Richard and Nanette Stauff maintain the most talked-about window displays in Seabright—currently for Valentine’s Day, of course. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
While sitting on a couch in Richard and Nanette Stauff’s living room, next to a plush red heart pillow, an unidentified pink light bounces across the pages of my notebook. Is it a droplet of the Barefoot Summer red wine Nanette served me upon arrival, in a flute painted with pink and red hearts? Or perhaps Tinkerbell herself, darting around the room? No, upon closer inspection the glowing orb is a reflection from the picture window behind me, which is decked out with pink heart-shaped lights, heart streamers, stuffed teddy bears and other appropriate Valentine’s Day accoutrements.
I should have known. The window is, after all, the reason for my visit. It has become something of a fixture on the Stauffs’ block, in Santa Cruz’s Seabright neighborhood, over the years.
“We get up at 6 in the morning every day, and the first thing we do is put on the lights for our window, so people going to work can see,” says Nanette. She wears heart earrings, a heart necklace and a red sweater with pink hearts stitched onto it.
They decorate the window for every holiday. Ghouls and goblins for Halloween, a globe for Earth day, and a teddy bear wearing sunglasses and reclining in a lawn chair for the holiday-less stretch of late summer. Christmas is big. Nanette says she wakes up at 5am the day after Thanksgiving to get the Christmas window ready—like Macy’s in New York. “By the time people wake up, it’s Christmas out there!”
Asked if they have a favorite holiday, Richard says, “All of them.” He wears wire-rimmed glasses over his brown eyes, which he frequently bugs out for effect when he makes a joke or tells a story he’s particularly jazzed about. He went through an eBay phase, he says, where he accumulated a lot of the raw materials for their holiday window displays. Other items have come from Hallmark, or the dollar store, or were given to the couple as gifts. Valentine’s Day items aren’t hard to come by around the Stauff residence. “We like romantic things, so we tend to pick them up anyway,” says Nanette.
In their home, it is not just the window that is decorated. Lifelong musicians, the Stauffs have decked out their modest ranch house with music-themed artwork and trinkets. The living room rug is a piano. In the bathroom, the tub has a piano key tile wall, and there is a piano toilet paper roll. There are two piano tea kettles in the kitchen. In the living room, they have an actual piano plus a framed painting of a piano above it.
When Richard sits down to play the piano, Nanette often stands behind him, swaying or doing arm circles to warm up before her operatic soprano fills the room.
Richard plays piano and sings at convalescent and retirement homes for several shows a week, with Nanette often joining him on vocals. They’ll sing anything, but are partial to musicals like Phantom of the Opera and The Music Man. The first song they ever sang together was the theme from the 1978 film Ice Castles about a young figure skater who suffers a freak accident that makes her go blind, giving up skating until falling in love teaches her to persevere. Nanette heard Richard playing the song at a wedding in Aptos in 1991.
“Of course, I’m always immediately drawn to the pianist. I started walking over and I just started singing with him. It’s so ironic because the words are ‘looking through the eyes of love,’ you know? ‘Now that I met you’ and everything, and that turned out to be our theme song.”
“Well, we have about 17 theme songs,” says Richard.
The couple has been married since 1996. They got married in Reno, at a facility that provided entertainment as part of a wedding package deal. The Stauffs poo-pooed that, paying extra instead to entertain wedding guests themselves before the ceremony. They sang “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera.
“We sing duets together all the time,” says Nanette. “It’s really romantic. It’s really wonderful. And that’s how we connected initially and that connection stays there.”
The Stauffs are available to play weddings and parties. A schedule of their upcoming performances can be found atwww.stauffr.com.