Angels Among Us

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2020 /

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Teagan Anne 

Highfield Hall & Gardens presents “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

The first year, of the third decade, of the 21st century, will certainly own its place in history. Any soothsayer’s prediction of what lay ahead, was blown apart by a worldwide pandemic that altered the behavior and traditions of the human race. As the calendar marches forward, undeterred, inevitably a season of joy and celebration will be at the core of everyone’s expectation. How do we celebrate this year? How do we balance our need for distance with our desire to come together? While many holiday events across the region have been cancelled or rescheduled for a future time, the creative and thoughtful individuals at Falmouth’s Highfield Hall & Gardens have committed to presenting their annual “Holidays at Highfield.”

This year, transformation of the historic home will be accomplished by Rita Pacheco who has transformed the elegant former 19th century home of the Beebe family for the past two years into a magical and whimsical exploration of what design looks like when one not only thinks outside of the box, but eschews the box altogether. Pacheco has a reputation for creatively interpreting spaces. Whether it is an intimate outdoor gathering where guests dine under the stars and under the canopies of majestic trees nestled into a crook of a garden, or a grass checkerboard courtyard that provides the perfect backdrop to an alfresco afternoon tea, Pacheco embraces the natural bounty that surrounds us on the Cape. 

A pro at blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces, she can always be relied upon to surprise guests and visitors with her unexpected use of natural elements that have been repurposed to meet traditional celebrations. Case in point, 2018’s debut of design presented a sumptuous holiday party set in a Sea Captain’s home from an era long ago. And last year’s theme brought the magic indoors of Patrick Dougherty’s Stickwork sculpture, “A Passing Fancy” that grounds the property’s magnificent gardens. Pacheco transformed the manor into a celebration of the season against a natural backdrop for Highfield’s holiday celebration. Similar to the fantasy of the C. S. Lewis’ Kingdom of Narnia, with woodland creatures and delights next to elegant elements like a polished silver tea service and fine linens, the juxtaposition of the natural world in a refined environment elicits awe and wonder from visitors spanning multiple generations. 

Pacheco’s design themes complement the objectives of the organization, as Co-Executive Director Tara Burke explains, ”This year we are very excited about being able to offer an unlimited number of people the outdoor experience, as well as the indoor experience to a more limited number of visitors than we have in previous years. During the spring and summer as residents were dealing with the stay-at-home order, we felt it was important to offer a respite to the community. We had a wonderful exhibit of fairy houses that definitely attracted visitors, but we also found that people were discovering and re-discovering our extensive grounds and so very appreciative of the ability to enjoy them while practicing social distance.” The 400 acres of gardens, open space and wooded trails that make-up the historic estate are open to the public for general access as well as scheduled programs and events that take place throughout the year. 

This year’s program includes an outdoor presentation, coordinated by Landscape Director George Chapman, who also serves as the volunteer coordinator. A callout to the public for their participation in creating outdoor vignettes that will be incorporated into a Woodland Village. Chapman, who is responsible for much of the treasured horticulture that Highfield has become known for, will work with the community volunteers who will create an intriguing new attraction that will allow visitors to enjoy safely. Dougherty’s Stickwork sculpture will be illuminated making the grounds truly magical.

This year, the year of COVID, when the region has witnessed second homeowners settling into their Cape home long past Labor Day, Pacheco says the theme, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” speaks to those residents who love the area for the warm, seaside activities, but may never have considered the holidays in their summer home. Chapman, whose collaboration with Pacheco is at the core of bridging the interior of the home with the splendor of nature found on the grounds, will be collecting flora and fauna for use in executing her vision. “I will be using the things that are familiar and accessible to people who enjoy their light, bright home when the warm breeze blows through,” she explains. “But how do you take that backdrop, add the beautiful natural elements of the Cape and create a warm, seasonal palette where you can create new memories and traditions with your family?”

The impressive landing of the grand staircase is always a focal point year-to-year, with this year’s installation being no exception. Pacheco’s focus this year has a collection of angels overseeing the entire home. “This year, of all years, who doesn’t need an angel?” Pacheco says. She should know since throughout her life here on the Cape, there are countless individuals whose paths have crossed hers and would claim that she certainly has earned a certain celestial status.

Pacheco and her team, George Chapman, Alda Barron and Isabel Melo, are busy transforming the elegant rooms of the home. They also assist Pacheco the rest of the year as her creativity is responsible for a variety of staging projects, corporate office transformations, event styling and staging for various Cape Cod Life publications. She is constantly approaching every project with a unique perspective that incorporates the natural beauty of the environment in an effort to keep the design continually intriguing and organic. Her real talents are seeing the potential in most anything, as she repurposes, recycles and reuses items whose potential most people would never even see, let alone consider. She truly has a lack of fear of failure, which allows her to take risks while her vision and conviction ultimately guide her to a successful resolution. In the words of writer G.K. Chesterton, “The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.”

Highfield Hall & Gardens, a nonprofit organization that relies upon donors and events to offer their extraordinary property to the public, is to be commended for their commitment to continue during this difficult year with what has become a well-received tradition. 

“God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes He even sends them back again if we forget to take notes the first time!” – Eileen Elias Freeman

This year’s Holidays at Highfield will include both indoor and outdoor displays. The indoor event will be limited to pre-sold tickets only. All sales must be made in advance and online. Make sure to visit Highfield online at highfieldhallandgardens.org to learn more about your visit.

Check out our previous coverage of Holidays at Highfield here!

Julie Craven Wagner

Julie Craven Wagner began her experience with Cape Cod Life in 2010 when she joined the sales team after 10 years of working with local businesses on the Cape and Islands with WMVY. In addition to sales, she is the Associate Publisher/Editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. Growing up on the Outer Cape has given her a unique perspective of life on Cape Cod, from tip to bridge, and that is reflected in her appreciation and presentation of stories found within the pages of our publications. Julie lives in North Falmouth with her husband, Eric, and their yellow lab, Enzo. When she finds free time, she enjoys her Cape Cod life sailing on Buzzards Bay, spending time on the beach in Wellfleet, or exploring Martha’s Vineyard.