Design & Décor, Holiday, Living with Style, Winter

A Vanderbilt-Inspired Holiday Mantel

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It was a dream invitation, especially at this time of the year — come in and pick out your favorite new ornaments that have just arrived and create a holiday mantle at your home. I’ve partnered with the Preservation Society of Newport County (PSNC) over the years for many reasons and causes, and this was to be for their online retail presence, NewportStyle. Even before I knew the theme, “Rustic,” I had been collecting leaves and fallen branches from the many oak trees at Parterre, especially the acorns which represent an organic design to which I’ve always been partial.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw that acorns in many sizes, materials, and colors were among the ornament selections.

Just as relevantly,  the acorn  (“from an acorn a mighty oak shall grow”) is a signature of the Vanderbilt family, two of whose large cottages are under the stewardship of the PSNC. Normally, I would not be decorating this early for Christmas but it proved a lovely bit of serendipity as special houseguests were coming for Thanksgiving. The decorated mahogany mantle in our library proved a festive backdrop to the holiday weekend. And this is how it all came together…

Clusters of sparkling gold and silver acorns accented the pine cone garlands laced with greenery.

These were joined by larger gold acorns and forest green mercury ornaments with charming quilted velvet tops.

The fallen oak branches from our lawn were naturally coated with fungi and moss, adding greatly to the rustic theme. To this vignette a large three-wick pillar candle anchors one end of the mantle while the Forest King nutcracker with brocade robe stands guard at the other end.

A heavy garland of mixed evergreens draped the mantle, highlighted with a swag in the middle to act as a counterbalance to the large wreath.

Burlap ribbon, strewn with brown twig details, continues the rustic theme that is clearly apparent with the twenty year old magnolia wreath whose leaves have turned parchment and copper.

Of course, decorating with mercury glass ornaments present one big challenge — they’re breakable. AS I was trying to light the fire, I bumped one and it fell onto the hearth. Fortuitously, the break point on this large (6”) forest green acorn was such that I could nestle it into the mossy branches of evergreens so it becomes a “faerie house,” complete with its own real acorn top…and the silver mercury interior makes it appear as though the lights are on inside.

Two little woodland critters also join a corner of the scene.

Making out your Holiday gift list? Consider an autographed copy of Living Newport: Houses, People, Style…with free shipping through December! (Available from

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

4 thoughts on “A Vanderbilt-Inspired Holiday Mantel

  1. Good morning! Your mantle is beautiful. I absolutely love your wreath and am wondering if you made it yourself. I have two magnolia trees with plenty of leaves. Any hints would be helpful. I’ve seen several options to buy but none as full as yours.

    1. Hello Claire, I did not make this wreath myself but it’s size and width comes from the amount of leaves attached to the frame when making the wreath. If you have two magnolia trees you should have more than enough leaves to create a very full wreath. Good luck!

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