Historic Home Holiday Tour Inspires Festive Decor Ideas

by Karen LeBlanc

The Historic Stetson Mansion Opens Its Doors Showcasing Fresh Ideas for Holiday Decor

Built for Florida's first snowbird, famed hat maker John B Stetson the opulent 3 story Victorian mansion was rescued from obscurity 10 years ago to become the top-rated landmark tourist attraction in all of Florida.

Built for Florida’s first snowbird, famed hat maker John B Stetson the opulent 3 story Victorian mansion was rescued from obscurity 10 years ago to become the top-rated landmark tourist attraction in all of Florida.

As a member of the press, I recently attended a private guided tour of the Stetson hat maker’s opulent 1886 mansion to preview the new luxurious designer displays created for the 8th annual Stetson Mansion “Christmas Spectacular!” Holiday Home Tour.

Owners Michael Solari and JT Thompson open their doors year-round to the privately owned/occupied historical landmark. JT is the sole event designer for all the Christmas decorations you will see. He begins decorating in mid-September in a free-form process. For eight seasons I have conjured my childhood memories to remind me what made this time of year so special.  Christmas carols are a huge part of the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. This year, 10 themes around the mansion are inspired by 10 well-known carols,” JT explains. We begin our tour at the grand staircase.

Guests enter the foyer opening to the grand staircase set in front of three large stained glass windows, original to the home. This is where the breathtaking scenery begins to unfold.  The grand staircase is as a nod to the Christmas carol, Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly.  “It’s my version of the traditional theme with a throwback to Christmas past and a strong evergreen and holly feel,” JT says.

Guests next enter the reception parlor, an homage to Angels We Have Heard on High where custom angel wings crafted by a local artist hang over the sofa and angels with lyres and other musical instruments congregate as an orchestra welcoming the Christ child.

In the piano alcove, a closer look reveals two electrical plugs that JT believes were installed by Thomas Edison and illuminated first Christmas tree with lights. “One of Mr. Edison’s assistants invented Christmas lights so we believe this is the first home in Florida that had Christmas lights.”  The home also has several original Edison light fixtures and the original circuit box, complete with handwritten tags on each lever. “This was one of the first homes in the entire world to be designed and built with Edison electricity.”

The Christmas tree in the parlor is illuminated by electrical outlets installed by Thomas Edison. The current owners who live in this home still continue the old holiday tradition started by Stetson and Edison: lighting up the Christmas tree in the parlor with the same electric outlet Edison installed for that very first string of tree lights

The Christmas tree in the parlor is illuminated by electrical outlets installed by Thomas Edison. The current owners who live in this home still continue the old holiday tradition started by Stetson and Edison: lighting up the Christmas tree in the parlor with the same electric outlet Edison installed for that very first string of tree lights

Built in 1886 for Florida’s first snowbird, iconic hatmaker John B. Stetson, the ornate landmark on the National Historic Register has beautiful intricate wood carvings, 16 parquet floor patterns, and 10,000 panes of antique glass – all competing with this year’s elaborate designer decorations for the visitor’s attention.

Leaving the reception parlor, guests enter the mansion music room and library, where the Stetsons would gather with guests after dinner to socialize. The room is inspired by the carol, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem with nativities from around the world and a commissioned painting.

 

Guests can also marvel at the 16 different intricate original parquet floor patterns and 10,000 panes of antique window glass in the music room.

Peacocks use to roam the estate and JT used this fact to inspire his dining room decor theme, Pretty as a Peacock.  “Mr. Stetson had peacocks roaming the property when he lived here and they would act as his guard birds, squawking to alert that visitors were on the property.”  

The dining room draws focus to an antique birdcage and a peacock tail JT handmade that cascades onto the floor.

Another peacock perches on a tree limb on the dining room table with its tail sweeping down around and underneath the table. JT crafted each custom plate in the peacock tail from antique paper.  A garland filled with peacock and crimson feathers lines the mantel.

Every holiday season, JT pays tribute to the military in one room decorated to honor our servicemen and women.

“The military tribute for the first time ever will be in the kitchen inspired by the carol Let There Be Peace on Earth with three Christmas trees,” JT says.

Guests leave the kitchen, heading to the second floor through the servants’ staircase stopping to admire a tribute to the Stetson Hat Company. JT designed a cowboy themed Christmas tree and decorated stair risers with icons of the American West.

As guests arrive at the top of the stair landing, a view inside a bathroom reveals grandma “had a run in with a reindeer” according to JT that was inspired by a well-known, humorous Christmas song.

Down the hallway, the room designated as The Elizabeth Suite reveals a winter wonderland inspired by the movie Edward Scissorhands. “It’s one of my favorite movies and the message is about acceptance.  I decorated the room to feel like the inside of a winter snow globe.” 

JT filled the room with winter woodland animals, a handcrafted willow tree covered in icicles and decorated the mantel with white pine cones.

The tour proceeds to The Gillen Suite that celebrates the three wise men, a nod to the Christmas carol, We Three Kings, with three handmade wise men crafted by an artist and former guest who bequeathed the decorations to the mansion.

The last stop on the tour is the Stetson Suite, decorated to the tune of  I heard the Bells on Christmas Day, featuring Victorian Christmas bells including antique sleigh bells gifted to the mansion, church bells, school bells, and jingle bells. 

Stetson Mansion is nominated as a contender for Best Holiday Historic Home Tour by USA TODAY for its 2018 10 Best Readers’ Choice travel awards. USA TODAY is giving voters four weeks to vote for the candidate of their choice at https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-holiday-historic-home-tour/

Voting ends Monday, December 10th and the winners will be announced on December 21st. 

The mansion attracts more than 10,000 visitors from around the world during the holiday season. Guided tours are offered at 10:30, 1:30 and 5 pm daily for $25 and reservations are required.

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