Getting ready for Christmas at Mottisfont

A pile of presents surround a bauble-laden tree in the Whistler Room at Mottisfont

Creating Christmas at Mottisfont is always a huge undertaking. This year was no exception, with over 150 metres of wrapping paper, more than 8000 Christmas tree lights and at least 80 mice.

Whilst we want to ‘wow’ our visitors, there are many things to consider when decorating an historic house. The logistics of such a large scale display take a lot of forward planning and teamwork (with staff and volunteers all lending a hand), and throughout, we need to consider the historic nature of our surroundings and protect the fabric the house and the objects within.

Preparation started early with the theme being decided several years in advance. This year’s theme, based on the poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C Moore (also known as ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas’), gave us a beautiful, ready-made narrative and also allowed us to decorate in a way that is sympathetic to the rooms in the house.

Planning began in earnest in the second half of this year with room sets to design and props to be made. Along with our visitor experience team we looked at how we could decorate the house to its best advantage whilst still taking care to protect our historic surfaces.

Floristry volunteer Janelle putting the finishing touches to a mantelpiece display
A volunteer florist decorates a mantelpiece at Mottisfont with festive flower arrangements and stockings
Floristry volunteer Janelle putting the finishing touches to a mantelpiece display

False mantelpieces with perspex upstands were built to protect the real thing, allowing garlands and decorations to be attached without damaging the marble mantels, surrounding plasterwork or gilded mirrors.

Surfaces have been protected with plastazote (a dense, inert and acid-free foam) and melinex (an archival quality, clear polyester film). The new gallery hanging rail that was installed in the west corridor this year meant that, for the first time, we could hang garlands in this space.

The house was closed for twelve days in November for decoration. By this time the final designs had been agreed upon and an installation schedule set up. It was a real team effort this year: the house and visitor experience teams worked to build and decorate Christmas trees, wrap a seemingly infinite number of presents and dress the rooms.

Members of the house team decorate the Whistler Room Tree
Members of the house team hang baubles on a tree in Mottisfont's Whistler Room
Members of the house team decorate the Whistler Room Tree

Our team at visitor reception made giant books, painted little houses for the dining room table and made paperchains to hang in our corridor. Our floristry volunteers created amazing garlands for the mantelpieces and banisters, and decorated trees in the house and café.

Our volunteer craft group ‘The Mottisfont Makers’ made tree decorations, stockings and the lovely little mice which appear in every room. Volunteer craftspeople made props including the false mantelpieces, the tiny mouse furniture and the magic lantern in the children’s bedroom. 

We worked right up until the last moment before opening – but we think it was worth it. We hope you enjoy seeing it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.

From everyone at Mottisfont, we wish you a very Merry Christmas.

A decorated Christmas tree and mantelpiece surrounded by piles of wrapped presents in the Whistler Room at Mottisfont

An Enchanted Christmas with the Flower Fairies 

23 November - 5 January (excluding 24 and 25 December): magical woodlands await this Christmas, with decorations inspired by Cicely Mary Barker’s exquisite Winter Flower Fairy illustrations. The original artworks are on show in the second-floor gallery, while the house and gardens are beautifully dressed with native winter foliage and traditional festive colours. Families can explore with a fairy-themed activity trail.