In a storied old farmhouse on Guard Hill Road, Priscilla and Michael Rossi bring a Spanish twist to an old-world Christmas tradition.
Photos by Rana Faurea
For Dia de los Reyes, also known as Epiphany, the Rossis celebrate the three wise men’s long ago visit to Bethlehem with small gifts for children, hay and water for camels, and a feast for family and friends.
Behind the cozy, early 19th-century façade of this Guard Hill farmhouse is an expansive 21st-century home where the current owners—Priscilla and Michael Rossi—take their caretaking responsibilities very seriously. It is their reverence for historic architecture and its charms that compelled the couple to purchase and repair this antique and to upgrade the décor in collaboration with interior designer Brittany Bromley.
Several years ago, the couple had outgrown their converted barn on Loop Road in the eastern part of town. Priscilla took a long walk on a trail in Pound Ridge and prayed about what type of home might serve their family best. She had a revelation—or epiphany—about her wish list: she wanted five bedrooms, a pond, and five acres served by Bedford Village Elementary School. She then headed to Houlihan Lawrence’s office on the village green. When she described her dream home, she was told about this old charmer that had been reportedly expanded decades ago by noted 20th-century architect Mott Schmidt who lived just down the road. The home met all of her requirements but was in dire need of repair. “My first response when she texted me was ‘is she out of her mind?’” laughs Michael, whose appreciation for antiques came first from his father, a jeweler and collector of antiques, and later from Fred Nagle, a dear friend who rented the couple their first Bedford home on Seminary Road 15 years ago. His second response when he saw the property in person was “we need to do this, but how?”
“There were leaks and rotting wood, but our real estate agent, Cynthia Jaffe, said ‘you have to jump and build your wings on the way down,’” recalls Michael. And so, they jumped. Four years later the stone walls and roof have been repaired, the exterior has been painted, and the interior has been furnished. Out back, a flock of chickens roost in their hen house, bees buzz in their hives, and Buttercup, the family Labrador Retriever, bounds about with her tail wagging at all times. Without a doubt, the Rossis can’t imagine living anywhere else.
On January 6 of every year, the family celebrates Dia de los Reyes, also known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany. Priscilla, of Puerto Rican and German descent, brought this holiday custom to her marriage, and Michael and their two children—Arabella and Solomon—have fully embraced it. “According to tradition, the three kings—or magi—bring gifts to children on the evening of January 5—just as the magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem thousands of years ago,” explains Priscilla. “In my family, we put out some hay and water for the camels who carry the magi. The kings take the hay and water for the camels and fill shoes or shoe boxes with gifts for children.” During Priscilla’s childhood in upstate New York, the gifts from the magi were small, but the tradition was “magical.”
This year, the Rossis invited Priscilla’s brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Elisa Duger, and friends Molly and Seth Hirshel for a Dia de los Reyes dinner party. Priscilla engaged Maison Privé, the catering arm of G.E. Brown in Bedford Village, to prepare a feast of pozole (a soup of pulled chicken, cabbage, cilantro, radish, lime wedge, and hominy), empanadas, tamales, tortilla Espanola, and grilled romaine and arugula salad. She ordered delicate crown-shaped cookies from Beascake's Bakery in Armonk, and asked La Maison Fête and Bedford Village Flower Shoppe to help her decorate the tabletops, mantels, and doorways for the season.
On a brilliantly sunny but cold winter’s day, the guests arrive dressed for the festive occasion. The children head to the playroom where carriages were once stored below the main house, while the adults raise the first toast of the day in the front parlor. “This is one of our favorite rooms,” says Priscilla. “We wanted it to have a cozy, intimate, conversational vibe—the old-fashioned feeling of a card room. We wind up in here every time we have people over for dinner.” While Priscilla made most of the décor decisions in this room, once she met Brittany Bromley, they collaborated on final touches.
Across the hall is the dining room that Priscilla and Bromley worked on as a team. From wall covering and crown molding to furnishings and a glittering chandelier, the whole room has been updated to reflect Priscilla’s wish for a transitional-style look. For this special occasion, La Maison Fête has artfully blended Bedford Village Flower Shoppe’s seasonal arrangements with Priscilla’s family pieces, and their own exquisite accessories to create a wintry white tablescape.
A sitting room with two walls of windows is tucked behind the dining room and is open to the sprawling eat-in kitchen that overlooks the frozen pond and the barn built decades ago by Molly Hirshel’s father (Molly, who coincidentally grew up in this house recalls pressing her hands into the wet concrete when her father was pouring the new floor.). Two steps down from the kitchen is a large living room where the Christmas tree towers in one corner and sumptuous seating draws the family regularly for movie and game nights. Upstairs, five bedrooms accommodate the Rossis and their frequent overnight guests.
Back in the dining room, the guests have been called to dinner. Peals of laughter and vibrant plates of festive fare infuse the once serene space with holiday spirit. Thanks are given and another toast is raised. ¡Salud!