Holiday Magic in Vanderbilt Mansion


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

Decorating the mansion this year were the Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village garden clubs; Harbor Homestead & Co. Design; Valerie Meskoures and Pat Ward, and the Cornell University Cooperative Extension master gardeners.

Vanderbilt Museum photo Krishtia McCord (left) and Mary Schlotter decorate William K. Vanderbilt II’s bedroom
Vanderbilt Museum photo
Krishtia McCord (left) and Mary Schlotter decorate William Vanderbilt’s bedroom

Mary Schlotter and her daughter, Krishtia McCord, both of Centerport, decorated the bedroom of William K. (known as “Willie”) Vanderbilt II, the arcade that connects two wings of the Mansion, the Lancaster Room and Northport Porch.

“Willie kept peacocks on the estate,” Schlotter said, “so we used peacock teal blue on the mantle, gold acorns – featured in the family crest – and ribbons with teal rosettes. We also used pine cones from the grounds, from trees that Willie planted when he lived here.” Above the bedroom’s French doors that overlook Northport Bay, they hung peacock-feather garlands intertwined with small gilded leaves that look like wild vines.

Schlotter operates the Centerport design firm Harbor Homestead with her daughter Krishtia McCord, a former hedge-fund analyst who joined her to expand the business. In the arcade they created a “woodland garden” theme. “We use natural materials whenever possible, and foraged most of the materials for the arcade from the Vanderbilt Estate grounds,” Schlotter said. “We found mosses, pine cones, greenery, holly, ferns, mossy rocks, and flat cedar for garlands. All can be composted later.”

Outside the front door, they placed two small, bare birch trees in ceramic urns, decorative birds, moss and ferns from the estate. In a niche in the elaborate, carved stone doorway frame, sits a decorative eagle, in honor of the estate name, Eagle’s Nest.

Schlotter and McCord placed sprays of greenery with lady apples and persimmons on the shallow ledges between the arches. A small live pine tree near the entrance was trimmed at its base with mossy rocks and ferns. In the Northport Porch, they recreated a zebra-striped, corner banquette at the legendary El Morroco nightclub in Manhattan, with Willie and Rosamund Vanderbilt – enlarged to life-size from an old newspaper photo – seated for dinner. To complete the scene, the created a sign with the original El Morocco logo, and ceiling-high palm trees with heavy white paper.

For the past several years, Schlotter also has plied her talents as one of the many designers invited to decorate The White House for the holidays and the Fourth of July.

Valerie Meskoures of the Centerport Garden Club adjusts ribbons on a tree in Rosamund Vanderbilt’s bedroom
Valerie Meskoures of the Centerport Garden Club adjusts ribbons on a tree in Rosamund Vanderbilt’s bedroom

The Three Village Garden Club (Old Field, Setauket and Stony Brook), which has been decorating the Mansion for more than a decade, this year turned its talents to the Portuguese Sitting Room.

Joann Canino and six members of the club began with the room’s “masculine overtones,” and used aquas and blue-plaids in its color scheme. “We used ribbons, lights and aqua balls on the tree and placed tiny trees around the room, on the desk and next to the lamps. We placed blue-velvet ribbons and gold balls on the torchieres near the doorway, and filled the stockings and placed them on the sofas.”

For the table arrangement, the club used artificial evergreens, silver ribbons and colorful balls. They trimmed the centuries-old fireplace surround with a garland intertwined with gold ribbons, balls and leaves. “We wrapped packages in plaid to put beneath the tree,” Canino said. “The whole effect was subtle but magnificent.”

“The Sitting Room feels homey and cozy, and not like part of a museum,” she said. “You feel as if you’ve been invited as a guest, so we tried to make it warm and welcoming. The minute you enter the gate, you know you’re in a special place. Being able to decorate part of the mansion is a magical experience. When you visit, it’s like going back in time, when the smallest details were important. It was an honor for all of us.



Regular Mansion Tours Guided tours of the decorated mansion are given Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:30, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. Visitors pay the general admission fee plus $5 per person for a tour.

Special Twilight Tours The popular Twilight Tours of the Mansion will be given Friday-Sunday, December 26-28, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors (62 and older), and $5 for children 12 and under. Hot chocolate and cookies are included.

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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