Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum is an 1840s Greek Revival mansion and a National Historic Landmark, located in the Bronx borough of New York City.  Built between 1836 and 1842, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum exemplifies a type of country living that existed in the Pelham Bay Park area in the early 19th Century. Officially open as a museum since 1946, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum’s mansion, gardens and landscape offer visitors a source of serenity in the urban landscape. Via mansion tours, public programs, and a variety of classes, New York City children and their teachers participate in education programs that connect to the museum’s history, allowing all to expand their horizons in an exceptional setting.

Every December the Mansion’s holiday celebrations center around “A Storybook Christmas” theme, a concept to promote New York City youth literacy as well as festive flare. And each year eight New York City Artists and Interior Designers are nominated to translate beloved children’s storybooks into magical story-telling trees.

Yesterday evening I was invited by Interior Designer, Decor Arts Now Lifestyle Blogger, HGTV Contributor, and Bartow-Pell Board Member Lynn Byrne to attend a special sneak preview of this year’s Bartow-Pell Museum Mansion Storybook Tree Designs. I was thrilled to attend such a one-of-a-kind holiday event and to drive up with one of the designers, Tamara Matthews-Stephenson.  I had such a fun time visiting the museum, meeting the tree designers, and lingering over the exquisite details that went into each artist and designer’s “translation” of the storybook into a sparkling Christmas Tree.

Because I love the literacy initiative behind this historic home’s holiday design, I wanted to go through and first introduce each of the designers, the room they chose, and the storybook they undertook to bring to life. How many of these holiday stories do you remember from your childhood? I know the The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams was one of my faves.

And now: an introduction to the historic rooms, timeless stories, and very talented designers in order of appearance:

01 In the Front Hall:
Christmas Eve Blizzard Storybook by Andrea Vlahakis
Tree Design by Artist and Wave Hill Family Art project manager Ilse Murdock

Artist Ilse Murdock lives and works in Brooklyn and serves as leader of The Family Art Project at Wave Hill, a year round program for families that focuses on exploring Wave Hill’s landscape through art projects. Ilse has exhibited in numerous venues including B9 Gallerie Vienna, Austria; David Hall Fine Art, Boston, MA; A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Alexander and Bonnin, New York; and Feigen Contemporary, New York. She has been featured in The New York Times and The Art Fuse, and was recently named one of 30 Artists to Watch in 2012 in NY Arts Magazine.

02 In the Downstairs Sitting Room:
Paddington and the Christmas Surprise Storybook by Michael Bond
Tree Design by Interior Designer Jennifer Mehditash

Born in California, Jennifer Mehditash began her design career in Portugal with clients such as Staples, Portugal Telecom, and Spatitude – Lisbon’s largest urban day spa. Relocating to New York in 2008, she founded Mehditash Design, LLC and her highly acclaimed interior design blog, Dec-a-Porter. Jennifer has been selected as a key blogger for everything from the London Design Festival to Fashion Week to High Point Market 2012. She contributes regularly on the web to and New England Home, and in print to Fashion + Décor.

03 In the North Parlor:
The Velveteen Rabbit Storybook by Margery Williams
Tree design by Interior Designer Tamara Matthews-Stephenson

Tamara Matthews-Stephenson is a Manhattan residential interior designer and freelance writer. In 1999, after working on all aspects of design — from conception to installation — with residential design firm Barbara Southerland Interior, Tamara launched her own interior design firm. She writes for the 220,000+ visitors to her lifestyle blog, Nest by Tamara, as well as for websites and magazines, including Traditional Home, and a summer column called East End Nest for Dan’s Papers.

04 In the Dining Room:
Babar and Father Christmas Storybook by Jean de Brunhoff
Tree Design by City Island Artists Mary Colby and Marguerite Chadwick-Juner

Mary Colby is a fine artist, decorative painter, gardener, and owner of Fe Fi Faux Decorative Painting on City Island, which offers color consultation, murals, decorative designs and techniques for walls and furniture. As a fine artist, Mary creates beautiful and evocative paintings including portraits, landscapes and abstracts that can be seen at her studio at 276 City Island Avenue.  Her artistic eye also influences her work as a garden consultant. Mary writes a garden column for the City Island Current.

