesn't take much to trick them up for Halloween.
Fill your urn with fallen branches that are either left natural or spray-painted black or silver. Then drape faux spider webs and little wire spiders around the twigs. Or spray-paint a willow wreath with black glitter paint, then place the wreath on the mouth of an urn. Fill in the center with a large silver gazing ball. Right now, I'm on the prowl for body parts — not real ones, of course, but arms and legs from old mannequins. I want to spray-paint the appendages black and position them so they stick out of an iron urn.
Silver serving pieces, like five-armed candelabras, are perfect when you want to conjure up a gothic Halloween look. Top the candlesticks with drippy black candles or perch a sinister bird on an arm, like a raven or a black owl.
If you have any garden statuary, give it a spooky twist. Wrap scrim around the face and neck of a garden bust so it looks like a mummy or ghost. Or place a sequined black mask over its eyes or a witch's hat on its head.
Get out the glass apothecary jars, compotes and bowls, and fill them with well-loved Halloween treats, like candy corn and wax vampire teeth. Or, go for the gross-out factor by filling the jars with rubber eyeballs, plastic spiders or even faux vermin, like a rat or roaches.
* Punch it up with playful props: If you use kitschy Halloween props in your decor, make the displays subtle and sly, not overwhelming or schmaltzy. For instance, I wanted to give guests a jolt when they stepped onto my screened porch last Halloween, so I reclined a skeleton on the chaise and put a copy of one of my books in her hands. It was fun to watch folks jump and then let out nervous laughs as they took in the unexpected scene. This year, I think I'll put a skeletal host and hostess at the heads of my dining table or seat them on chairs in my living room.
To give trick-or-treaters a laugh, find an old mirror and write "Turn Back Now" on it in red nail polish. Then hang it on your front door with some Halloween ribbon and faux black carnations covered with glitter. Make your entryway foreboding by decorating your chandelier with twists of honeysuckle vine that's covered in a spider's web. Let a few spiders hang down from fishing-string threads.
On your dining table, put a black skull encrusted with glitter in the punch bowl or on a cake plate. Let a skeleton hand hold the salt and pepper shakers. Put china toads in everyone's soup bowls. Fill vases with more glittery black carnations.