Kelly Swift is a self-described visionary. The designer doesn’t just think of an idea, she sees the idea in her mind fully realized in vivid detail. After 9/11 while living in Newport Beach, she had a vision in the middle of the night of writing, producing and directing a TV show for the community called “Proud to be an American Day.” She had never made a TV show before, but her motto is, “whatever is imagined can be created.” On the day of the taping at her children’s elementary school along the beach there were soldiers from every branch of the military, flyovers by military jets, a privateer ship offshore shooting cannons – and as if she choreographed it herself – dolphins jumping into the air.
Two years ago Swift relocated to her hometown, Pacific Grove, where she graduated from high school in 1982. Soon after returning she was hired by Dave Gash of Monterey Capital Real Estate Development – owners of the Holman Building in downtown P.G. – to decorate the building’s windows as a thank you to the town for its support in the renovation of the former department store into luxury condominiums. Swift’s imagination and love for all things vintage went to a place P.G. resembles, Bedford Falls, the imaginary town of holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Her design lit up the dark building with red and green lights, and included a vintage-looking TV playing the movie on a loop 24/7. Restaurants across the street were packed with people that December so they could sit and enjoy the movie and decorations.
Swift is back at it again this year – along with artist Marsha Olson who does the window painting and Swift’s son, Bobby, working as an assistant – designing a new window scheme with the theme “Peace on Earth.” It depicts a picturesque small town skyline and a star shining overhead.
Weekly: Why did you choose the theme “Peace on Earth” this year, and how do you convey that theme artistically and creatively through a window display?
Swift: With all the turbulence going on in the world right now, I wanted something that was simple but impactful. I wanted the line of the buildings to replicate Pacific Grove, so there are Victorians in there, the [City Hall] clock tower is in there – one of the roof lines is from the [Lighthouse] cinema. I just kind of get visions, so I had this vision of the star at the very top, and very simplistically showing the quaint little city that we live in and how beautiful it is. Anything I do I want to touch people’s hearts and invoke emotion. Peace on Earth seemed perfect for this year. That’s what we all want.
What is your preferred creative medium?
I don’t have one. People have told me I put the “Kelly Swift spin” on things. I really try to make it unique, special, memorable, something that grabs the heart, whether it’s windows, design work, style suggestions. I’ve done photography, flowers. I’ll do anything creative. I’ve even done celebrations of life. I did an Elvis-themed celebration of life that was absolutely beautiful and very different and unique.
You’ve got to explain what an Elvis-themed celebration of life is.
Our secretary, Charlotte, had passed away, and I asked her daughter if she wanted me to help her. She said she wanted an Elvis-themed celebration. I kind of gulped because I had never heard of that before. It ended up being really unique and beautiful – Elvis had a lot of songs that were really fitting. I made a bamboo arbor with Hawaiian flower arrangements. We had four men lift the bamboo arbor out of the sand and we played Elvis singing “Amazing Grace.” We all followed the arbor and two Cadillacs from the 1950s, singing to the reception.
Do you have creative outlets outside of your work?
What I adore is vintage, so I have a huge collection of vintage collectibles at my house. I have a Christmas tree right now covered in 1950s Christmas corsages. I’m not satisfied with the norm, I always want to do something different. If someone says, “Oh that can’t be done” – I don’t have that in my head. I know what ever is imagined we can create somehow if we put our heads together and that’s the fun and the excitement.
See photos of the “Peace on Earth” windows on mcweekly.com/people, or see it in person at 542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove.
Editor's Note: The print version of this story included an incorrect spelling of Olson's first name. It's Marsha, not Marcia.