The Schenectady couple delight passers-by with colorful decorations all year round – The Daily Gazette

Early one afternoon last week, Samantha and Dion Bagnato were sitting in the living room of their Victorian country home on Van Vranken Ave. 2532 in Schenectady and explained why they are trying so hard.

— Why they spend a few days a month — every 12 every month, without exception — taking down the decorations of one holiday (or theme) and switching to another to light up the front of their home for motorists and pedestrians to enjoy .

— Why they have been doing it for more than 40 years and continue to enjoy it.

— And, as Dion explains, why it’s getting bigger every year.

If you drive by her house over the next few weeks, you’ll see her colorful Easter decorations, with large plastic eggs hanging from branches and purple lights illuminating the yard and house at night.

What’s so adorable is that these aren’t high-tech decorations to hold you back. These are traditional displays crafted from Samantha’s astute design sense and Dion’s design, landscaping and electrical experience.

They are made from materials that are often bought in the off-season or right after the end of the holiday when prices are low or close to closing.
So why then?

“We’re proud of Schenectady,” said Dion. “We are proud to live in Schenectady. We’re proud of our neighborhood and we’re proud that people appreciate it. The “why” is relatively simple. We believe in Schenectady.”

“We grew up here,” Samantha said.

And they did much more than that.

For many years, Samantha taught fashion design and merchandising at Mont Pleasant High School and Linton High School and later at the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in Colonie. She began her teaching career in 1971 and retired in 2001. From 1985 to 1992, she ran Samantha’s Sewing Room on Van Vranken Avenue as a part-time job, working on wedding dresses, alterations and more.

Dion taught science and math at Shenendehowa Central School District from 1970 to 2015 in middle and elementary schools. And for over 30 years he ran Spring Fever Landscaping in Schenectady during the summer.

“Every summer he was miserable; he didn’t have enough to do,” Samantha said. “He went to the library and got some landscaping books and said, ‘I’m going to do that, but I can’t do it now because I need to have a rototiller and a decent lawn mower and we can’t afford that right now.’ ‘

“So I made changes all winter and put the money in an envelope,” she said.

Months later, she handed him the envelope containing the money for the equipment, bringing tears to his eyes. He promised to make the money back and make a profit.

And the name for the shop?

“I told him you always say you have spring fever, so you might as well call it that, and he did,” Samantha recalled.

Decorate

Decorating also began decades ago.

“The first year we decorated the porch with the pillars with plastic ribbons that looked like candy canes, and we had a wreath and a fake tree,” Samantha said. “It just got added year after year.

“We found something that was on sale for the summer that was Christmas-themed and we bought it and put it away until Christmas.”

Samantha had also collected a wealth of items for her classes from thrift stores, flea markets, and other sources to use for decorating. Many of them adorn the 3 by 7 foot shrubs in front of the house.

Dion tells the stories of the big Easter eggs and the giant sugar pine cones.

“At the end of each season, there are exhibit materials available that you can purchase for a small price,” he said.

They noticed one year that the Glenville Price Chopper was offering “huge sugar pinecones” for sale as part of deals. “None of them have been sold,” he said, noting that they might have been scheduled for disposal the day after Christmas.

“On the 26th we showed up at 7am and bought them all for $2 each. We ended up with 24 of them,” he said, smiling.

Another year, they noticed that Michael’s craft store was selling giant plastic Easter eggs, with two smaller eggs in each large egg. “They were tagged $34 for the set,” Dion said. “We bought 14 of these for $2 each the day after Easter.

“We figured if these work and bring someone joy, we can pass them on.”

The 12 screens

Your holiday displays change at the end of each month and remain active throughout the month. Here are the monthly themes:
January: silver and snowflakes
February: Valentine’s Day, with red lighting
March: St. Patrick’s Day, all in green
April: Easter. Dion discovered that if you shine red and blue floodlights together, you get purple
Can: Lily of the valley flowers
June: roses
– JJuly: July 4th and patriotism, all in red, white and blue
August: sunflowers
September: Apples and back to school
October: Halloween, with pumpkins and ornamental cabbage (from Schoharie) along the sidewalk
November: Thanksgiving, corn stalks, big pumpkins, big pumpkins, scarecrow
December: Christmas

change of seasons

After Easter, insoles and perennials share the limelight along the walkway, the front foundation, and in the “snow hut,” the area between the walkway and the street.

In the snow hut, Dion digs holes for three large pots that act as “sleeves” for smaller pots of decorations. Before big snowstorms he removes the pots with the decorations, and after the storm he digs up the holes and puts them back.

Summer grows begonias (six different colors), lilies of the valley, large red canary, impatiens, petunias, hydrangeas (‘Endless Summer’ variety) and more. They have two purple royal maples and one Japanese maple.

A few little things about their decorations:

— Theft or loss wasn’t a problem unless you count the little reindeer that blew down this Christmas and was never found. The bright lights and security system deter mischief.

— Dion uses 100-watt LED spotlights around the yard and house, 22 in all, controlled by photocell timers. The Bagnatos moved into the house in 1976 (built 1903). They have since upgraded the electrics.

— Everything is securely fastened. “This was a learning, evolving lesson,” said Dion. “We’ve learned over time that everything has to be safe, everything has to be checked.” Things are held in place with erosion clamps. Many lights are mounted on reinforcing bars.

– How long does it take? “A display like this takes a day and a half,” said Dion.

— Storage is a completely different matter. “You have to take care of it [the decorations], put them away and keep them dry,” Dion said. They have dozens of 3 foot long storage boxes with lids labeled by season.

It’s traditional

Aside from their Schenectady pride, the Bagnatos, both now in their 70s, say they enjoy the tradition of decorating.

Dion says that as teachers, “we’ve both learned that it’s important to lead by example. You had to take the time to make things presentable and we were encouraged by people who enjoyed it.”

“There were people who complimented us on our work and inspired us to do it,” Samantha said. “It started with people driving by and honking their horns and putting their thumbs in the car, and then people would come over and be like, ‘Your house looks so good.’ ”

“We had occasions where people would visit us up on the porch,” Dion said. “An elderly lady coming from Clifton Park to see the doctor stopped by, rang the bell, gave us some sweets and thanked us for the exhibit.

“And we received an anonymous letter expressing the joy we bring to passers-by.”

They also hang a banner from the porch thanking key workers.

“About two months ago, a woman parked across the street and was taking pictures,” Dion said. “She said she was a nurse from Ellis Hospital and appreciated our banner.”

Due to COVID, Dion said these past two years have been the most difficult because they haven’t been able to entertain at home and things have been more subdued.

But that didn’t stop her.

“It’s for fun and pleasure,” Samantha said.

“It’s tradition,” added Dion. “The idea that people have traditions and can share them with other people.”

And as Samantha was quick to point out, “As long as we can make it, we’ll always do something.”

Note: The Bagnatos’ home is at the northeast end of Van Vranken Avenue, just before it turns into Aqueduct Road in Niskayuna.

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Categories: Life and Art, Schenectady

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