Holiday decor at Hotel Bethlehem has the touch of a new interior designer after more than 10 years
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — It took engineers and decorators more than 1,000 hours to plan, prepare and deck the halls at Hotel Bethlehem this holiday season.
But it took mere seconds on Thursday for invited guests to “oohh" and "ahh” at the sparkling decor.
For the first time in more than a decade, the hotel worked with a new interior designer to transform the space into a captivating Christmas wonderland.
Ribbon in a classic houndstooth pattern had been woven through tall trees in the lobby, wrapping around drums, glass ornaments and Moravian stars.
Lights shimmered, reflecting off the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling Palladian windows.
"They told me what happened and I said, ‘Well, that’s what I do.’ And that’s literally how this happened.”Anthony Sierra of GailGray Home Furnishings and Interior Design
The scene was brought to life by Anthony Sierra of GailGray Home Furnishings and Interior Design.
Working with design partner Ty Cundey, the reveal included more than 35,000 lights, 25 trees, 36 wreaths and six nutcrackers painted in gold to catch the natural light.
How Sierra landed the job felt like a stroke of luck that can only happen in the magic of the holiday season.
“I was just having dinner here one night [last December] and I walked down to The Shoppe," Sierra said. "I just happened to ask somebody about the Christmas decorations, and they told me that the gentleman [previous designer Gary Berger] had passed.
"And I was like, “Wow, I never got to meet him. I wish I would've gotten that chance. But they told me what happened and I said, ‘Well, that’s what I do.’ And that’s literally how this happened.”
Enchanted, snow-inspired sparkle
Sierra’s job — to decorate the country’s Best Historic Hotel three years running — seemed a task as tall as those 7-foot nutcrackers.
“It was a new experience decorating in such a public space,” he said. “Having people walking by, taking pictures and asking questions. It was a little bit intimidating trying to do this in such an iconic location.”
For his debut project, he realized he didn’t want to fill up too much of the space. Instead, the goal was to highlight specific things and accentuate others.
“I wanted to highlight the architecture and historical grandeur that has made this place so iconic for more than a century."Anthony Sierra of GailGray Home Furnishings and Interior Design
“I wanted to highlight the architecture and historical grandeur that has made this place so iconic for more than a century,” he said, noting each area of the hotel features a bit of a different look.
In the main lobby is an old-fashioned Christmas scene bursting with red, black and gold, while frosted glitter and real crystals were used to provide an enchanted, snow-inspired sparkle.
The Mural Ballroom had a more neutral palette, with frosted white wreaths and snow-dusted trees — a spot Sierra said was among his favorite parts of the design.
The Grand Ballroom featured golden cherubs of traditional Christian angelology flying high above the lights.
“The Mural Ballroom is actually one of the first rooms that we started," Sierra said. "So I love a white Christmas tree, very frosted, and there’s just something really elegant about a kind of clean, classic, frosted white tree."
At 1741 on the Terrace, a farm-to-table restaurant off the hotel, he went with forest-inspired colors for a rustic and natural woodland feel, bringing the outside indoors.
Polar bears peek from various spots throughout the room, and a large pewter reindeer pulling a sleigh through the snow is a main focal point.
Follow the stars
Guests will find Moravian Stars at the front desk and throughout the hotel, and it’s not the only touch to honor the past.
Guests’ favorite elements over the years — such as the nativity scene, gliding geese and the famed gingerbread replica of the hotel — remain.
“It was so important for us to keep these elements in honor of our dear friends Gary Berger and Robert Averill, who decorated the hotel for more than a decade. It’s important for us to maintain their legacy.”Hotel Bethlehem Managing Partner Bruce Haines
“It was so important for us to keep these elements in honor of our dear friends Gary Berger and Robert Averill, who decorated the hotel for more than a decade,” Managing Partner Bruce Haines said.
“It’s important for us to maintain their legacy.”
Berger passed away in 2022 and Averill retired after last Christmas.
“To say I have big shoes to fill doesn’t even begin to cover it," Sierra said. "It’s an honor to continue their legacy.
“We did a lot of research online, because this being our first year, we didn’t have documents of everything that’s happened here over the last, you know, several decades.
"And so we were on Instagram and Google and YouTube, looking at news articles and a ton of things.
“And so you’re really trying to look at everything, keep that in mind and just kind of add our twist to it and make it us, but then keep it the hotel and keep it in unison.
"It's really a team effort and it’s a lot bigger than just me.”
And what was the feeling like of growing up in Bethlehem and getting the chance to decorate the place where visiting has been a holiday tradition for so long?
“This is an absolute dream come true,” he said. “It’s like my life has become one of those Hallmark Christmas movies. This year it’s Hotel B. Maybe next year the White House? That’s a bigger dream.
"But this has been a pinch me moment, for sure.”