Take a beautiful historic home, tie it up with ribbons and bows, add a mix of nutcrackers and you will step into a seasonal feast for thesenses. Fragrant balsams filled the air and the cheery décor of local interior designers enlivened every room for the 2004 “Christmas at The Fells” holiday tour.
The exquisite architecture of the Hay Estate in Newbury becomes a backdrop for this holiday fundraising event held every other year.
The house was once the home of three generations of the prominent Hay family: statesman John M. Hay, who was personal secretary to Lincoln and secretary of state for Theodore Roosevelt; archaeologist Clarence Hay and nature writer John Hay.
Each generation added its own touch to the summer estate. The original home consisted of two facing cottages designed by H.H. Richardson — one built in 1891 and the other in 1897. Clarence, John’s son, hired Prentiss Sanger in 1914 to unite the buildings with a generous foyer and give the exterior the Colonial Revival look it has today. When it was finished, he brought his bride Alice up to Newbury. Alice wept upon seeing it … so remote, so rustic. But she soon fell in love with the home and the grounds, planting lavish rose gardens for fresh-cut flowers, and stayed there every summer until 1969.
Through the generations, The Fells had been a place of refuge and renewal for the family. Before Alice died in 1987, she and her son John (currently living in Maine) laid the groundwork to transfer the property to the public trust. They never intended the home to be a museum, but a wildlife refuge and center for nature education. The gardens are being restored and the mission is being accomplished through fundraising and an active program of educational classes. Visit www.thefells.org for more information.
Dining Room: The Grantham Garden Club (Linda Sadowski, Cynthia Adamic, Natalie Moses) turned the elegant dining room into “The Land of Snow” — an interpretation of the journey of Clara and her Nutcracker prince to an enchanted woodland with dancing snowflakes. White paper fans decorated with feathers and pearls grace the chair backs. White paper ornaments, Victorian “crackers,” served as favors on the table. White lace, paper ornaments and tulle dress the tree and white-painted branches with white lights support white lace curtains. A double layer of sheer table cloths are tied up like a jabot at the ends. Several furniture pieces were provided by Prospect Hill Antiques.
The room is a good example of Colonial Revival architecture. It is perfectly balanced with matching trim and shapes on opposing walls. There is even a false window to keep the symmetry. Close the cabinet door and its millwork is the same as the door to its right. Dogwood trees, two, for balance, can be seen through the patio door windows.
The Paneled Living Room: The dog nutcracker (left) was the starting point for this dog lover’s Christmas theme, created by Susie and Richie Burmann. A selection of 19th- and early 20th-century furnishings support the theme that honor man’s best friend. The tree is fully laden with collectible ornaments.
This room was used as a den by the Hay family. It was much too rustic for Alice Appleton Hay’s style, and she had it changed in the 1920s to be more like her Appleton Farm home in Ipswich, Mass., also now open to the public.
The Fells is open year-round as a wildlife refuge. Classes, including snowshoe hikes, will be held starting in January. In season, education, nature, gardening and wildlife classes are held in the building. Guided tours of the grounds, gardens and trails are also available.
The Library:. French and English antique furniture, precious 10th-century boxes in exotic woods, old English brass candlesticks, a German sleigh, children’s toys and a fine selection of nutcrackers are a few of the treasures used by designer Carl V. Williamson of the International Design Group in New London. The room exudes a rich warmth.
The room was re-designed twice in the ’20s by Alice Appleton Hay. There is now a walnut veneer on the carved Federal-style mantel. Alice also had the Circassian walnut paneling painted over. It was too dark for her taste.
The South Hallway: Leslee Herrmann of the Bayberry Barn Christmas Shop in North Sutton and Martha Mical decorated the hallway, complete with a fireplace, with a theme of gold and burgundy.
This was the original entrance for guests who arrived by train, then a steamship across the lake, and finally a carriage to this south-facing door.
The Teddy Roosevelt Bedroom: A Christmas in miniature collection by Mary Williams filled the room and a sampling of her collection of 500 Santas grace the mantel.
While on a public speaking tour in 1902, President Roosevelt slept in this room, the room with the best view of Lake Sunapee. A tree planted by Roosevelt can be seen from the window.
The Alice Hay Bedroom: Drawing on his large personal collection of decorations, Rocky Mueller indulged his love of the season with an exuberant display of seven Christmas trees, all decorated in different themes. One is even hanging from the ceiling. A profusion of his nutcrackers surround the fireplace and mantel.
This was Alice’s bedroom. Being on the first floor it was cooler and she could see her favorite lilac bushes from the window (right).
Open weekends Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Open Wednesday through Sunday June 23 through Columbus Day.
This year attend the Fells Holiday House Tour on December 3, 2005. (www.thefells.org,
This article appears in the December 2005 issue of New Hampshire Magazine