The huge, ornate door to Stan Hywet Hall is appropriately heavy and takes a hefty push to get in.
Given all the history and memories the mansion stores inside, there’s no wonder this portal in time takes a bit of muscle.
The former Akron home to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. co-founder F.A. Seiberling and his wife, Gertrude, is architecturally stunning in and of itself — but it really comes alive at Christmas.
With some 16,000 individual Christmas lights inside the Manor Home alone and far too many decorated Christmas trees to count, it stands as the centerpiece of the rambling estate’s Deck the Hall celebration, which opens the night after Thanksgiving and runs through Dec. 30.
And for the first time, the folks at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens have turned to local florists and designers to dream up the holiday decorating schemes for many of its rooms.
Curators challenged the decorators — 12 in all — to draw their inspiration from Christmas cards that were either sent out by the Seiberling family or given to them over the years along with some other vintage ones that have been added to the collection over the years.
Many of the cards are from the era in and around when the mansion and its expansive gardens off North Portage Path were built.
Christmas has always played an important role in the estate’s history.
The family moved into the home in December 1915 just as the last tradesmen were putting the final touches on their handiwork that remains on display today.
The first Christmas celebrated at the house included the Seiberling family along with friends and guests who numbered around 40.
Christmas celebrations at the home have since grown in size and scope.
Some 35,000 guests attend the holiday celebration and most tour the Manor House during Deck the Hall.
Sean Joyce, interim president and executive director at Stan Hywet, said that considering the total attendance at the various events at the estate from Ohio Mart to the Father’s Day car show to daily tours of the home numbers around 135,000, it shows just how important Deck the Hall is for the organization dedicated to preserving the estate’s history.
And having the interior displays inspired by Christmas cards from the family and estate’s own collection, Joyce said, follows a mission to share the home’s history with the public.
Transforming the rooms of the Manor House was really a two-day whirlwind of activity Monday and Tuesday of this week, said Julie Frey, director of museum services and a curator, as the designers converged to work their magic in anticipation of Deck the Hall.
Ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week from $18 for adults to $22 for adults on Friday and Saturdays.
Frey said the staff selected 20 Christmas cards from the collection from which the designers could pick.
Some brought in all of their own decorations or “shopped” through the estate’s extensive collection Christmas stuff accumulated over the years and stored for future use.
“Everyone created something different,” she said. “Every room has a different style.”
The last designer to pick her card had the biggest room to fill.
Jennifer Lauer of Kern’s Florist and Greenhouse in Akron said she’s a procrastinator by nature and likes to wait until the last minute.
But looking over all 20 of the cards that she could have picked from, Lauer said, the one she ended up with that depicts a deer standing amid a winter forest scene would have been the one she would have picked anyway.
The card’s nature scene fits well with the Great Hall she was tasked to deck out from the large taxidermy heads that adorn the walls to scenic views of the estate out of the large windows.
Lauer’s room is a splash of white with large painted twigs jutting out from a large Christmas tree.
“The design is wintry and organic,” she explained. “It is not your typical Christmas.”
The themes inspired from the cards vary from a very traditional scene complete with everything from Santa to large gingerbread men to the Nativity.
For the first time, live musicians performing during the event will be positioned on the Minstrels Balcony overlooking the Great Hall.
Frey said this should allow everyone in the Manor House to enjoy the music as it carries down the hallways, but it also frees up space in Music Room.
“This way, the music room is restored back to its historical appearance,” she said.
The room this season is home to a spectacular 20-foot-tall tree that has some 600 feet of ribbon wrapped around it.
Stems Fleur in Shaker Heights had a vintage card that featured a Christmas tree from which to to work.
Irene’s Bedroom in the house was the work of longtime volunteer and designer Kevin Robinson.
The former owner of floral shop spent some 120 hours creating 166 intricate and delightful paper flowers that adorn a tree and the bedroom.
“We could not pull this off without a huge number of volunteers,” Frey admitted.
While the hand-selected designers tackled the larger rooms, the hallways and other smaller spaces and rooms were left to the handiwork of staff and those volunteers.
The master bedroom features a tiered Christmas tree ringed by dozens of handcrafted, so-called Putz houses that are made of cardboard by the hands of volunteer Cindy Bruning.
Outside the Manor House, another million lights cover everything from trees to the ground itself.
Fanciful trees and even caterpillars made of light dance to music as part of the Dazzle Light Show set to music that goes off every 20 minutes.
Santa and Rudolph have taken up residence at the Carriage House where you can buy your tickets for the event.
Nearby there is a roaring fire to warm your mittens and vintage animated window displays that recall a bygone era.
The Corbin Conservatory and its many plants are decorated with lights, and there’s even a giant poinsettia Christmas tree.
There is also a Gingerbread Land area for youngsters and those young at heart.
Visiting Stan Hywet Hall & Gardnens is now a Christmas tradition for generations of Northeast Ohioans, Frey said, so that’s why they work on new themes for the house every year and add new decorations outside too.
“We want to keep it fresh every Christmas season.”
Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.