Traditions run deep in Halcyon Farm’s six decades of Christmas parties. Interior designer and former Baltimore Museum of Art board chair Stiles Colwill, along with Jonathan Gargiulo, a director at New York’s John Rosselli Antiques, invite friends and family to a celebration Colwill’s parents began in the 1940s. In the years since Colwill inherited the Green Spring Valley horse farm, the trimmings have grown more creative, personal and sumptuous. “I hang the first ornament I got as a baby on the tree every year,” says Colwill of a ritual his mother timed for the Dec. 17 birthday of her brother, whom she named Colwill for. “Now, we’ve got at least 400 ornaments, each with a story we take time to remember as we hang it.”
Loving Christmas is something the pair shares and indulges year-round. Colwill, an only child, sees the holiday as an occasion to “bring together the people I got close to after my parents died.” Jonathan, accustomed to New Jersey gatherings of cousins from his mother’s 13 siblings, brings some of the Italian food and boisterous energy of gift exchanges he remembers. The art of giving to the special people in their lives motivates a continuous search for unusual and unexpected gifts. Their far-flung travels yield the most booty— but one year two litters of Jack Russell puppies born before the holidays became surprise presents for some lucky children.
Party planning involves the same attention to detail. In September, the men start forcing the flowering bulbs and loading their 24-by-60-foot greenhouse with potted plants they’ll display. “Working in New York as I do, I can stroll down Madison Avenue on Thanksgiving weekend to see what the florists are doing that’s different,” says Gargiulo. Except for filling Colwill’s father’s Hunt Cup trophy with a prince’s ransom in cut amaryllis, the live floral presentations always change from year to year. Colwill likes concentrating on the different rooms’ focal points— stargazer lilies in a favorite silver urn in the entry hall or a one-color theme for the living room. Fireplace mantels can make the best statements, especially if either man organizes a theme such as mercury glass and angels. Gargiulo will bank a sideboard or the pedestal of a sculpture with pots of poinsettias. “The first time I saw orchids, cyclamen and camellias decorating rooms for Christmas was at my Uncle John’s [Rosselli],” says Gargiulo. “I love poinsettia standards because of him.”
The dining room table delivers Christmas color to the house before the food is served. A gleaming 19th-century epergne, its glass baskets laden with candy, is a perennial centerpiece. Bohemian glass goblets pick up the tablecloth’s deep Christmas green and twinkle in the low candlelight. The chef reprises a menu of tenderloin and roasted salmon from year to year but varies the side dishes, such as roasted peppers, for color. An eggnog Colwill’s father used to make has given way to a new favorite: Cosmopolitans with a few cranberries floating like jewels in the sugar-rimmed glasses.
“Christmas is different for everyone,” says Colwill. “Jonathan and I are lucky because we both love it.”