The George R. Brown Convention Center is taking “deck the halls” to a whole new level this year. Holiday trees of all themes and sizes are lining the building’s expansive windowscape facing Discovery Green as part of the Alley Theatre’s annual Deck the Trees fundraiser, on display through January 3.
Over the past decade, the Alley holiday spectacle has become a Houston tradition that doubles as a fundraiser for the theater’s education and artistic initiatives. The Christmas trees are all sponsored by generous donors and decorated by Houston’s premier interior designers.
This year’s signature tree was created by decorator Taylor DeMartino of DeMartino Design Group. “It’s 18 feet tall and 10 feet around. It’s a beast; it’s definitely an undertaking,” he says. “I was able to see Frozen on Broadway, and I was impressed by the set design. There was a scene when huge ice shards shoot out from stage right and the trap doors below, and it was a really cool moment. I loved the angular shapes of it, and I wanted to mimic that in the tree.”
To create the effect, DeMartino’s group crafted metal ice shards and wrapped them in micro lights. The tree already had 8,000 lights in it, and they added another 15,000 lights to maximize the sparkle.
“It’s almost like an ice castle forming out of this tall Christmas tree, and the rest of it is adorned with lights, glitter, silvers, and chromes. We filled up the interior of the tree with mylar sheeting, so at night you see the reflection of all the lights. It looks like ice glistening inside of it. We have two-and-a-half-foot snowflakes on the tree. It’s a really cool look,” he explains.
The tree is indeed a showcase for the decorator’s abilities. DeMartino Design Group is a full-service special events, production, floral, and design firm specializing in corporate events, galas, weddings, and social soirees.
DeMartino, who is originally from Beaumont, has worked in the events business for more than a decade. After moving to Houston, he worked for other established vendors who taught him the skills and secrets of the trade. After working on both local and national events, he fell in love with the industry and decided to open his own operation.
“I knew there was a place in the Houston market for affordable luxury, and that’s what brought me to where I am today. We use all the knowledge I learned from my mentors, past employers, and past team members to create incredible artistic projects But we also design with a budget in mind. It’s a good balance between luxury and affordability,” he notes.
DeMartino’s business has already made a name for itself, due in large part to his work on a high-profile Super Bowl event in 2017. “We were able to represent the city for all the celebrities and ambassadors who came into town. We transformed the cafeteria level of the Hess Tower overlooking Discovery Green into this incredible guest space,” he says. “People thought they were walking into a hotel lobby when they arrived. We made custom carpets, custom furniture, and custom acrylic work. It was a flagship, banner experience.”
He recently wrapped up Theatre Under The Stars’ Lights Up Houston fundraiser, and he is working with the Houston Symphony on its upcoming Wine Dinner and Collector’s Auction at The Astorian.
While COVID-19 has caused a slowdown in parts of his business, DeMartino has been able to pivot from larger events and cater to his clients who are still hosting small private parties.
“We have some great intimate weddings we’re working on, and I absolutely love it. The clients are dialing down on their guest counts right now, so we can get creative with hand-curated menus and tabletop decorations and entertainment. We can create unique experiences because we don’t have massive guest counts, and we’re really enjoying flexing that side of our abilities right now,” he says.
Creating a cohesive and high-quality experience every time is not easy, but DeMartino has a troupe of co-workers to assist him—all of whom are members of the LGBTQ community.
“I didn’t plan for that to happen. Two employees are drag queens, and my husband works with us. We occasionally bring in freelance labor, and they’re LGBTQ, too. We get the work done and have a great work ethic. It’s been a great fit, and I’ve just stuck with it. It’s a fun environment.”
With business keeping steady, DeMartino has his eye on the future. “I’ve always said I have a 10-year goal to do the Met Gala in New York City. That 10 years is a moving target, obviously,” he laughs. “Our goal is to be that true boutique operation in Houston that has impeccable taste, great inventory that no one else has, great customer service, and a product you don’t see every day.”
DeMartino Design Group is located at 4930 Dacoma Street, Suite F. For more information, call 832-302-6630 or visit demartinodesigngroup.com.
This article appears in the December 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.