Designers, Garden Clubs Bring Holiday Magic to Historic Vanderbilt Mansion
By Patrick Keeffe
Every November, dozens of interior designers and garden-club members donate days of time and talent to decorate the Spanish-Revival waterfront mansion of William K. Vanderbilt II. With trees and wreaths, garlands and ornaments, presents and poinsettias, they bring an elegant holiday magic to the stately, 24-room house.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, visitors to the mansion can see the charming results of the decorators’ work. Guided tours of the decorated mansion are given Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. Visitors pay the general admission fee plus $5 per person for a tour.
Taking part this year were the Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village garden clubs; Michele Boyer; Harbor Homestead & Co. Design; Claudia Dowling Interiors., and the Cornell University Cooperative Extension master gardeners.
Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, said, “These talented volunteers create a charming atmosphere of holiday grandeur and sophisticated living. We are grateful for the magic they bring to this historic house, which attracts hundreds of visitors each December.”
“The decorators study the mansion and create historical color palettes. Their designs and the subtle placement of clothing, jewelry, gifts and other personal objects sometimes suggest that members of the family are in the house, but have momentarily left the room. This is in keeping with the preservation of the mansion as a living museum of the Vanderbilts’ life.”
Special Twilight Tours
The spectacular results charm hundreds of visitors between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. The Vanderbilt offers its very popular twilight mansion tours, scheduled this year on the evenings of Wednesday-Friday, December 26-28, 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.
The Three Village Garden Club has participated for more than 10 years. This year, eight of its members decorated the large tree and fireplace in the high-ceilinged library, and wrapped faux-presents in matte silver foil to place beneath the tree. Ornaments were hung with ribbons from the high built-in bookshelves beside the marble fireplace.
Club members Virginia Sassano said, “Our club is based in North Shore villages that date to the 1600s, so we feel a sense of history and connection to the Vanderbilt estate and mansion. It was rewarding for us to transform the dark, wood-paneled library into a bright, festive holiday celebration room where the family and guests would enjoy making merry and exchanging gifts.”
Mary Schlotter and her daughter, Krishtia McCord, who operate the design firm Harbor Homestead & Co. in Centerport, have recreated a piece of the famous Manhattan nightclub El Morocco in the Northport Porch. The Vanderbilts socialized with their famous friends at the club during the 1930s and 1940s.
Schlotter made Art Deco white-paper palm trees and decorated them with silver ornament balls. Using the nightclub’s navy, white and silver colors, she created an El Morocco banquette and reproduced the club’s sign and distinctive lettering. Seated at the banquette are William K. Vanderbilt II and his wife, Rosamund — in a life-size enlargement of a vintage newspaper photo of them, taken in El Morocco.
Mr. Vanderbilt was a Napoleon enthusiast, so Schlotter and McCord decorated his bedroom using deep blue and gold, also the colors of Vanderbilt’s Navy uniform. Schlotter gathered pine cones on the estate grounds and used them with garlands on the fireplace mantel.
McCord, who visited the Vanderbilt as a “schoolkid,” said, “I remember the sea creatures in the jars and cases: “I enjoy decorating the mansion because it’s a beautiful landmark that not enough people appreciate. I hope that around the holidays people will visit and see how special it is.”
Michele Boyer, who has decorated mansion rooms for the than 15 years, said, “This is such a remarkable house and I’ve been doing this so long that it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without doing this first. Every year I learn something new about the mansion and the family. As she finished Rosamund Vanderbilt’s bedroom, she said, “The paneled room has a French chateau feeling about it and it’s so elegant. So I’ve added some touches that subtly complement what’s already there”
Jennifer Indence, an interior designer who is working with Claudia Dowling Interiors in Huntington, said, “I grew up in Centerport and have always been a big Vanderbilt fan. I was lucky to have the chance to work on the renovation of the Vanderbilt’s Normandy Manor a few years ago. When I was offered the opportunity to decorate the mansion’s Windsor guest room for the holidays, I jumped at the chance.”
Holiday Season Hours
Open 12:00-4:00 on December 22-23 and 26-30. Closed: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Photo above right: Michele Boyer trims a tree in Rosamund Vanderbilt’s bedroom. A drawing of Rosamund hangs on the wall.
Photo above left: Krishtia McCord and Mary Schlotter decorate William K. Vanderbilt II’s bedroom.