Mansion in May: Where yesterday and today converge in corridors of imagination

By Marie Pfeifer and Kevin Coughlin

For creative interior decorators, it’s a dream assignment.

For the curious public, it’s like touring Wonderland, or better yet, Xanadu, affording a rare glimpse behind the privileged curtain where money is no object and the words “what if?” are irrelevant.

Mansion in May  is back.

For 31 days, your imagination can run wild through Blairsden Hall, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece in the rolling hills of Peapack-Gladstone.

Courtyard at Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Marie Pfeifer

Courtyard at Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Marie Pfeifer

Every other year for the last four decades, the Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center has been showcasing area mansions to benefit the hospital.

The ladies have outdone themselves in 2014; their efforts will help fund the expansion of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and creation of a Pediatric Autism and Child Development Center.

The palatial scale of Blairsden is not surprising, considering that John Insley Blair, a 19th century railroad baron and benefactor of Princeton University, hired Carrere and Hastings–designers of the New York Public Library, the Frick mansion in New York, the U.S. Senate and House office buildings, and mansions in Newport, R.I. –to create his country home.

The 62,000-square-foot Louis XIV Chateau-style mansion perches perfectly on a Somerset County hilltop overlooking man-made Ravine Lake and 600 lush acres once dotted with farms.

Photos by Marie Pfeifer. Please click icon for captions.

Landscape architect James Leal Greenleaf, renowned for the Lincoln Memorial and European cemeteries for U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, designed the 300-foot reflecting pool and the mile-long private lane that winds to the five-floor mansion past English-manor style stone walls, terraced gardens, busts of Julius Cesar and other icons from Antiquity.

The 1903 mansion boasts a carved limestone facade, 31 bedrooms, 20 fireplaces with ornate gargoyles carved in marble, 14-foot ceilings, two elevators, and a double-spiral staircase.


Over the years, the place had fallen into mild disrepair, a victim of benign neglect.  New owners are preparing to restore Blairsden’s splendor, and they have gotten a magnificent head-start from dozens of designers who have put their stamp on individual rooms specifically for Mansion in May visitors.

Richard Barr of Plumberry at Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Marie Pfeifer

Richard Barr of Plumberry at Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Marie Pfeifer

Canterbury Design of Morristown re-purposed the kitchen, originally meant for a full domestic staff, to one designed for 21st-century living.

It has all the modern heirlooms, such as handmade cabinetry, a custom hood and a range by LaCornue that any gourmet cook would enjoy. Yet this beautiful kitchen also lends itself to the joy of simple meal preparation.

“The new owners agreed to and paid for the changes, so they have become a permanent addition to the mansion,” said Scott Siebold of Canterbury.

Greenbaum Interiors of Morristown converted a dining room into a dining lounge with three sections. The “Living Large” room features a breakfast/lunch area, a seating area for late afternoon cocktails, a formal dining room and another seating area at the far end of the room for after-dinner drinks.


And where else can one find a white peacock at the window?

Only at Blairsden’s blue and white Russian Revival room, aptly dubbed, “Mrs. Blair meets Dr. Zhivago.” Elizabeth Guest, of Elizabeth Guest Interiors LLC in Stanton, designed the room based on a memoir, “Notes of a White Officer,” written by her grandfather, Evast N. Geacintov.

James Rixner of JR, New York City, confessed he was a bit overwhelmed by the monumental size of the Grand Salon (60-feet-by-30 feet), where heads of state and titans of industry once mingled.

“When I looked at it I decided to re-imagine it for modern-day events,” said Rixner, who created a pair of mirror-image grand living spaces centered on each of the monumental fireplaces. The overall effect is Parisian Chic with Art Deco and contemporary overtones, gloriously crowned with identical Baccarat crystal chandeliers and 6-foot-2-inch Jardinieres graced with white silk lilies.

Photos by Berit Ollestad.

The master chambers now evoke a soothing and relaxed feeling. “I chose a neutral palette complemented with layers of silks, velvets and embroideries,” said Sandra McDonald of Sandra John Interior Design  of Basking Ridge.

Antique-looking mirrors and a fireplace  already were part of the room. A comfortable bench in front of the fireplace and sitting area are strategically placed to take advantage of the country view.

Just steps away from the master bedroom, Plumberry Designs Inc. of Florham Park and EMDillon Design of Madison collaborated on LePetit Pantry De Plumberry, a compact kitchenette. Visiting this space, one almost can smell the aroma of hot baked croissants and frothy lattes.

Giraffe keeps an eye on visitors to Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Giraffe keeps an eye on visitors to Blairsden, the 2014 Mansion in May. Photo by Berit Ollestad

A bit of nostalgia: The New York Yacht Club’s 1885 Loving Cup that once belonged to Commodore C. Ledyard Blair, was found in someone’s basement and loaned to Elaine Dillon, for display in one of the glass cabinets, said Richard Barr of Plumberry.

Keep an eye out for the eight-foot tall giraffe (stuffed, of course) in La Petite Rose, a charming baby girl’s nursery.

“I love pink so I went with it,” said Kristin Badolato of Kristin Ashley Interiors of Mine Hill. The room features child-size table and chairs, finished in alabaster wood, set for tea, with soft pink velvet upholstery on the seats.

At the end of your tour,  slip onto to the second-floor balcony for a moment of quiet reflection amidst the peaceful sounds of flowing water, surrounded by greenery that lives in an assortment of elegant planters, designed by Melone Cloughen Interiors Inc. of Morristown.


Remembering World War I… from the site of Mansion in May



Blairsden will be open for public tours every day in May 2014.

Tickets are $40 online starting on Feb. 1; admission goes to $50 in May.

The Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center has featured a different Mansion in May every two or three years since 1974.

These events have raised more than $8 million for the hospital.

Proceeds this year will fund expansion of the pediatric intensive care unit, and a new autism center.

More than 1,000 volunteers participate in Mansion in May.

A new owner who plans to restore Blairsden to its former glory will move in this summer.

More than 50 area designers have decorated rooms for Mansion in May.

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