By Michele J. Kuhn
FAIR HAVEN – What began as a “three-ring circus” for Judy McMaster ended more than six hours later as a graceful, elegant showplace filled with holiday décor.
McMaster of Rumson was this year’s coordinator of holiday decorating at Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor’s official residence. As a member of the Garden Club of Fair Haven and a board member of the Garden Clubs of New Jersey, McMaster recruited garden club members from across the state to fill the mansion at 354 Stockton St. (Route 206) in Princeton with gorgeous greenery and sparkling trees.
She even suggested this year’s theme: “Drumthwacket Sings the Songs of the Season.”
Each of the six first-floor public rooms in the white Greek Revival mansion was dressed to the nines in holiday finery in accordance with popular holiday songs and Christmas carols. The front porch was decorated with the idea of There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays. The entry foyer, stairway and landing took on the musical and decorative notes of Deck the Halls. The music room took its cue from The Nutcracker Suite and the library, Winter Wonderland. The parlor was the embodiment of The Holly and the Ivy. Jingle Bells was the song used for the governor’s study and the dining room took on the look of Silver Bells because it is the place where the formal silver service from the battleship the USS New Jersey is displayed year-round.
The volunteer job was a joy for McMaster who has loved to decorate since she was a child. As a Fair Haven garden club member, she has been part of the crew several times which has volunteered to decorate the mansion.
Each year the workers arrive at 9 a.m. on the Monday after Thanksgiving – this year it was Nov. 26. They spend about 45 minutes unloading their materials – dried, fresh and faux – and then each team goes to work on the room they have been assigned and designed to celebrate the holidays.
The decorating of the mansion had a little something special this year, occurring only four weeks after Super Storm Sandy. Among the garden club members who agreed to decorate were members of the Garden Club of Keyport. “They were decimated but they didn’t back out,” McMaster said. They designed and installed the décor in the parlor. The club from Toms River, “also decimated, did the entry foyer.” The other clubs that participated were from Shrewsbury, Warren, Basking Ridge, and Mountain Lakes.
The materials used were all donated by the clubs and an event planner who decorated the front porch. Some of the money for the decorations each year comes from the clubs’ treasuries and sometimes from the designers’ pockets. “It’s getting to be expensive,” McMaster said.
Because of the duration the decorations are on display, the garden clubs have been using some faux materials along with the greenery and fresh flowers. Among the items used this year were magnolia branches “which dry well,” orchids in pots, birch and white-painted branches along with holly, ivy and evergreens plus pinecones, ribbons and ornaments.
The decorating of the governor’s mansion is a longtime service project for the Garden Clubs of New Jersey. As this year’s coordinator, McMaster invited various clubs to volunteer their talents, made sure they understood the perimeters of the job and then organized the decorating day. She also will supervise the dismantling of the decorations on Jan. 2.
“The house is used throughout the season for events – political and social events,” McMaster said. “Last year, the Christies used the house pretty much from the time the kids got out of school until they went back. They hosted family and friends and I think that’s the plan again this year.”
McMaster’s favorite Drumthwacket room is the dining room. “It’s amazing,” she said. “I’m guessing that table seats 24.
“I like the whole house,” she said. “I think it’s a gracious home, not overdone. I think it’s a comfortable home.”
McMaster was very pleased with the results of this year’s decorating. “I think this was, if not the best, than one of the best ever,” she said. “Every room was really elegant and tastefully done.
“I just like doing this,” she said. “I like the planning stages, the concept, in my mind’s eye of what it needs … It’s a lot of fun.
“It’s great for all the garden clubs to get together and do something cooperatively,” McMaster said.
Construction of Drumthwacket began in 1835. The estate’s name means “wooded hill” in Scottish Gaelic. The property was purchased by the state in 1966 but it wasn’t until 1981 that the New Jersey Historical Society raised the funds to begin converting the property for use as the governor’s mansion.