Jul 30, 2014

'That House in Milford' Back for the Holidays

A Q&A with Christopher Donnells, the man behind 'That House in Milford,' the home with 50,000 lights on 75 Meadows End Road.

'That House in Milford' Back for the Holidays


[Have you own spectacularly decked out home? Compete with Christopher for a chance to win $100,000 for Milford Public Schools.]

How did you first get involved with decorating your house for the holidays? 

The year my wife Ann and I got married (2001), we also purchased a home.  I've always been a Christmas light fanatic so I was really looking forward to putting up lights but since we got married 11 days before Christmas, it was difficult.  The second year in our home I decided to put up some decorations...about 1,500 lights.  Every year people would ask me what I was going to do different or how I was going to change it so I would double it and before I knew it, this display evolved into what it has today...at it's maximum...50,000 lights. 

What was the process like when you started to realize that people were referring to where you live as 'That House in Milford'?  

I really didn't realize it until about 2005/2006.  Once people realized who I was they would say, "Oh, you're that house on Meadows End."  Or "that house with the Christmas decorations in Milford."  At the time, not a lot of people in our area were putting up many lights. Then it dawned on me, what a cool name for a website... www.thathouseinmilford.com.  I came home one night from work and told my wife, guess what I did? I got us a website! You should have seen her eyes roll at me!  It was truly funny.  I think she may have thought at the time, "Yup, my husband has officially lost his mind."

How has your lights display changed and evolved over the years?  

When we first started with the light display, it was mainly stuff you would always find in the stores.  Deer, blowups and lots and lots of lights. 

But as time progressed I decided (after joining online groups such as Planet Christmas) that there was A LOT more to decorating.  And to be honest, no one needs to spend a ton of money on store bought Christmas decorations when you can make a lot of the stuff by hand. 

So I decided in about 2005 to start making more of the decorations and not buying a lot.  Yes, we still have the deer and animated Christmas displays, but all the candy canes, arches, mega trees, tomato cage trees, Santa Mailbox (yes, children can drop off letters and as long as they have a return address, Santa will write back), plywood cutouts and Keep Christ in Christmas sign were all made by me and my wife usually during the summer. 

I'm already starting to think about what I'm going to make for next year! The other really neat thing I decided in 2006 was to use our display to help raise funds for a cause. In order for me to get to the cause, I need to step back a few decades and explain how I got invoved. 

When I was about 10 years old, my parents took me into the City to see 42nd street.  When at Grand Central Terminal my father gave me $3.00 to go buy a pretzel and a Coke.  There was a man in front of me and he asked if he could have a piece of chicken.  The man behind the counter put the chicken in a plate and said, $3.00.  The homeless man said, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any money.  It's Christmas.  Can you spare a piece?"  He said no.  I never gave him my $3.00 for that meal and felt awful about that. 

So, I everytime I got the chance to spare some change when I was younger, I did so. Over the years I always tried to help those in need through volunteering my time.  Then, in 2005, I found the Connecticut Food Bank and have been volunteering for them ever since.  It was in 2006 that I realized, after being told I could do an online "Virtual Food Drive" that we could further help those in need. 

Therefore, with our website, we were able to start our Virtual Food Drive in the spring of 2007, which to date has raised more than $10,000 for the CT Food Bank and attracted sponsors such as Santa Energy which graciously matches 10% of donations up to $300.00 per year! So as you can see, our little light display has gone from a couple thousand lights to helping thousands of people!  It's truly a good feeling to know that we are giving back to those in need.

What tips do you have for people who want to get into the holiday spirit with their own homes?

If people want to get into the holiday spirit with their own homes, pretend like you are a painter.  As with any painter, they have a medium (Christmas lights/decorations) and they have their canvas (their home). 

You don't have to go over the top but really treat your home like a canvas and "paint" it with your medium.  Also, really hooking up with online websites like PlanetChristmas can really get the creative juices flowing.  Being able to talk to other people who have been doing this for many many years can really give you the jump start to a wonderful Christmas display. 

And lastly, go around and get inspiration from others.  I can't tell  you how many houses I've seen where I've said..."Oh that is so cool.  I'm going to do something like that!" And don't be afraid to ask the homeowner how they did something on the display. Most of the time they would be happy to tell you how to build anything in their display.

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