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Holidays heighten Bok estate's charm

Published December 7, 2007

Take a relaxing drive through the 220-acre Bok Sanctuary to the Pinewood Estate, which 11 designers have decorated.
[Special to the Times]

Because I love old houses about as much as I love learning about Florida history, it makes sense that one of my favorite places is the Pinewood Estate at the Historic Bok Sanctuary.

My favorite time to visit is Christmas, when designers from Central Florida transform the romantic 1929 Mediterranean Revival estate into a visual holiday feast.

The 20-room Lake Wales mansion was built by Charles Austin Buck, vice president of Bethlehem Steel. This year, 11 design experts, including Nikki Couture of Tampa, took on the decorating challenge at Pinewood.

The event, now in its 13th year, drew 8,000 visitors in 2006 and is expected to bring in 10,000 this year, says Cassie Jacoby, a Pinewood spokeswoman.

Each room is lavishly trimmed with the kind of sophistication that good designers can bring to holiday decorating. Much of the decor was influenced by the upholstery, furnishings and woodwork, as well as the 7.5 acres of gardens designed by a celebrated early 20th century landscape design firm, whose founder designed New York's Central Park.

The home's original furnishings are intact, as are the carved woodwork, tile and wrought iron, all maintained by a brigade of staffers and volunteers.

The grounds, done by the landscape design firm of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., are visible from just about every room. The vistas are vast and dreamy, and three porches off the home allow for uninterrupted views.

The Bok Sanctuary acquired the estate and its furnishings in 1970, says Jennifer Beam, director of visitor services.

To get to it, you have to drive a mile and a half through the 220-acre grounds, which gives you time to meditate about the fact that you have left overdeveloped Florida and entered a slice of preserved sanity.

The sanctuary and its 205-foot marble and coquina rock bell tower were built during the 1920s by a friend of Buck's, Edward K. Bok, a Dutch immigrant, humanitarian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

The whole place is walkable.

"We're one of Florida's best-kept secrets," Jacoby says.

If you go

Christmas at Pinewood, in Lake Wales

Christmas at Pinewood is open through Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24 and 25). Tours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. A special evening tour of the estate from 5 to 8 tonight includes carolers, hot chocolate, cider, tea and cookies.

Admission for all holiday tours is $18 for adults, $7 for Historic Bok Sanctuary members, $9 for children ages 5-12 and free for children younger than 5. Price includes sanctuary admission.

For information, visit or call (863) 734-1222.

[Last modified December 6, 2007, 23:39:39]

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