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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 15 Style article misspelled the name of Dennis Buttelwerth, a Cincinnati florist.

Inauguration Week: Deep Blue Scene

By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page C02

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has thrown a veil of secrecy around the look and style of Inaugural Week 2005. But the celebration of George W. Bush's second term promises these symbolism-charged visuals:

The background color is blue.

(Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)

The backdrop for photo ops will be Old World, though not French.

To soften Washington's hard edges, out-of-town florists have brought in enough trailing greenery to cover four football fields. The favored stuff -- Smilax officinalis -- is Southern and prickly.

"The predominant color is blue," confirmed Dennis Buttleworth, a Cincinnati florist working on the inauguration who has seen plans for the official ballrooms.

The choice of hue is not about reaching out to the Other States. Inaugurations are simply caught in a patriotic cycle of red, white, blue and gold. Bush planners exhausted red in 2001. Too much white would look like a wedding. An overdose of gold would suggest a coronation. So it's blue by default for the stages on which the president and first lady will greet well-wishers.

The quadrennial inaugural ritual is arguably the nation's biggest party, and there's always the risk of creating an indelible image that history treats unkindly. Buttleworth still recalls the vivid and glitzy "red, white and blue lamé" tablecloths he encountered as a volunteer during a Reagan inauguration. For his plum assignment this year, designing three candlelight dinners for big contributors, Buttleworth has gone in a relatively simple direction. The sit-down dinners Wednesday night at the National Building Museum, Union Station and Washington Hilton will be "very dignified, especially during a time of war," he promised. But not dull.

Iridescent taffeta tablecloths will pop with fashion colors. At the Hilton, half will be shades of fern and lettuce green, the other half a deep robin's-egg blue. Tables will be topped with three clear glass containers, each holding a single variety of flower -- white hydrangeas, yellow daffodils or yellow gerbera daisies -- with no filler. The Building Museum will feature a lively combination of hot pink taffeta and orange-striped sheers over bubble-gum-pink liners. Bunches of peach tulips, roses and lilies will be placed in simple glass bowls and cylinders. Union Station will have a mix of iridescent plaid and bold swaths of orange, green, cobalt and fuchsia. The flowers and glass are American products. The fabric is not.

"The colors certainly are not conservative, but the use of the flowers is," Buttleworth said. "Nothing is being done in masses. It's extremely tasteful. We're just making it a party."

Buttleworth describes himself as "just an everyday florist," but his clients include such inner-circle Republicans as Cincinnati arts patron Katharine DeWitt, wife of big contributor William DeWitt. The DeWitts are co-chairs of the inaugural committee.

"The reason Mrs. DeWitt came to me," Buttleworth said, is "I know their taste, which is conservative."

The inaugural committee has kept renderings and mockups out of view, and caterers such as Bill Homan of Design Cuisine were sworn to secrecy. But Marvin Bond of Hargrove Inc. in Lanham, which is building the sets for each official ball venue, said the committee was "looking for an Old World style of decor," complete with columns, banners, swags and the official seal. The stages will be up for the candlelight dinners Wednesday. And there will be a lot of blue, he said. But by Thursday, the flowers will change. Bond anticipates "very heavy red floral treatments -- we're talking hundreds of thousands of flowers."

The Society of American Florists calculates that 250,000 flowers and a mountain of foliage will be cut and stuffed into 3,000 arrangements and 200 seven-foot-tall topiaries, destined for nine ballrooms, three dinners and three official receptions. Charles Kremp, a Philadelphia florist and liaison between the inaugural committee and the flower association, said no separate budget for flowers had been broken out of the inaugural costs and no attempt had been made to estimate the cost of materials. Many services and products have been donated.

One problem: Field-grown roses have been mired in mud in rainy Southern California. Even if growers could get into the fields to cut them, flowers can't be shipped wet because of the risk of mildew. Kremp said an emergency call went out Sunday to flower sources in the Netherlands. But Buttleworth was upbeat.

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