Creating Holiday Magic in the Mansion

Interior Designers, Garden Clubs Deck the Elegant Halls

Interior designers and garden clubs deck the halls of the Vanderbilt Mansion each year, and hundreds of visitors see the results beginning the day after Thanksgiving. The decorators create enchanted rooms with lighted trees, boughs, ornaments, wreaths, ribbons and elegantly wrapped faux gifts.

Kathleen Kane of the Dix Hills Garden Club places an ornament high on the large tree in the Vanderbilt Library. Vanderbilt Museum photos
Kathleen Kane of the Dix Hills Garden Club places an ornament high on the large tree in the Vanderbilt Library
Vanderbilt Museum photos

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Museum, said, “These generous volunteers use their time and talent to create an atmosphere of charming holiday grandeur and sophisticated living. We’re grateful to them for bringing magic to this historic house.”

Decorating the mansion this year were the Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village garden clubs; Claudia Dowling Interior Designs and Harbor Homestead & Co. Design.

Stephanie Gress, the Museum’s director of curatorial affairs, said “Most of these garden clubs and designers have been decorating the mansion for more than 20 years.

“We look forward to seeing them each year, and to how they use their creative skills to bring elegant holiday charm to the house.”

JoAnn Canino chairs the Three Village Garden Club (Old Field, Setauket and Stony Brook), which has decorated a mansion room every year for more than a decade.

“The Portuguese Sitting Room is very masculine,” she said. “We wanted to bring out the colors of the rug and of the sculpture of the knight on the horse – teal, turquoise, pinks, blues and greens.” In addition to trimming the tree, club members added boughs, ribbons and ornaments to the centuries-old mantelpiece.

Samantha Bendl, Claudia Dowling and Ian Daly of Claudia Dowling Interior Designs in Huntington decorate a Vanderbilt Mansion guest room.
Samantha Bendl, Claudia Dowling and Ian Daly of Claudia Dowling Interior Designs in Huntington decorate a Vanderbilt Mansion guest room

The Dix Hills Garden Club decorated the striking paneled library, the grandest room in the 24-room Spanish-Revival mansion. “It’s a dark room, with not much natural light coming in,” said Christine Lagana. “So we added a wide deep-red ribbon that winds down from the top of the tree. The ‘pop’ of the red brightens the tree in that dark space.”

The club used many gold ornaments and enhanced the mantel of the imposing fireplace with green boughs and gold ornaments. “Since this is a museum, we can’t use glue or nails on the carved wood,” Lagana said. “So we wrapped hidden bricks in dark-green felt and used them to secure the boughs, which are intertwined with golden ribbons. Then we were able to hang ornaments securely from the large length of bough that runs along the mantelpiece.”

Claudia Dowling of Claudia Dowling Design in Huntington said, “We’re blessed to help decorate the Vanderbilt Mansion. It’s such a beautiful historic, Long Island treasure.

“In one of the guest rooms, we used gold and cream and a very traditional tree, in keeping with the original concept of how the Vanderbilt rooms were designed and decorated. We added subtle ‘whisper’ touches in one of the guest rooms – a garland on the mantelpiece and surprise gifts on the club chair.”

Mary Schlotter (left) and Khristia McCord of Harbor Homestead & Co. in Centerport create a Christmas dress for Rosamund Vanderbilt in her dressing room
Mary Schlotter (left) and Khristia McCord of Harbor Homestead & Co. in Centerport create a Christmas dress for Rosamund Vanderbilt in her dressing room

Jenny Holmes, vice president of the Nathan Hale Garden Club, and her friends decorated the upstairs Organ Room, a paneled parlor with an Aeolian pipe organ, large fireplace and sofa, and a table for playing cards and board games.

“Because Mr. Vanderbilt loved the sea, we created a nautical theme with lots of shells from the beach – including a gold-sprayed horseshoe crab shell – and added pine cones and large magnolia leaves,” Holmes said. “We sprayed the magnolia leaves and shells silver and gold, and made ornaments from shells, adding pearls, glitter and tiny stones. We wanted to make the large room as elegant as possible, and lightened it with silver and gold ribbon, and bows. And of course, a large trimmed tree and wrapped presents.”

Mary Schlotter and her daughter, Krishtia McCord – who operate the Centerport design firm Harbor Homestead & Co. – decorated Rosamund Vanderbilt’s mirrored dressing room and the family’s breakfast hallway.

Using a dress-form mannequin, they added green boughs as a skirt. “Our friend, dress designer Lorri Kessler-Toth of Couture Creations, created a fitted turquoise-blue velvet cover for the dress-form torso. We added a necklace of chandelier crystals and a pendant, and embellished the skirt with teal ornaments, champagne ribbon, and filigreed poinsettia leaves. This is a dressing room, so we created a Christmas dress.”

They added chandelier crystals and champagne poinsettia leaves to the bough that decorates on the mantelpiece on the marble fireplace. The crystals on the mantel complement those that hang from the sconces in the mirrored, hexagonal dressing room.

The Centerport club decorated the dining room and Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom, and the Honey Hills club decorated Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom.

Guided Tours of Decorated Mansion

Guided tours of the decorated Vanderbilt Mansion will begin on November 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and be given each Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:30, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. – and each day during the week between Christmas and the New Year, December 26-30.

Visitors pay the general admission fee plus $5 per person for a tour. General admission: $7 for adults, $6 for students with IDs and seniors 62 and older, and $3 for children 12 and under.

Special Twilight Tours of Decorated Mansion

These intriguing evening tours will be given for two days only: Monday-Tuesday, December 26-27, from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors (62 and older) and $5 for children 12 and under.

Museum Holiday Season Hours

Open 12:00-4:00 on December 26-30. Closed: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

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