Barb Jones, wife of Arkansas State University head football coach Butch Jones, had only one directive for Tom Chandler and his crew when it came to the family’s extensive Christmas decorations.


“She is a lovely lady. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her,” Chandler said. “Her only input was that we use the black and red,” denoting the ASU Red Wolves’ team colors. 


Little more needed to be said for the project, as Chandler and his team of decorators were already well-acquainted with the layout and décor of the stylish home. 


“We had done the Christmas decorating for the former owners of this home,” he said. “When the coach and his wife bought that house, they also bought the Christmas decorations.”


It’s a busy time for Chandler and his eight-person crew from Tom Chandler and Associates, based in Little Rock. In addition to completing interior design work in homes from coast to coast, this is the season of decorating for the holidays. Chandler and his troops will decorate some 75 homes in the weeks leading to Christmas, jobs that start before Halloween.


“We start Christmas on Oct. 27, and we work six or seven days a week until about Dec. 10th. I mean, we do Christmas,” Chandler said. “We only do Christmas in homes where we’ve done the design work. We sort of draw the line there. We need to have been involved with these owners before we’re asked to do Christmas.”


The Jones’ project ranks as one of the larger homes on the list, but familiarity with the space as well as the experience of his team enables Chandler to pull off something amazing in a relatively short period of time.


“My team and I can do this in a day,” he said. “I have an amazing team. It’s a very long, demanding day, but most days at Chandler’s are about like that.”

The home’s dimensions are as large as the Joneses’ love for seasonal entertaining; in one memorable example from last year, the couple hosted the entire ASU football team for a holiday breakfast. As such, the Christmas décor must be on a grand scale, and under Chandler’s direction that’s exactly what’s delivered. 


There are five Christmas trees in the home including a 12-footer in the foyer and a stunning 16-foot tree in the family room. More than 150 feet of garland graces the staircase, and Chandler doesn’t pretend to know how many lights are used throughout the home. 


“I wouldn’t venture a guess on how many strands of lights, but there would be dozens and dozens. Hundreds and hundreds of lights,” he said. “And we prefer just tiny white lights unless we’re doing something childlike. If there’s a childlike influence then we do colored lights. 


“We also totally avoid lights that flash off and on. We actually find that offensive.”


The trees are just one part of what Chandler and his team call “floats,” central focal points that complete the holiday tableau in each room. 


“We’ll take a huge cocktail table and then do something mammoth on it,” he said. “We take one piece of furniture in each of the primary spaces and do something significant. We’re definitely not into little Christmas stuff just sitting around. We want to make one strong statement in each important room.”


The team’s creativity and skill are also evident in the way the decorations reflect the mood and environment of the room itself, yet somehow create an overall cohesiveness thanks to elements that weave their way throughout. 


“The decorations are absolutely related to the room and to the level of formality or level of informality, the level of masculinity or femininity,” Chandler said. “We have two trees that are right off the kitchen, and they are much more relaxed than the foyer tree or the decorations in the dining room. It’s an absolute extension of the room. 


“Consequently, none of these trees are alike except the one pair that we have in the sitting room right off of the kitchen. The others are completely unalike.”


Chandler also prides himself on achieving spectacular results without making the homeowner invest in entirely new decorations every year. 


“I mean, Christmas is Christmas,” he said. “We pride ourselves on using these quality Christmas decorations over and over and over again. We’re using ribbon that was $75 a roll 20 years ago, and we’re still using it. We really do like to work with what our clients already have.


“Each year we add something new but not much. It’s our goal to use what they have, and more often than not, we present it differently each time. The same product may not be in the same room, or it’s presented in a new way. To this day, we’re known as the company who loves to take what people already have and do the most we can with it.”


Given his years in the interior design business, there’s not much to derail a project that Chandler hasn’t seen. Born in Jonesboro and educated at Oklahoma Baptist University, he went full time with his business 42 years ago, employing as many as 16 and currently eight. He also began teaching classes in interior design through the business 40 years ago, and to date, he’s passed along the finer points of the art form to some 12,000 students. 


“I started out at $15 an hour, working out of the back of my car,” he said with a chuckle. “Our headquarters are in Little Rock on Cantrell, but we presently have jobs going from Montclair, New Jersey, to Lexington, Kentucky, to LaBelle, Florida. We’ve worked in the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos, New Orleans. 


“My school is approved by the state board of private education, and we have a classroom at our corporate facilities in Little Rock.” 


Over the years, Chandler has established a stellar reputation for impeccably tasteful interiors that stand the test of time. Team members work closely with architects and builders to review floor plans, a practice that provides the basis of their design process, sometimes offering suggestions before the foundation is even poured.


“One thing that absolutely does set us apart is we work very hard at avoiding anything trendy,” Chandler said. “Lots of designers don’t think like that, but we make it a point to avoid anything we consider trendy.”

Chandler and Associates has also developed several operational tenets, allowing it to accommodate a wide range of client tastes and architectural designs. It’s as much a business pillar as design ethos, unchanged from the company’s very earliest days and a big part of the firm’s continued success. 


“The one thing that has never changed about Chandler’s is that we’re really good listeners, and we do not have a look,” he said. “It’s our goal to pick up on the taste and personality of the client and for the finished product to be an extension of the client. We really don’t want it to look like a decorator has been there.


“We feel like that objectivity is one of our strong points, even to the degree that the client’s favorite color is our favorite color. We keep lots of jobs going all over the country, and being objective is one of the secrets of the success of this business.”


This corporate philosophy extends to the holiday decorating business where, not unlike paint colors or accent pieces, clients’ tastes and preferences vary widely. To Chandler, there’s no wrong time to decorate, as long as it is in step with the customer.


“We’ve done this so long and have so many clients. We do the same clients over and over that in some instances, I’ve worked for three generations,” Chandler said. “It’s always very interesting how some people just cannot wait for us to get there; they don’t care how early it is. There are also people who will absolutely not let us do Christmas until after Thanksgiving. 


“There are also people who really don’t care when we come take it down and other people who are hysterical to have it down the day after Christmas.”


As for his own living space, Chandler said he decorates his home first every year, rather than waiting until the last minute. He said he considers it a mandatory bit of professionalism to have handled his own space before being welcomed into the homes of the clients who have grown into friends. 


“My house is that house we do on Oct. 27,” he said. “I get that out of the way first. It’s a little hard to call somebody else and say we’ll be there Nov. 1 to decorate for Christmas if I can’t say my house is already decorated.”   


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