A Cape May Christmas

One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time is to stroll the streets of Cape May and West Cape May peeking into the windows of the Bed and Breakfasts, hotels and guesthouses to see how tall their tree is or how many of them there are. Is the dining room table set? Is it formal Victorian or wonderful whimsy? Last year ventured into a handful of Bed and Breakfasts for an inside look and our Art Director Stephanie Madsen and I decided to do the same this year.

The wonderful thing we discovered is that Cape May has something for everyone’s taste. Each accommodation has its own creative twist when it comes to tackling the O Tenenbaum question. Take the Albert Stevens Inn on Myrtle Avenue in West Cape May, for example. As soon as the door opens, a Christmas tree that reaches all the way to the second floor staircase comes into view.

The beautiful thing about this welcoming tree is that it puts you into the mood ASAP and draws you into the parlor where another tree shines brightly in the corner by the fireplace. It doesn’t take much persuasion before you find yourself sitting on the sofa in front of the fire admiring the intricate Victorian ornaments, frosted fruit and tiny candlelights which decorate the tree. It’s a more whimsical spirit which comes into play in the dining room. The tree is filled with colorful ornaments which remind us of simpler times. Santa sits in the corner, next to the tree and I can just imagine him watching over the guests as they sit down to breakfast. It’s a homey feeling at the Albert Stevens Inn. Mantle pieces, archways and the sideboard are filled with greenery, warm lights and nostalgic trinkets. Yes, Stephanie and I can both see waking up to the smell of freshly roasted coffee and breakfast cooking in the kitchen.

The mood is more sedate at the Angel of the Sea Bed and Breakfast on Trenton Avenue. A well-lit fireplace and a stately Christmas tree greet us as we escape from a wicked Nor’easter outside. Angels, appropriately enough, are the theme for this tree and mantle piece. They stand guard over the fireplace and pose, as though in mid-flight, around the tree. Greens and red poinsettias complete the décor and guests checking in are lucky enough to arrive in time for tea which is being served in the dining room just adjacent to the parlor. Even the severe photographs of Victorians hanging in the dining room are softened by the red flowers which garland the frames on the wall. Stephanie and I must resist the temptation to sit down at one of the tables and order ourselves a nice hot cup of tea. Duty calls.

At The Columbia House, on Ocean Street, the mood changes with each room. An elfish gnome on the mantlepiece waits for us to enter the foyer and watches us as go from room to discover a different delight in each suite. Whereas red poinsettias dominated Angel of the Sea, Columbia House features a foyer decked in white garland and white poinsettias, complete with a fireplace flanked with the poinsettias and two adorable snowman standing sentry by the fire. Astonishingly, they seem impervious to the heat. We’re the ones melting away. A small table-top tree sits in the corner of the ground floor suite, decked with gold ribbon, tiny white lights and lovely, feathery white angel sitting atop the tree.
Upstairs (another one of those elfish gnomes is peeping through the staircase as we ascend), we are drawn to the suite at the end of the hall where the fireplace glows. A garland of greenery bedecked with tiny, white twinkle lights, white tropical flowers and Victorian ornaments hangs from the mirror above the mantle. And isn’t that a gnome sitting guard on the mantelpiece? A tiny, four-foot tree with white lights and white pearl garland stands in the corner. Oh yes, we can see ourselves sitting by the fire sipping cocoa, exchanging winks at those peevish elves.

Like a child, I run straight into the foyer at The Dormer House on Columbia Avenue and up the stairs to see just how high their Christmas tree really is. Pretty darn high. I can’t see the tree top. Up the stairs I bound to see where the tree goes – to the second floor landing and there she is – a beautiful golden angel all by herself looking as though she’s about to break into an aria. Back down the stairs I go to look a bit more closely at the ornaments. Stars, horses, lacey umbrellas, golden snowflakes, colorful Christmas balls adorn the tree. Garland lit with tiny white lights runs from the door, near the stairway along the mantelpiece and over to the next doorway.

