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Old Westbury Gardens house reopens with 'over-the-top' Christmas décor

The Old Westbury Gardens estate is ready for

The Old Westbury Gardens estate is ready for Christmas. Visitors can see Santa at the home on weekends throughout December.     Credit: Howie Schnapp

This year’s Christmas decorations at Westbury House — the former home of U.S. Steel fortune heir John Shaffer Phipps located on the Old Westbury Gardens estate — are “over-the-top,” according to those involved in dressing the home for the holidays.

The museum house's enhanced holiday décor is in celebration of the reopening of the Charles II-style mansion after being open to the public only on a limited basis for about a year, so work could be done to replace its 111-year-old roof. New to the Christmastime décor are lighted garlands, additional species of fresh flowers and greenery, an elaborate and festive dining room table setting and new staircase decorations — all wrapped in a holiday theme of the Phipps getting ready for a Christmas party.

“We’re showcasing pieces that don’t normally get shown,” adds Maura Brush, Old Westbury Gardens director of horticulture. The room Mrs. Margarita Phipp’s father stayed in when he came to visit, for example, is “staged as if he’s visiting for the holiday, with an original steamer trunk belonging to the Phipps family.” Other Phipps family items that will be on display include the family china and candelabras, and the dining room centerpieces were recreated based on photographs of what the Phipps home usually looked like during the holidays.

Brush says that visitors to the house can also expect to see more Christmas decorations than usual everywhere, adding that this year thousands of lights were used on the 10 trees alone, which include a “forest” of four small and two large holidays trees that will illuminate some public events set to be held in the enclosed west porch during the season.

Also, just in time for the holidays, the furnishings in the rooms were removed for the roof replacement work and refurbished before being brought back into the house.

“That was done to protect it from vibrations and dust,” explains Old Westbury Gardens president and CEO Nancy Costopulos. She notes the white drawing room on the first floor was also repainted and a wall removed and replaced that had been damaged by the leaky roof. “It’s one of the most important rooms in the house; now it’s completely restored. We really went over-the-top, with mirrors getting cleaned and everything.” The family had a collection of a dozen 18th Century mirrors.

Brush says that although careful care has been given to maintain the elegant look of the Phipps home, what the public has seen before in the Westbury House Christmas decorations has been much enhanced.

“The Phipps family probably had a tasteful and understated way of decorating,” Costopulos adds, “but we wanted to jazz it up this year.”

WHAT Westbury House dressed for the holidays

WHERE Westbury Gardens estate, 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury

COST Admission is $12 for adults, senior and student admission is $10, children's admission for ages 7-17 is $7, and children six and under are free. Some programs featured at the house have special pricing.

INFO 516-333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org

A sampling of other upcoming Christmas holiday events at Old Westbury Gardens:

First Night and Tree Lighting

The evening features a tree lighting, refreshments and performances by members of the Bethel Church Choir. This year, the evening will consist of two sessionson Dec. 7. Session I, 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m. concert (sold out); Session II, 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. concert. Admission $15, $12 for members, $10 for children ages 7 to 17 and $7 child members of that age group, children 6 and under free. Advance tickets are required.

Create a Wreath

Make your own holiday wreath in Old Westbury Gardens style. Dec. 14, 10:30 a.m.; $50/ $45 members; advance registration is required.

Winter Owl Prowl

A wildlife expert brings live owls for a meet and greet and later leads an outdoor search. Dec. 21; Session I is 4 to 5 p.m.; Session II is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Teas and Tours

Cream Tea: Enjoy a cream tea, featuring scones, clotted cream, jam and tea, followed by a tour of the decorated Westbury House. Dec. 10 and 17, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. both dates; Dec. 11 and 18, 11 a.m.; Dec. 5, 12 and 19, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Admission is $20/$16 for members. Advance tickets are required.

Afternoon Tea: Visit decorated Westbury House and enjoy a full afternoon tea. The menu includes tea sandwiches, scones, seasonal desserts and a selection of teas blended especially for Old Westbury Gardens. Dec. 11 and 18, 1:30 p.m. Admission is $45/$37 for members.

Savor the Season

The Pleasure of Chocolate and Wine Paring: Through a guided tasting, a chocolate sommelier will pair artisan chocolates from around the world with wine in a gathering in the Red Ballroom of Westbury House. Age 21 and over only. Space is limited. Dec. 13, 8 p.m. Admission is $45/$37 for members. Advance tickets are required.

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