Six years ago, Dave and Cindy Condit decided to throw a Halloween party — just an intimate affair for 40 of their closest friends.
To set the mood, they transformed their contemporary Spanish-style Templeton home into a macabre mansion. Each year since, the decorations have grown more elaborate and the guest list has swelled to more than 60.
Dave is owner of San Luis Obispo’s Integrity Systems, a company that customizes security, entertainment and communications systems for homes and businesses. Cindy has worked for 24 years at the San Luis Obispo AAA office. Both work long hours, so eking out the 80-plus hours to decorate for Halloween is always a challenge. They spread the shopping, crafting and decorating out over about a month, working nearly every evening and weekend.
If the workload seems excessive, it’s because the couple has high aesthetic standards for their ghoulish undertaking.
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“We don’t want it to look like we’re having a party so we just threw up some decorations,” said Dave. “We want it to blend in with our existing furniture. We want the house to have a haunted mansion feel.”
The couple begins the process by sorting through the 25 large Rubbermaid totes in their garage that are filled with Halloween decorations. They concoct scenes and vignettes throughout the house, and then find pieces to fit them.
This year, their saltwater fish tank inspired a pirate theme with swords, skulls and a treasure chest. Their dining area has been transformed into a voodoo room with potions, candles, shrunken heads and a witch’s den.
Cindy is an expert shopper, scouring local stores and perusing eBay for bargains. Most of the decorations they buy are altered to fit a particular scene. For instance, to add some ghoulish glam to foam craft-store skulls, Cindy coated them with glue and rolled them in green and black glitter. Set in a moss-lined container on the coffee table, they become a sinister still life.
When the Condits can’t find exactly what they want, they make it themselves. They purchased semi-sheer black fabric and cut a ragged edge to cover their existing curtains. Homemade spider webs are simply black yarn, unraveled and knotted for a sturdier alternative to wispy store-bought webs. Dave employed his woodworking skills to build a coffin out of siding for the front porch, and a mast and crow’s nest out of fencing material and a planter bucket for their pirate scene.
Although the couple has been known to shell out some cash for just the right high-impact decoration (like the life-size poseable witch that they scored at Costco a few years back), some of their decorations are free or nearly free.
A random assortment of glass jars and beakers filled with food coloring-tinted water then lit with candles creates an eerie-looking laboratory scene. Old sheets, ripped and dyed to a dingy brown, cover art and furniture, making the house seem old and abandoned. Dead branches and moss, which add depth and detail to several vignettes, were scavenged from roadsides.
When all is said and done, the Condits spend around $500 each year on Halloween decorations — except for the first year, when they spent $1,000.
The couple acknowledges that it’s a lot of work and expense for one night. The payoff, they say, is when guests get their first hair-raising glimpse at their house of horrors.
“When it’s over, we’re a little tired,” said Cindy. “But we’re creative people who love to entertain and love holidays. I guess we’re just kids at heart.”
Rebecca Juretic is a freelance writer living in San Luis Obispo.