A white sea glass reindeer stands poised on the mantelpiece as though listening for sleigh bells in the distance. And above the mantle clock is a large beveled mirror with a decorative wreath hanging from it. Meanwhile, Stephanie is mesmerized by the archway, which innkeeper Dennis Doherty built himself to match the original woodwork on the stairway. Greenery lines the arch. Warm lights, white pearls and silky white ribbon soften the greenery and welcome the visitor into the lush parlor where another fireplace calls us to come on in and have a nice hot cup of tea, poured from the vintage silver tea pot. Much as we’d like to sit a spell, we have many inns to visit before we rest.

The sun has come out on the morning we visit the Primrose Inn Bed and Breakfast on Lafayette Street. Innkeeper Sally Denithorne’s full-sized poodle Coco has figured out how to open the door for us, so we soon find ourselves in a bright, sunny dining room with the table set and ready as though breakfast were to be served at any minute. Her other poodle Beau peeks from the corner of the table. He is careful not to knock over any of the Christmas decorations on the tall whimsical tree in the corner of this cheery room. Cookies, candies, and candied-fruit brighten the tree and bring a smile to Beau’s face. From here we go into the parlor and there is a pedestal tree standing near the fireplace.

It is adorned with shells as is the mantelpiece and the wreath above it. Many of the shells were found on our beaches, says Sally. After a storm is the best time, she says. And so no one is forgotten, a Giving Tree is placed on the front porch with a sign on the porch rail reading; “Bring hats and mittens and attach to tree.” They will be gathered later and donated to the needy children of Southern, NJ.

Simplicity is the key to the décor at the Rhythm of the Sea Bed and Breakfast and is in keeping with the craftsman-style theme of this Beach Avenue inn. The front room is large and airy and there is much to take in, still the eye goes straight to the fire place and the cozy arrangement of a couch in front of it to sit back and relax. The mantle is filled with simple greens, shells and rich golden ornaments. A touch of Europe is evident throughout the inn but especially so in the wooden Christmas Candle Pyramid sitting on the table behind the couch. How soothing it is to stand in this lovely room surrounded by a view of the sea at nearly every turn.

At the Mason Cottage on Columbia Avenue thoughts of Dickens and Tiny Tim come to mind when walking into the dining room – table for 10, could be 12 with just a couple more chairs added to the head of the table – Christmas goose and Figgie pudding. I can see Monsieur Cratchit carving the goose now. This table, by the way, was made especially for the Mason Cottage many, many years ago. After dinner (or breakfast as is the case at a Bed and Breakfast) guests can meander into the parlor near the front entrance where a majestic Christmas tree stands in front of the parlor’s floor-to-ceiling window for all to see. A sofa, complete with holly pillows, says come sit and stay a while. And beware of the mistletoe hanging from each doorway – a Christmas smooch is just around the corner.

There is much thought and loving detail which goes into the Christmas décor at Saltwood House on Jackson Street beginning with the Old Glory Christmas table-top tree in the front parlor. There is so much to take in here, it’s hard to know where to look first – shall we examine the Santy Claus plaques hung on the stairway, first? Or maybe, we should take a peek at the bookcase or beneath the end table where mischievous figurines peek at us from their perch. Little villages have been carefully staged throughout the front parlor, the dining room and even innkeeper Don Schweikert’s quarters. Our favorite figurines are the Santa Chefs in the kitchen, rotund, jolly and each crammed with Christmas treats amid their aprons.

Susan and Stephanie at the Columbia House. Photo taken by Jim Zeitler.

So, that’s our tour and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. It’s nice to know that people still take the time to decorate with such thought and care and we can’t help but think how lucky the guests who stay in these historic houses are. Hey – why not treat yourself or someone you love to a night in Cape May? Hospitality Night (Dec. 7-8) is just around the corner, you know. Otherwise, may dreams of beautifully decorated inns dance in your head. Happy Holidays from those of us at to all of you.