There’s never a “bad” time to peruse the historic homes of downtown Brunswick — but the holiday season could arguably be the “best.”
Draped in twinkling lights and enveloped in fresh greenery, it is the time of year that well-kept Victorians and retro ranch houses really spring to life. Driving beneath the moss-laden oaks, the festive home decorations set the tone for a holly jolly Christmas, but there is one property that undoubtedly stands out — Brunswick Manor.
Located at 825 Egmont Street, the expansive Queen Anne design features an exterior of Stratton red brick, towering chimneys, and arched windows. It has stood as a witness to the steady march of time for more than 130 years. Known interchangeably as the Downing House and Brunswick Manor, the home was originally constructed in 1886 by a former Union soldier named Columbia Downing. Employed by Standard Oil, Downing lived in the home with his wife, Mary, and two daughters.
After the Downings, the house changed hands four times before coming to the fifth and current owner, Stacy Bass.
Your quintessential Southern gentlemen, Bass is also the owner of Straton Hall Events, which offers premier planning services for all manner of celebrations — from intimate business gatherings to the most elaborate of weddings and swinging soirées.
The manor, too, is the setting for many of these stylish affairs, as well as plenty of themed parties.
“We host such events as Murder Mystery dinners and Titanic parties,” Bass says.
“The menu expanded to include weddings and receptions, luncheons, memorial services, and now we’re a proud host of the SoGlo PorchFest.”
Daily, it serves as an incredibly popular bed and breakfast, one that has collected a number of impressive accolades.
“The manor itself has been a yearly Certificate of Excellence Award Winner via TripAdvisor, and was recently awarded the coveted Travelers’ Choice Winner for 2020,” Bass says with pride.
“It’s only given to the top 10 percent of hotels worldwide after judges comb through reviews, ratings, and saves.”
The property is truly a showpiece at any time of the year, but Christmas allows it to really shine. An avid fan of all things Yuletide, Bass and his team of elves hold nothing back when it comes to celebrating the season.
Large wooden soldiers flank the front porch doors. Garlands, glitter, and sugar plums tastefully blanket the manor’s many rooms.
Then, there’s the tree. Featured on Good Morning America and TLC’s Extreme Trees, Brunswick Manor’s 15 foot tannenbaum truly takes the cake.
“My tree is actually a combination of three different trees together to make one big tree. I add branches and extend them so that the ornaments can hang out prettier,” Bass says.
And those are no run-of-the-mill adornments either. Rather, they’re more than 2,000 colored Christopher Radko designer pieces, making the manor’s collection one of the largest in the world.
Radko himself has taken notice, even featuring the tree on his site and via his social media accounts.
While the ornaments are a showstopper, another special touch helps to take the tree to the next level.
“I never put the lights around the tree. I start at the base of the branch, go into the tree and wrap the lights around each branch. I go up the entire tree like that,” he says.
The tree certainly serves as a focal point for guests and visitors who attend holiday events onsite, including the annual “A Downing Christmas.” The evening, which is filled with food and fun, is Bass’ favorite. “We celebrate the Downing family each year with a specialty dinner that is open to the public by reservation only,” he says. “This feast served in the main dining room has a family inspired menu with live music and a cocktail hour prior to dinner service.” Bass’ holiday party proves to be a rousing success each year. And, he’s willing to share a few tips and tricks for those looking to up their entertainment game.
“When choosing your menu, make sure that the menu items are things that you as the host can prepare in advance, allowing you to be the perfectly pleasant host,” Bass says. “And remember holiday entertaining is about the experience, not specific facets of the evening. No details are too small and always focus on the flow of the evening.”
As far as details go, decor — as evidenced by the expansive tree — is a biggie. But you don’t have to go full-on Peppermint Land to pull off a festive evening. Instead, Bass suggests focusing on small touches like centerpieces to help create that “wow factor.” “For design or centerpiece décor, one idea would be focus on containers of your favorite ornaments or holiday items with fresh herbs and holiday greenery to add fragrance to your table,” he says.
“The addition of votives to the centerpiece will heat the greenery or herbs and enhance the fragrance.” While preparing arrangements and hanging stockings may seem like a frivolous effort after the weight and pain doled out by 2020, Bass feels like that is the very reason to get into the spirit this year.
“During COVID, continue to safely entertain. Staying positive during the pandemic is very important and the best way to keep stress at bay is spending time with people that bring out your brightest smile,” he says.
“Having parties makes people happy and you should be happy, not because everything is good but because you can see the good in everything.”