History, N.C. pride and personal touches in the NC Executive Mansion

by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Keith Isaacs

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The week after Thanksgiving, the North Carolina Executive Mansion closes. For five days, staffers work tirelessly to transform the ornate Victorian home from its everyday splendor to a magnificent winter wonderland.

Giant, live trees—from N.C. farms, of course—are the focal points. These are displayed in four rooms on the first floor, usually the men’s lounge, ladies’ parlor, ballroom and sunroom, as well as in second- and third-floor windows above the home’s main entrance. Evergreen garlands wrap columns and banisters, locally-grown poinsettias fill every nook and oversized arrangements mixing greenery, baubles, ribbons and more top every available surface. Outside, millions of lights twinkle and blinking orbs shine from the limbs of enormous trees. “We have a lot of lights, but not as many as Dolllywood!” jokes David Robinson, the Director of the Executive Mansion.

The first spouse historically takes charge of the holiday decor, aided by a team of volunteers and input from the N.C. Arts Council. The planning starts in July, and, while some elements may repeat from one year to the next, “we never want it to look the same within the governorship,” says Robinson, who has managed the home for seven years.

Each first family puts their own touch on the decor. For the Coopers, it means hanging needlepoint stockings that first lady Kristin Cooper made for her family, as well as displaying a Christmas village scene she’s collected over time, complete with a tiny replica of nearby Krispy Kreme. “Mrs. Cooper always puts it together herself,” says Robinson. “We’ve been told to put it back up by popular demand,” says Cooper. While the dazzling trees usually get the biggest oohs and ahs, it’s the details that delight: sprigs of mistletoe hung from chandeliers (sometimes cut from the mansion’s grounds), decorations made by local artists and nods to the N.C. state symbols woven into the decor. Robinson loves the atmosphere the holiday decorations create: “It’s my favorite time of year.”