I’ve had Stan Hywet listed as one of my Favourite Places since I’ve started this blog, but this is the first time I’ve written a whole post on it. I’m not sure why, because I went last year and even had my brother there to take pictures with his fancy camera, but it slipped my mind, so you get to hear about it this year instead, accompanied by pictures from my extremely unfancy camera (and well after Christmas). Stan Hywet is the former home of the Seiberling family (F.A. Seiberling, who built the house, founded Goodyear Tire along with his brother), and was built in the 1910s in a mock Tudor style. The Seiberlings were clearly passionate Anglophiles, and they filled the inside of the home with loads of gen-u-ine antiques culled from various English castles and manor houses (there’s even a room painted with scenes from A Canterbury Tales!). They do a number of events throughout the year, but Deck the Hall is definitely my favourite.
The admission price is admittedly pretty steep ($18, though only $8 if you can rustle up a student ID), but it is only once a year, and I always enjoy myself, so I just suck it up and fork out the money (albeit not without grumbling). Deck the Hall (I think the lack of a plural on hall is supposed to reference the original Welsh version of the song, as Stan Hywet is itself a Welsh phrase, roughly meaning “rock quarry”) runs on weekends throughout December until early January, which is nice since I often don’t get a chance to visit until after Christmas. My boyfriend and I went on a Friday this year, which was probably a mistake since it was super insanely crowded. In the past, we were always able to park in the main lot without a problem; well, this year, not only was the main lot full, so was the overflow lot, and we ended up having to park about a mile away in a second overflow lot (which I think was actually a church parking lot). Fortunately, because it was rather cold and Stan Hywet is on a busy road, shuttle buses were provided, and they were frequent enough that we didn’t have to stand outside very long. The admissions line also moved surprisingly fast (considering how long it was), and I don’t think we ended up waiting for more than ten minutes, so they have efficiency going for them at least.
In my experience, it’s best to head straight to the house first and get it out of the way, because it only gets more crowded as the night goes on. I think a lot of people arrive, see the line, and think, “Oh, we’ll come back later,” but unfortunately people keep arriving all the time, so the wait only gets worse. They generally let people into the house pretty quickly because it’s cold outside; it’s more that you end up having to move at a snail’s pace through the house because you’re caught up in a massive single file of people walking along the assigned pathways. There’s no photography allowed inside the house, which is certainly understandable, because then it would take even longer, but it is a bit of a shame because the decorations are so nice. They change the theme of the house every year; this one was “Christmas Around the World,” but I’ve also seen “Christmas through the Decades,” “A Dickens’ Christmas,” and a Christmas carols theme, and while I’m sure they reuse some of the lights and stuff, they also must buy some new decorations for each event, because it always looks different.
This year, I remember there being a Britain room, Germany (with a scary looking Santa, but no Krampus, alas), USA, Mexico, Russia, Italy, Hungary, and some others I’m forgetting. They also feature live performances in the Music Room, which change nightly, so you may hear an organist, a string quartet, a choir, or something else entirely, though odds are good they’ll all be playing Christmas carols. For the first time this year, they had baskets out containing little fact sheets about the Seiberlings…they were all different colours, so it became a kind of “collect them all” scenario, which got annoying when the people ahead of us held up the line to riffle through each basket. You’re not allowed to see as much of the house during the Christmas event as you can during normal self-guided tours; for example, there’s a pretty baller pool in the basement that’s closed off, but there’s still plenty to take in, from the random winged foot on the staircase, the many pictures of various stately homes in England, and the aforementioned Chaucer room. Though I often get annoyed at the slowness of the other people trekking through, it’s still pretty damn delightful.
Once you’ve finished with the house, you’ll want to be sure to check out the grounds, which are incredible (and not properly conveyed by my crap-tastic pictures). They have a variety of gardens (English Garden, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, etc), which are gorgeous in summer, and just as good in winter thanks to the awesome displays of coloured lights. I really don’t know why there’s nothing comparable in Britain, but Americans definitely go all out with the lights – Stan Hywet’s have the added virtue of being tastefully done (relatively speaking).
That birch tunnel doesn’t look like much in the picture, but the bases of all the trees are wrapped with white lights, which is impressive when you walk through it, and the little grapevine trellis even has grape lights on it. There’s also a light show off to one side synced with music, and giant flowers made of lights.
New this year was a “Gingerbread Village,” next to the conservatory, which was a little over the top, but in the best possible way. There’s a tradition of giving out gingerbread at Stan Hywet (well, I say giving out, but these days you have to pay for it. I’ve never bought any because I don’t like gingerbread enough to wait in line for some, but it certainly smells good), so I guess the village is in keeping with that. There was a giant gingerbread house in the middle (not actually made of gingerbread) and lots of lighted gingerbread men all over the place.
I adore the conservatory (not least because it’s warm), and they really outdo themselves in here. They grow and sell a variety of poinsettias ($5 each, not a bad price because they’re huge and come in colours you don’t often see), and always have a tree made of the flowers. This year, the back room was done all in blue lights, which looked cool from the outside, and was even neater to walk through.
They also do some stuff for children, like a tree lighting ceremony and a Santa Claus, but I’m not sure if younger children would really enjoy the house, since it takes so long to get through it. It seems like most parents just take them to see the grounds until they get older, which is sensible. Plan to spend a couple of hours here, especially if it’s busy. Even if the house is quite busy though, the grounds are spacious enough to remain fairly empty, and the walk from the house to the conservatory is reasonably romantic, especially if you’re lucky enough to get snow (the grounds do get icy though, so wear sensible shoes). I don’t know, it’s hard for me to be too cynical about Stan Hywet, even though I hate crowds and spending money, because I think they do such a nice job, and it’s become something of a holiday tradition, so I hope if you go, you’ll enjoy it too. 4/5.