MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — Inside a warehouse on an industrial stretch of road here, workers holding bunches of red berries and glittery Christmas ornaments dash between aisles of boxes filled with ribbons and pine cones, as 18-foot candy canes made of chicken wire and garland tower above them.
For the last month, employees of American Christmas have packed 25 trucks a day with trees, wreaths and menorahs bound for the lobbies of New York’s skyscrapers and landmarks like Radio City Music Hall.
By Dec. 10, the warehouse will be empty.
A cadet bound for Rockefeller Center, where it will serve as a holiday ornament, is stored at the American Christmas warehouse in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Ángel Franco/The New York Times
“It is a short season, but for the next several weeks, none of us plan to get much sleep,” said Fred Schwam, the company’s chief executive, as he wandered through the 110,000-square-foot building. He pointed out panthers covered in hundreds of tiny lights that would soon adorn the facade of the Cartier store on Fifth Avenue and 12-foot hand-painted cadets ready to guard the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.
For the first time since the recession, many landlords of commercial office buildings are spending lavishly on decorations, allocating upward of $1 million to install intricate, artistic designs.
And in what has become a New York City real estate tradition, on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving and continuing through the weekend, hundreds of building maintenance workers will sprinkle pine needles and snowflakes across Manhattan office lobbies like so many Santa’s elves. When tenants arrive on Monday morning, the holiday season will be in full swing.
“It is a huge production,” said Helena Durst, a vice president at the Durst Organization and the daughter of Douglas Durst, the company’s chairman.
The company, which owns several noteworthy office towers across the city, has been working for more than a year on upgraded holiday decorations. It is spending more than $1 million on the program and has hired 70 people to install decorations across 10 buildings in just a few days. A Broadway stage manager is overseeing the logistics, and the company has enlisted food trucks to keep the team fueled during the grueling schedule.
This year was an opportune time to rethink the company’s holiday decorations in its buildings, Ms. Durst said. One World Trade Center is completed, and the lobbies at 1133 Avenue of the Americas and 114 West 47th Street have been renovated.
“For the next several weeks, none of us plan to get much sleep,” said Fred Schwam, the chief executive of American Christmas. Ángel Franco/The New York Times
With its buildings near Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center and ground zero, “our proximity means we are part of the New York City tourist holiday extravaganza,” Ms. Durst added.
The concept behind the Durst buildings’ holiday decorations is “hygge,” a Danish term loosely translated as the sense of warmth, welcome and comfort that comes from sitting by a warm fire with friends during the dark Scandinavian winter.
Ms. Durst said her mother, Susanne, who is Danish, has always been a big enthusiast of Christmas. “She came to America when she was 18, and it was something very special that she recreated with us every year.”
After several months interviewing potential designers, the Dursts chose David Beahm Design to head the effort. Mr. Beahm is perhaps best known as a lead designer for the White House holiday decorations the last two years.
He demurred this season, opting instead to take the job with the Dursts. “It was an opportunity to work with the Durst family, and control every aspect of the design and the quality,” Mr. Beahm said. “The designs have a Scandinavian feel and are very modern, but they are also folksy and warm. The idea is to have a little Durst pride and to create a cohesive look.”
The plans are extensive: The Durst office buildings will be outfitted with 3,000 sugar pine cones, 15,000 stems of red berry branches and 7,500 replica apples. They will feature giant square wreaths decorated with 16,800 LED bulbs, 24-foot-tall Christmas trees with 11,600 lights, as well as 4,000 running feet of handmade garlands.
Surrounding the Durst Organization’s headquarters at One Bryant Park will be a forest of 23 free-standing white trees that are laser-cut to represent traditional Scandinavian paper cutouts. One World Trade Center will use projectors in the lobby to create bright tree patterns on the walls and washes of colors to mimic day turning into night, with soft morning pinks and sunset oranges.
In the evenings as tenants leave, stars will appear on the ceiling. Candles have been crafted and fitted with small pieces of bobbing acrylic in the shape of a flame, lit with LED bulbs and a fan that causes it to flicker, while rectangular menorahs will be finished in stainless steel, wood grains or a white high-gloss powder coating.
Ethel Valdivia, left, and Elisa Medina prepare wreaths and trees at American Christmas warehouse for displays in Manhattan. Ángel Franco/The New York Times
Another landlord that has revised its holiday decorations this year is the William Kaufman Organization, which owns six Manhattan office towers and a number of smaller buildings. The company has been working with Mr. Schwam’s American Christmas since the end of 2012 to execute several whimsical installations, for which it is paying just under six figures per building annually, or three times its previous budget.
The lobby at 747 Third Avenue will be outfitted with a polar bear sticking his head up from an icy pond, as a mother bear with a baby on her back pads nearby on a snowy hilltop. Penguins will peek their heads around lobby columns and hang from ceiling rafters.
At 767 Third Avenue, Santa’s sleigh will sit in the plaza with just two reindeer attached, the remaining harnesses empty. Paw prints will be tracked around the building, leading to the runaway reindeer scattered about.
“We wanted to create an interactive story, so children could run around following the reindeer tracks. And if you were a tourist who happened to walk by, it would be the topic you would discuss at dinner that night,” said Jonathan Iger, a vice president of Sage Realty, the management and leasing division of William Kaufman. Mr. Iger is also the great-grandson of William Kaufman, who started the eponymous business in 1924. “We are in the service business, and with these decorations we are providing an amenity to the surrounding community, as well as our tenants.”
Typically, landlords sign a multiyear contract, usually four years, with companies like American Christmas. These holiday decorating companies own the designs and oversee their fabrication, maintenance, installation and storage. American Christmas manufactures very few of its own decorations, mostly importing items from factories in China. But it does create the original displays, unique to each customer’s building, at its Mount Vernon facility.
The Durst Organization decided to veer from this industry standard, and has purchased all of the items that were created by Mr. Beahm and his team. It is also paying for a warehouse in the South Bronx to store the pieces, which Mr. Beahm’s firm will maintain.
This is a costly strategy, but “since we own the designs, we can use them for as long as we want, so the cost is amortized over the long term,” said Ms. Durst, who eventually plans to introduce similar holiday decorations for the landlord’s residential buildings. “Most companies weren’t equipped to be as creative and artistic as we wanted, so this was the best way to translate the Durst aesthetic.”