I can’t imagine how many people and how much time it would have taken to decorate Spencer House in the 19th century. Here in the gallery, it takes a full day to prepare the rooms in the Spencer House miniature. Once we remove the glass and clean and polish the rooms for the holidays, we all look forward to decorating it, marveling at the intricate ornamentation that emerges from the archives once a year.
Most of the holiday decorations in the home are by Jo Bevilacqua of Spencer’s Nook. Her trees have a very formal appearance—fitting for our anchor exhibit by Mulvany & Rogers. I don’t necessarily have a theme for decorating the 1/12th-scale re-creation of one of London’s finest mansions, but I do try to choose décor to enhance the beauty of each room.
Trees, of course, are key, and most of the rooms include an elaborately decorated miniature fir. In fact, trees set the tone starting from the exterior of Spencer House. Jo created the two that adorn the front lawn, as well as the urns filled with smaller decorated evergreens and the beautiful door wreaths.
Inside is more delightful greenery. In the entrance hall (at right), is a stunning tree by Lois Bigley. Decorated in white and silver with matching wrapped gifts beneath, it complements the simple sophistication of this space. The only other color I chose to use in this area is seen in the bright red poinsettias which are featured throughout many of the rooms (much like my own home this time of year).
Proportion is always a consideration in choosing trees for the various rooms as I want each tree to look as if it belongs in the space. I also choose decorations and ornaments that will go with the specific design and color palette of the room. A striking example is in the Painted Room (left) where one of our most dramatic Christmas trees takes center stage. I selected a tree filled with various shades of teal ornaments to mirror the blues and greens of the room and I think it works beautifully. The metallic ribbon and white lights add a touch of elegance to this already elegant space, which is all about love, art and music as seen in the paintings on the ceiling panels.
The Great Room also features a brilliant tree by Jo, designed to bring out the rich reds of the extraordinary entertaining area. The walls and chairs are actually covered in dyed brocade from a wedding dress. Once Susie and Kevin saw John Hodgson’s spectacular chairs, they asked to use the same fabric on the walls!
The tree for this room features flowing gold ribbons and ruby colored ornaments of all shapes and shades that sparkle alongside the crystal chandeliers and gilt furnishings and woodwork. I positioned it in “Diana’s Corner,” where her portrait (also by John) is displayed. I especially like how Gerd Felka’s glass blown decanter set on the side table looks when it reflects the twinkling lights and golden shimmer of the tree. It really is a gorgeous room during any time of the year.
The lovely Christmas trees may take the spotlight during the holidays, but I also like to place wreathes, garland and sprays of greenery throughout the rooms and on the mantles. For centerpieces, I add shiny holiday balls in bowls, and while Spencer House is primarily formal, I enjoy adding lived-in touches such as Christmas packages, a plate of Christmas cookies and Christmas cards in a basket, like the ones below on the desk in the Ante Room hinting that Lady Spencer may have just been sitting there addressing her own season’s greetings to friends and family.
I have to admit, I linger a little longer in the gallery when the holiday décor is installed, and when the time comes to remove it, I feel a bit melancholy. Spencer House looks so beautiful that I fear the home will not look quite as nice without it. After all the trees and tiny wreathes make their way back into the archives, however, I find that each room exudes its own personality with or without a holiday touch.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope you can make it to see our holiday displays in person before they are packed away on January 20th. It’s a perfect time to visit because our latest exhibition, Scaled to Perfection: A Gallery of New Miniatures is up, as well as Robert Dawson’s Catherine Palace. Have a wonderful holiday season!