PORTLAND, Maine — Yearning for a picture-postcard Christmas? Need inspiration to deck those halls? Head to the grand Italianate brownstone on Danforth Street and prepare to be amazed.
For 32 years, the summer home of Maine native and hotelier Ruggles Sylvester Morse has been painstakingly decorated by local designers for the holidays, with the public invited to partake. But be warned: Christmas at Victoria Mansion, on through Jan. 3, may inspire home envy or sparkle overload, so take it slow.
“It takes 100 man-hours to pull this off,” said designer Danny R. Hatt, who bedecked the dramatic “flying” staircase that gives way to two balconies and a skylight above with an endless array of festoons, glitter, dazzle and a bit of magic.
His team used 100 feet of garland, 250 yards of ribbon, hundreds of shiny ornaments, more than 2,000 white lights and dozens of silk floral stems to create a show-stopping entrance. This year’s theme: Victorian Christmas works with the spirit of the age, displaying a fresh interpretation of the period.
“This is a living, breathing house. It needs to be experienced with a party,” said mansion public relations specialist Gregory Sundik, who expects 8,000 to 10,000 people will experience the house this holiday season.
“All of the designers volunteer countless hours planning, installing, deinstalling their spaces. They also donate thousands of dollars worth of floral materials to make their spaces as beautiful as their imaginations can create,” said Sundik.
Touring the house, built between 1858 and 1860, is an experience in itself.
From the etched glass, thick, double doors in the vestibule to the square rooms, such as the plush Turkish smoking room, lining the main halls, the single-family home is an indulgence for the senses. Vivified in layers of holiday elegance, it’s no wonder this is the mansion’s largest fundraiser of the year.
“This was the McMansion of its day,” said Thomas B. Johnson, Victoria Mansion’s executive director.
Restoration on the national historic landmark began in 1940 and it’s “not over yet,” said Johnson. “A lot of historic homes can be off-putting and gloomy. This isn’t.”
The home’s exterior is equally as impressive.
“For the last several years, Broadway Gardens of South Portland has donated the many wreaths and hundreds of linear feet of fresh garland adorning the exterior of the mansion. Christmas Light Pros in turn donates all their time to hang these beautiful greens and light our large exterior walls and windows,” said Sundik.
When you leave, make sure you exit through the gift shop. Holiday ornaments, scarves and jewels fill the Morse’s former carriage house, leaving you immersed in another era until you step out onto the street.
Christmas at Victoria Mansion, 109 Danforth St., Portland, is open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and until 6:30 p.m. Mondays. For information, visit victoriamansion.org. Admission is $15. On Friday, Dec. 4, all admission is $5 for Portland’s First Friday Artwalk.