By Joe Naiman
In 1996, a year after she moved to Ramona, Marlene Holmquist traveled to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo and visited the Cowboy Christmas gift show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
She did not return to Las Vegas during NFR until 2013, when her involvement with Cowboy Christmas was as an exhibitor on behalf of her Luxury Ranch interior design business.
Holmquist’s display showcased equestrian sculptures from Ramonan Jason Winter of J. Winter Designs on the booth wall. The booth wall also included photos of two of Holmquist’s designs that were published in
San Diego Home and Garden
, and other photos were provided by Ramona photographer Reed Settle, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association photographer. There also was a belt buckle from Julian’s Patricia McConnell, who owns the Jewel Box in Julian.
“I’ve been collaborating with a bunch of different artists that I really admire and know do quality work,” Holmquist said. “I’ve tried to work with local people.”
The Ramona community also assisted Holmquist with the booth itself. Holmquist was a member of the Rainbow Riders drill team, which retired as an entity in August, and former Rainbow Riders members Sherry Carr, Marilynn Arnaiz and Dottie Pierce helped staff the booth. Holmquist’s daughter, Heidi, also helped at the booth. Holmquist’s son, Dane, was involved in setting up the display.
“I’ve had friends help me through the entire show,” Holmquist said.
Holmquist, who grew up in Oxnard and moved to Ramona from Camarillo, has had an interior design business for the past 28 years. She called her company Studio One Inc., before changing the name to Luxury Ranch in 2011.
“I just remarketed,” she said. “My job has actually become a lot more fun since I started specializing in contemporary Western.”
Holmquist is a fifth-generation Californian who was raised on a ranch.
“I’m in the horse world,” she said. “I was on the drill team for many years. I’ve ridden my entire life.”
Holmquist’s father, Tom Friel, is a member of the Ranchero Vistadores men’s riding group.
The term Cowboy Christmas initially referred to the rodeos during Fourth of July weekend, when a cowboy could enter multiple rodeos and receive significant earnings for suitable performances. In the 1980s, the PRCA sanctioned a Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, giving visitors to the National Finals Rodeo activities during the day. Cowboy Christmas attracts between 150,000 and 175,000 visitors during the 10 days coinciding with NFR, which in 2013 was Dec. 5-14.
“I have girlfriends who go every year. My father goes every year,” Holmquist said.
The gift shows elsewhere in Las Vegas are not official PRCA events, although the PRCA does not discourage those shows. Approximately three-quarters of the Cowboy Christmas vendors return and the booths sell out, so the other gift shows complement the official show.
Applications for the 2013 Cowboy Christmas Gift Show were due April 30. Holmquist submitted hers in mid-April.
“It actually seemed really obvious once I remarketed,” she said. “Within eight months I designed all the pieces and put the booth together.”
Her booth emphasized her ability to provide custom design.
“A lot of people don’t really know what interior design is,” she said.
Interior design involves evaluating clients to determine their perceptions of comfort, she said.
“It’s working really closely with clients,” she said. “Luxury means something different to everybody, so there’s no particular formula. I interview the people and find out what their lifestyle is like and try to create something for their lifestyle.”
Her Cowboy Christmas booth included a white sofa with an image of a horse. Holmquist used personal experience with the horse, Casper, given to her by her father in the late 1990s.
A table on display was based on conchos with names of family horses over the years and even some of those horses’ shoes.
“I can either recreate that for somebody else or come up with another idea for them,” she said.
Some of the frames surrounding the photos on display were from wood from her grandparents’ barn.
“The planning is the most important part of any remodel or new construction project,” Holmquist said.
“I try to make it as easy for all my clients as I can and give them the gift of time,” Holmquist said. “I can do my job very effectively.”
Holmquist took names of interested potential clients but did not make any sales at the show.
“I’m not really here to sell this, she said. “I’m here to sell a service.”
Her presence at Cowboy Christmas allowed for exposure to potential customers from throughout North America.
“I can do jobs anywhere in the United States because you can e-mail plans very easily, but I always visit the sites,” she said.
Holmquist inquired where her visitors to her booth lived and said some were Ramona and Lakeside residents.
Holmquist noted that she made hundreds of contacts. The interest was from such diverse places as Northern California, Oklahoma, Texas and the East Coast. She said she had significant interest from the owner of a dude ranch in Pennsylvania and from a North Dakota developer working on a 1,500-unit project.
“I even talked to people from Canada,” she said.
The gift show closed at 5 each evening, giving Holmquist and her daughter the opportunity to attend the Dec. 11 rodeo in the Thomas and Mack Center.
“I’m very pleased I came, and I’m sure I will be back next year,” Holmquist said.