Marguerite Chadwick-Juner is a fine and graphic artist and an associate of Fe Fi Faux Decorative Paining. A life-long resident of City Island, the bulk of Marguerite’s fine art is watercolor. Her work has been chosen for inclusion in SPLASH 12: Celebrating Artistic Vision and SPLASH 13, Alternative Approaches: The Best of Watercolor. She is currently working on her Painting A Day project, which she will be exhibiting as a whole when she has completed all 365 paintings.

05 In the Upstairs Parlor:
Raggedy Andy Stories Storybook by Johnny Gruelle
Tree Design by Interior Designer Bryant Keller

Bryant Keller opened his Manhattan design firm Bryant Keller Inc. in 2005. Bryant creates elegant, yet relaxed and intimate interiors which are highly reflective of the owner’s and their distinctive personalities and styles. By popular demand he extended his work to special events   – leading Travel + Leisure magazine to label him an “event design guru.”

06 In the Lannuier Bedroom:
Eloise at Christmastime Storybook by Kay Thompson
Tree design by City Island artist Anoosh Donahue

 Anoosh J. Donahue is a City Island designer and fine artist. She worked for many years as a decorator in film and TV production before moving into designing interiors for homes, businesses and events. She is now developing a line of textile/surface designs for home furnishings & accessories.  Her current show, *Bronx Flowers*, is a series of digital/mixed media prints, inspired by the unique beauty of her corner of New York City.

07 In Clarina Bartow’s Bedroom:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas Storybook by Dr. Seuss
Tree Design by New York Artist Mary Rumser

Mary Rumser is a Manhattan-based freelance artist and designer. She is Atelierista, or Artist in Residence, for the Reggio Emilia-inspired Buckle My Shoe Nursery Schools in Tribeca and Greenwich Village. She has also taught Creative Art in the Mt Sinai Hospital Bridge Program for several years.


08 In George Bartow’s Bedroom:
Merry Christmas, Curious George Storybook by H.A. Rey
Tree Design by Bartow-Pell Docents Linda Sacewicz and Christine Williams

Docent Linda Sacewicz and Curatorial Assistant and Book Buyer Christine Williams are members of Bartow-Pell’s indispensable corps of volunteers. As such they are well versed on the mansion’s history and period as well as on its little-known secrets and lore. Linda’s talent as a fine artist and craftswoman (as well as her work as a nurse), paired with Christine’s depth of knowledge in historic decorative arts will bring a unique perspective to the design of their tree inspired by H.A. Rey’s mischievous monkey.

More coverage of this year’s Bartow-Pell Museum Mansion’s Storybook Christmas is to come.  In the meantime, go!


First Friday! with the Metropolitones
Friday, December 7, 5:30–8:30 p.m.
Experience the magic of the mansion decked out for the holidays and delight in the festive, fun sound of the a cappella Metropolitones. Do a little holiday shopping and enjoy refreshments. The free Bronx Seaside Trolley makes a continuous loop from the #6 Pelham Bay Park subway station to BPMM to City Island. Registration requested. Cost $10 adults; $8 seniors & students; members free

Bronx Arts Ensemble Holiday Concert
Saturday, December 15, 1 and 3 p.m. The Bronx Arts Ensemble and Singers present a wonderful holiday concert with music for St. Nicholas. Concert is free, but space is limited and tickets are required. Call Bronx Arts Ensemble at 718.601.7399 for tickets. The museum will not be open for tours on Saturday.

Holiday Candlelight Tours and Victorian Carolers
Saturday, December 15, 6–8 p.m.
Experience the mansion by candlelight with costumed docents highlighting 19th-century holiday traditions. Victorian carolers add to the festive atmosphere while you enjoy light holiday fare and wassail in the Orangerie. Christmas trees throughout the house evoke beloved characters in children’s books. Reservations required. Cost $12 adults, $8 seniors
& students

Bronx Arts Ensemble Holiday Concert
Sunday, December 16, 1 and 3 p.m.
The Bronx Arts Ensemble and Singers present a wonderful holiday concert with music for St. Nicholas. Concert is free, but space is limited and tickets are required. Call Bronx Arts Ensemble at 718.601.7399 for tickets. The museum will not be open for tours on Sunday.

Images / 01 Christmas Eve Blizzard / 02 Paddington and the Christmas Surprise / 03 The Velveteen Rabbit / 04 Babar and Father Christmas / 05 Raggedy Andy Stories / 06 Eloise at Christmastime / 07 How The Grinch Stole Christmas / 08 Merry Christmas, Curious George /

Author: Sarah Sarna

Interior Designer and Author at, empowering women to decorate and dress with confidence.