Just Be Claus!

Jolly Old St. Nick is the star in Jim Heeter's CWE parlor room.

By Melissa Mauzy
Photography by Anne Matheis


Sliding open the original pocket doors leading into the parlor of his 1894 Central West End home, Jim Heeter, owner of the Gifted Gardener, unveils his spectacular homage to the man in the red suit, Santa Claus. Heeter’s love affair with St. Nick goes all the way back to his college days in Springfield, MO, when he was called to fill in for Santa at Sears. What was supposed to be a one-night thing turned into a two-year gig, but it taught Heeter so much about the spirit of the holiday season, which he incorporates into his decorating.

“I will never forget one little girl who came in with her grandmother,” he recalls. “She came up to get her picture taken, and when I asked what Santa could bring her, she handed me a note that said, ‘Just get my mommy well.’ Santa was speechless! I still have the note, and it showed me the power of Santa.”

Scanning the room, there are sweet and sentimental traces of Santa everywhere. A nine-foot tree resides in an old garden planter box that Heeter painted with three coats of glossy red paint that complements his impressive collection of ornaments glimmering in classic red, white and silver. Three plush Santa figurines wired together hold court at the top of the tree. “Some of the pieces are family heirlooms, but the majority are items I’ve collected over the past 22 years when I go on buying trips for my store,” Heeter explains of his décor. “Remember, a tree decked out with your favorite things is sure to shine.”

Other favorite items in the space include his great aunt’s silk striped settee adorned with clever-worded pillows, a bronze bust of Santa checking his list with a feather quill and Heeter’s favorite, a large Bethany Lowe Santa carrying a tree with miniature candles. And, of course, Heeter always proudly displays his Santa hat from his years of helping out St. Nick at Sears.

So how does Heeter determine which decorations make the cut and what goes where? “Start first with some of the things you truly love, things you treasure, and then build from there,” he explains. “The holidays are the one time of year you can really be over the top with drama and scale.”

He keeps the décor fresh by rotating pieces each year, and he only adds a new item if it truly catches his eye. What impressive restraint for the shop owner who sees thousands of new items each year at market!

Equipped with memories of his father, who taught him to invite imagination into the home at Christmas, as well as visions of the magical displays in the old department store windows, Jim Heeter’s parlor room not only celebrates the man in the red suit but also the true spirit of the holiday season. “I find that with our memories we make traditions, and with inspiration those memories can last forever,” he says.

Jim Heeter, The Gifted Gardener, 314-961-1985