Finding George and Sandra Berry’s Southold home is no easy feat.
It’s located at 345 Willow Pond Lane, which is a couple of turns off Main Bayview Road. The house is on a hill, near a bend on a dead-end street you’ve likely never driven down.
Since there’s very little traffic near their home, the Berrys don’t decorate to please the masses each holiday season. Instead, the high school sweethearts put in countless hours of work preparing their house for the enjoyment of their 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren on Christmas Day.
Their festive home, which was selected this week as the winner of Times Review Media Group’s second annual Deck the Halls holiday decorating contest, is worth going out of your way to see.
“It’s a beautiful winter wonderland,” said Liz Person, one of two judges to give the Berry home a “perfect 10.” For their efforts, the couple will receive a $1,000 gift card from Riverhead Building Supply, the grand prize sponsor of our contest.
The Berrys first began putting extra effort into decorating for the holidays about a decade ago, they said. Mr. Berry, 80, hangs white icicle lights on the front of the house and projected images of snowflakes fall from a detached garage.
The lawn displays also use mostly white lights, though there are the touches of red in Santa’s suit or Rudolph’s nose. A North Pole scene and a life-sized snowman are highlights.
It’s not until you actually step inside that you get the full effect of the Berry home. That’s where the many years of collecting holiday decorations and the personal touches can be experienced.
“Many of the decorations have nice family stories behind them,” noted judge Lauren Sisson.
There’s the more than 75-year-old Lionel train set Ms. Berry’s father bought for her first Christmas. It runs around their spinning Christmas tree through a ceramic winter village.
Also noteworthy is the story behind the family’s crêche, which was purchased from Woolworth’s with pieces costing as little as 19 cents.
“Back then we couldn’t afford to buy the whole set at once,” Ms. Berry said with a smile.
Eight of our judges rated the Berry home above the other seven houses we visited. None ranked it lower than second, for an average score of 9.3. With added decorations this year, the Berrys improved their overall score from our first contest, in which they finished with the second-best score.
“It’s like walking into the home of Santa and Mrs. Claus,” remarked judge Monique Singh-Roy.
Judge Cerria Torres said she was shocked to “not see Santa sitting inside.”
What resonated most with many of our judges, however, was how the Berrys continue to decorate each year out of the love they have for their grandchildren. It’s a holiday tradition sure to warm your heart.
“While the outside of the home sparkles, the inside warms visitors up with a cozy feeling reminiscent of Christmas Eves spent at their own grandparents’ home as a child,” said judge Vera Chinese.
The Perivolaris Family
1155 Love Lane, Mattituck
Average Score: 8.9
For Mike, Kathy and Marcos Perivolaris, decorating the family home for the holidays is a long-standing tradition.
This year, with Marcos away at SUNY/Cortland, Mike and Kathy were left alone to decorate their house along Mattituck Inlet.
They said it took twice as long as usual, but the result is just as breathtaking as it was last year, when the family placed third in our annual Deck the Halls contest.
“It’s such a cute, unique farmhouse,” wrote judge Joseph Tumminello. “The perimeter of the house is wrapped with classic bulbs. They even decorated the chicken and duck coop.”
Mr. Perivolaris was quick to point out that the family managed to incorporate a state championship banner for the Mattituck baseball team, on which Marcos player, into the decorations this year. Also new was a window display featuring Santa, a snowman and reindeer.
“Loved the laser lights flashing on the trees,” said judge Joe Werkmeister, who scored the Perivolaris house tops among all competitors this year. “That’s so much better looking than simply pointing them at a house.”
For many of the judges, choosing between the Perivolaris house and the eventual winner in Southold, both runners up in 2014, was the night’s most difficult decision. Two judges even rated the two houses a tie.
One of those judges, Tina Volinski, wrote: “I love the entire feel of the display [at the Perivolaris house]. That family makes me feel happy.”
Judge Vera Chinese also credited the Perivolarises with the “best bribe” of the night. They greeted the panel with cookies, candy and Briermere apple cider. On the way out, they even gave one judge a dozen large duck eggs.
“The house is decorated so classy and charming,” said judge Sonja Reinholt Derr. “And they are just lovely.”
The Hartmann Family
60 Further Lane, Riverhead
Average Score: 7.8
As good as every one of our finalists’ homes were this season, none elicited quite the same response the Hartmann family home did when our passenger van arrived.
“Whoa!” the judges exclaimed in unison as the Further Lane house came into view.
No other competitor had quite as many pieces on display as this home. John Hartmann, a captain in the Riverhead Fire Department, is the architect of this family’s impressive display, which he and his son Jason lay out over the course of two full weekends. The duo has been decorating the house this way for more than 10 years.
Several of our judges remarked that it looks like a real-life gingerbread house.
While the Hartmanns don’t have an official count of all the pieces they’ve fit onto their property, they do know the display includes 31 inflatables.
“It’s well-designed and striking,” said judge Sonja Reinholt Derr.
“There’s a lot to take in, but it’s not too busy,” added judge Joseph Pinciaro.
Among the highlights are a cowboy Santa, a holiday outhouse and a rooftop nativity scene.
“My favorite part was Santa and reindeer on a see-saw,” said judge Lauren Sisson.
For anyone passing by — and we strongly recommend you do — this display provides instant satisfaction. It was the highest rated of any new entry in our contest this year and the top-rated home in Riverhead Town.
The Padden Family
442 Deep Hole Road, Calverton
Average Score: 6.9
Before the Paddens bought their Deep Hole Road home, the house had been vacant for more than five years. Damaged by the floods that destroyed homes on nearby Horton Avenue, the house has been a work in progress.
But if you drive past it come Christmas time, you’d hardly know it. Especially if you tune to 90.1 on your radio to see the lights synced up to sounds of holiday music.
“That was extremely impressive,” said judge Liz Person.
The property includes several unique set-ups, including a 15-foot hot air balloon on the roof. One portion of the yard is a “Jurassic Christmas” with dinosaur inflatables and the Paddens, who first decorated their house last year, have dubbed another area a “holiday carnival.”
It took the family about a month, with two to three hours of work put in each day, to install this year’s display, said dad Chris Padden. The cost of electricity, he said, is offset in part by solar panels he installed.
“I loved the fact that it was solar-powered,” said judge Cerria Torres.
Judge Joseph Tumminello was impressed by the house’s backstory.
“It sat vacant for five years,” he said. “They rescued it!”
Meet the judges:
A dozen Times Review Media Group staffers judged the eight homes that qualified for the grand prize in our second annual Deck the Halls contest. Transportation was provided by Red Carpet Limousines of Rocky Point with food from Ammirati’s of Love Lane.
Each judge assigned a score from 1 to 10 and the winner was determined based on the average score each home received.
The following staff members served as judges:
Vera Chinese, northforker.com editor
Sonja Reinholt Derr, director of sales and marketing
Eve Hansen, circulation
Grant Parpan, executive editor
Liz Person, sales and marketing coordinator
Joseph Pinciaro, editor
Monique Singh-Roy, reporter
Lauren Sisson, senior associate editor
Cerria Torres, display sales coordinator
Joseph Tumminello, sales executive
Tina Volinski, sales executive
Joe Werkmeister, managing editor