Past meets presents in Ford House holiday tours

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 5, 2017

 A Christmas tree in the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House gallery features colorful ornaments and presents that mirror colors found in the furnishings. Large copper wire angel ornaments created by volunteer Joel Baird can also be found on the tree.

A Christmas tree in the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House gallery features colorful ornaments and presents that mirror colors found in the furnishings. Large copper wire angel ornaments created by volunteer Joel Baird can also be found on the tree.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

The historic mansion — once home to the family of auto pioneer Henry Ford’s only child — has decked the halls for holiday house tours, which run through Jan. 7 and include limited tour hours on Christmas Eve.

Those who’ve visited the house during past holiday tours will recognize the iconic long teardrop glass bulbs on the tree near the entranceway — ornaments Eleanor Ford had made by the Ford Motor Co. glass artisans to decorate a tree for a party in support of a modernism exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, said Ann Fitzpatrick, vice president of communications for Ford House. But visitors will also see new décor alongside some of the classic decorations once used by the Ford family.

“We wanted to have a bigger impact and to decorate like perhaps the Fords would have done (for a large celebration),” said Carol Zagorowska, a museum specialist in the collections care department at Ford House.

While the Fords had more low-key holiday celebrations with immediate family, their parties were legendary, and Zagorowska said photos of those gatherings show that they “were pretty lavish.”

“They threw some grand parties,” Fitzpatrick concurred, noting that for one, Christmas trees were suspended upside-down from the ceiling.

Rooms like the library are less ornate — “It’s got that family feeling — kind of cozy,” Fitzpatrick said — but the large gallery room features a gorgeous, glittering tree — with piles of faux presents at the base — in hues of fuchsia, turquoise and lime, with gold accents.

“We’ve expanded into the feeling of what some of the décor would have looked like for a party, instead of the more understated look the house had for just (the family),” Fitzpatrick said.

The house features 14 full-sized Christmas trees trimmed with more than 2,500 ornaments. Visitors can take in the sights while learning more about the family and their holiday traditions.

“The holidays at Ford House are unique, not only because of the beautiful decorations, but also because docents are able to share stories of treasured family moments at the estate,” Mary Fishwick, a docent and volunteer coordinator at Ford House, said in a press release. “The Fords loved spending time together during the holidays, and guests are able to see where the family gathered on Christmas Eve to watch first-run movies, share special meals, and open presents under the tree.”

Joel Baird, a Ford House volunteer who is responsible for many of the elaborately decorated trees, also created three giant copper angels — one on view near the fireplace and two adorning the gallery tree — to mirror the small copper angels Eleanor Ford had made for the party in support of the DIA’s modernism exhibition. The two original angels can be seen in the cloister, a hallway in the house.

Baird was also responsible for the “peacock” tree in the drawing room; a fireplace in that room is accented with peacock feathers. His handiwork can be found as well in the floral-themed tree in Eleanor Ford’s sitting room, which picks up the colors in a Matisse painting in the room, along with the floral motifs found on the china and furniture.

Because of construction on the property to build a new visitors center and administrative building where the activities center — which housed the Cotswold Café — once stood, a few new and older holiday activities on the property have been modified.

The outdoor Winter Wonderland tours have become Merry & Bright Nights, which include strolling candlelight house tours with carolers and more limited lighted walks through the grounds. Merry & Bright Nights are Thursdays through Saturdays Dec. 7 to 23; most Saturday nights were sold out at press time, but Thursday evenings still had decent availability. Santa will be on hand to greet visitors in the pool house, said Fitzpatrick, and there will be lights and a train set by the playhouse. She said there will also be food and beverages, along with fire pits. The Cotswold Café is closed because of construction, but visitors can still purchase souvenirs in a small gift shop set up inside the garage.

Fitzpatrick said because of the construction and absence of the activities building, they couldn’t process the thousands of visitors who came nightly for Winter Wonderland, so they’re hosting the more intimate Merry & Bright Nights.

“We’ve scaled (attendance) back so they still have a really nice experience,” she said.

The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. Updates on ticket availability for special events like Merry & Bright Nights can be found on the Ford House Facebook page and website,

For reservations or more information, visit the website or call (313) 884-4222.