When I was growing up in Florida, we always opened new pajamas on Christmas Eve,” recalls Thalia Stamatelos, a Bedford Hills mother of two. “So I expanded that idea for my own kids. Each year, they get a crate filled with pajamas, gourmet hot cocoa, popcorn, and other treats—it’s kind of like everything you need for movie night on Christmas Eve.”
Another 21st century twist on the Stamatelos gift-giving tradition is that according to family lore, the Christmas Eve gifts come from the Elf on the Shelf. For the uninitiated, the EOS is a scout elf for Santa who keeps an eye out for who is naughty or nice in the weeks leading up to Christmas. At the Stamatelos house, Elvis, as the family elf is affectionately known, apparently gets up to all kinds of high jinks while the kids are sleeping. On Christmas Eve, he appears by the crates with a personalized note for each of Thalia’s sons, John Thomas and Nicholas, in the living room of their new 9,000 square-foot home.
Thalia and her husband, Tom, were living with the boys on Long Island while looking for a home in Westchester, when in 2013, they finally settled on a house, purchased it, and it promptly burned to the ground. Faced with starting from scratch, Tom called on Jesse Benedict, a Pennsylvania builder he’d come to admire while watching ABC TV’s hit series “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.” Benedict owns Benedict Barns and is known for building new houses from vintage barns. First, Tom bought a 200-year-old Pennsylvania barn through Benedict, and when it became apparent that they’d need two, he doubled his order.
Benedict brought in Kristy Whitcher, an upstate architect, to help him and the Stamateloses on a design that would blend new construction with antique wood. “We wanted a rustic farmhouse with modern fixtures,” says Thalia. I gave Kristy lots of pictures from Pinterest, and after talking to Tom and me about how we wanted the rooms to flow, she came up with the floor plans.”
In 2014, they broke ground, pouring a new foundation, and raising the frame. The whole process took three years, and now, the family can’t imagine being at home anywhere else. Thalia did all the interior decorating herself—choosing everything from tile and fabrics to light fixtures. “I had a 16-tab spreadsheet of all the things happening—there were a lot of details to manage, and I loved the process,” she recalls.
In addition to the permanent décor, Thalia loves to supplement with a changing layer that reflects the seasons or holidays at hand. The front entry, kitchen, and powder rooms get accessorized starting with a general winter theme in January, then Valentine’s Day, followed by spring, summer, Halloween, autumn, and finally Christmas, when even the bedrooms get a festive upgrade. Off season, everything is stored in meticulously categorized, labeled, air-tight bins. “I probably have 100 of them,” Thalia says with a laugh. “When the basement is done, we are going to have a storage area dedicated to this,” she says in reference to their future plans to finish the 2,000 square-foot basement.
“I started collecting Christmas things when I was a little girl,” she continues. “Some, we collected as we’ve travelled, but most of it has been from just shopping with the holiday in mind. My taste has changed, so when we built this house, I did have to acquire some more rustic decorations that would fit with its style.”
The modern-barn-inspired structure now settles into its rural, eight-acre setting naturally. Inside, the expansive foyer opens to the great room straight ahead.
This is a favorite family gathering space, but tonight it also serves as an ideal place to entertain guests. A Christmas Eve celebration is bringing old friends to Bedford for festivity, and the family is putting the finishing touches on both the food and their outfits. When they descend from the wooden staircase that wends itself around the towering Christmas tree, the boys help Tom start a fire and then head off in search of their mom. Tom moves on to prepare the fully stocked bar where he will serve libations (his personal favorites are vodka martinis and Bulleit Bourbon) for this evening’s guests.
To the right of the foyer is the dining room with access to both the kitchen and a back hallway which leads past the pantry and laundry and powder rooms to the den where vintage barn wood lines the walls, and the remains of old wine barrels now serve as stair treads to the light-filled media room above. The kitchen, Thalia’s favorite room in the house, is bright and offers plenty of workspaces for multiple cooks, a desktop workspace, and family dining options at both the island and a cozy eating nook (customized by Tom with homework storage drawers under the bench). An avid entertainer, Thalia loves to cook Greek food, and tonight’s dinner is no exception. The aroma of savory dishes in the ovens, Christopsomo (a traditional Greek Christmas bread), and the sweet desserts on the counter is irresistible.
To the left, is the living room where Elvis made his appearance earlier, the study, and a second powder room. The swimming pool out back is covered in a blanket of snow. Upstairs, a collection of bedroom suites, warmed up for the winter with seasonally inspired flannel sheets, mini Christmas trees, and other festive touches unfold from expansive hallways to the left and right of the timber-roofed loft.
As the doorbell rings, the family swarms the front door, eager to greet the guests and celebrate the season. “Kala Christougena,” they say, and it is, indeed, a merry Christmas.