Old Governor's Mansion is open for holiday tours

bfortune@herald-leader.comDecember 1, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    Christmas at the Old Governor's Mansion

    What: Tour of the 1790s mansion decorated for the holidays. Proceeds benefit the Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation for the preservation of the Old Governor's Mansion.

    When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 1, 3-8; and 1-5 p.m. Dec. 2, 9

    Where: Old Governor's Mansion, 420 High Street, Frankfort

    Admission: $20. Tickets available at the door.

    Learn more: (502) 564-5500, Governorsmansion.ky.gov

FRANKFORT — The Old Governor's Mansion is decked out in all its holiday finery and ready for public tours, thanks to a team of talented decorators, garden designers and florists from around Kentucky who each adopted a room in the house and decorated it for Christmas.

"Most took a natural approach, using flora and fauna found in the garden and in the woods rather than buying artificial decorations," said Ann Evans, executive director of the Kentucky Governor's Mansion.

"I'm always amazed at what is around us that we really don't pay attention to until to we see somebody else put it into an arrangement," she said. "It heightens our awareness of our natural surroundings."

The decorated mansion will be open to the public through Dec. 9. Proceeds will go to the Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation, but will be earmarked specifically for the upkeep of the Old Governor's Mansion.

Evans said first lady Jane Beshear, chairwoman of the foundation, is "incredibly grateful at what the designers have done. She always says Kentucky's greatest resource is its human resource."

Roiann Ridley of MacKenzie's Floral in Bowling Green created a stunning arrangement on the table in the family dining room using winter-barren branches, evergreens and sumac berries. The arrangement is set on an antique silver, traylike piece that Ridley found in the basement of the mansion.

Taking a cue from a still-life painting, Danville designers Joe Martin and his daughter Mary Cynthia Martin used huge clumps of faux grapes in decorating the second-floor family room.

Garden designer Jon Carloftis used several dozen large and small succulent plants, including hens-and-chicks, for a unique and stunning holiday look on the 15-foot-long table in the formal dining room.

Carloftis also did the living room using live, red-twig dogwood shrubs set in large blue pots. The fireplace is draped in garlands of freshly cut greens, and on either end of the mantle are small mugo pines in decorative clay containers.

"I plant certain things like foster holly, big leaf magnolias, blue atlas cedar and lots of different varieties of pine, knowing I can use them use for Christmas decorating," Carloftis said. "It's like having a cutting garden of flowers, but I do a cutting garden with shrubs."

The beautiful old mansion in downtown Frankfort was first occupied in 1798, two years before the White House in Washington. For many years, it was the nation's oldest executive residence, Evans said.

The General Assembly appropriated money to build the Old Governor's Mansion in 1795 after the state's first governor, Isaac Shelby, convinced lawmakers that a rented log cabin just wouldn't do for the state's chief executive, according to historical records. It was completed three years later.

The mansion housed 33 Kentucky governors until 1914, when the current Governor's Mansion was built. From 1956 to 2002, the old mansion was home to 10 lieutenant governors. Now it's a guest house for official state guests visiting Kentucky on economic development trips.

The idea for Christmas at the Old Governor's Mansion came from Carloftis after he was invited to help decorate the Blair House, the presidential guest house in Washington, in 2009.

He suggested the possibility of doing something similar at the Old Governor's Mansion to his friend Evans. Carloftis proposed that it be a fundraiser; Evans was immediately on board.

Last year was the first event, which was done mainly by Carloftis and James Farmer III, a Georgia landscape designer and contributing editor to Southern Living magazine.

Carloftis recruited about a dozen other designers to take part in this year's event, being presented by Flower Magazine and L.V. Harkness in Lexington.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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