For Susan and George Ford III, celebrating Christmas with the family is one of the most important times of the year. Both grew up in families that always made holiday time a season to remember. “I don’t enjoy anything more than having everyone together at Christmas,” says Susan, who was born and raised in Vermont. Now the parents of three grown children relish special moments together during the holidays in the couple’s waterfront Jupiter-area home, which they share with two of their three daughters, twins Christina and Danielle Ford, 34, and the twins’ service dogs, Chaucer and London. The Fords’ eldest daughter, Meghan Ford Taylor, 39, lives with her husband, Carter, in West Palm Beach and also enjoys family time with her parents and siblings at Christmas.
Susan’s holiday time memories in Vermont include snowmobiling up and down mountains, enjoying a blazing fire, and feasting on turkey, homegrown turnips, squash, beets, and her mother’s delicious pies. “I love all of my winter memories in Vermont, but it wasn’t Christmas for me until I saw It’s a Wonderful Life on TV,” says the Ford family matriarch, who has transferred her allegiance to tropical holidays since moving to Palm Beach County
in 1980. “I now enjoy our coastal outdoor Christmas celebrations.”
Susan’s husband, George Ford III, is the son of Dr. George Ford, the late prominent area
orthopedic surgeon who was part of the consortium that owned a retirement community that became the basis for Jupiter Medical Center. When the community closed in 1971, the consortium bought it, then sold 600 acres east of the railroad tracks to Alcoa for Jonathan’s Landing and donated the remaining 30-acre parcel for a medical center. The parcel included the original Jupiter Medical Center Home Health and Pavilion buildings. Eventually, through financial help from a few Jupiter Island residents, Jupiter Medical Center was created and opened in 1979.
Not interested in pursuing a career in medicine, George founded Leeds Custom Design in 1999 to create cabinets for the clients of his Palm Beach estate home painting business. He also founded a construction business, Seabreeze Building, and has been active in statewide public issues like advocating for workers’ compensation benefits.
Like his wife, George also fondly recalls his childhood Christmas celebrations. “Since Dad was always on call with work when I was growing up in North Palm Beach, our parents loved to take all six of us kids to Petite Marmite or Testa’s (both closed now) in Palm Beach for Christmas Eve,” he says. “On Christmas Day, Mom made turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy for the family. Then, after we opened gifts, I would rush outside to swim and surf.”
Those memories prompted George to carry traditions forward during the holidays with his own family. “Christmas Eve is Christmas for us,” he says. “We usually have our kids here that night, and we open gifts and serve stone crab, turkey, rack of lamb, cookies, key lime pie…. We put all of our energy into it. I even drive to Miami Beach to buy the stone crabs at Joe’s. We have a tight-knit family and always have a good time.”
When Susan and George recently invited family and a few close friends to their holiday-decorated Bermuda-style home for vibrant conversation, laughter, and a festive pre-Christmas dinner, the vibe was light and merry. “I love getting together to celebrate with the family,” says daughter Meghan, an architect who cofounded the West Palm Beach firm Tralongo & Taylor. She also handles projects for her father’s firms, including a
renovation of the landmarked historic Duck’s Nest in Palm Beach, and designed the architectural interiors of her parents’ waterfront home.
Fashionably clad in a Charlotte Kellogg pink and white striped blouse, white pants, and Chanel shoes, Susan greets guests at the door and shows them to the open living/family room and covered breezeway/loggia overlooking the pool, spa, firepit, dock, and Intracoastal.
George, smartly attired in a green Maus & Hoffman shirt, blazer, and white slacks, serves guests the night’s two signature drinks: frothy cranberry martinis with sugared cranberry and rosemary and eggnog cocktails with a cinnamon sugar rim and cinnamon stick garnish. Appetizers include a colorful charcuterie board of imported artisan cheeses, olives, sliced fruit, red grape clusters, and Italian meats with crackers.
Guests naturally gather around the beautiful indoor Christmas tree (from Christmas Etc. in West Palm Beach), which was trimmed by renowned designer Bruce Sutka, a longtime family friend and a guest at tonight’s soiree. “My inspiration for the tree was aquatic, reflecting the home’s open water view,” says Sutka. “I used ornaments and trinkets in varying shades of blue, green, and turquoise with gold and silver accents and topped it all with palm fronds.” Sutka is also the designer behind the Ford family’s annual Party with the Pack charity event, which raises money for Leeds Endowment, an organization founded by the Fords to help people with disabilities by providing resources they need to live healthy, productive, and independent lives.
George and Susan, whose twins were born with cerebral palsy, are advocates for giving back to the community. Leeds Endowment has raised more than $2 million since its 2010 inception, with all monies going to local charitable endeavors, including the training of service dogs. With help from daughter Danielle, who works at NextEra Energy, Susan heads the Leeds fundraiser held every November in West Palm Beach.
“The Fords are genuinely good people,” says Sutka. “They have a strong work ethic and truly care about others, which is obvious from their charity work. Creating Christmas decor for them gives me serious joy.”
For this evening’s dinner, Sutka transformed the covered breezeway/loggia area into a casually elegant Christmas scene. A second Christmas tree, which he created using Ford family ornaments in red, gold, and green, stands next to a vignette of orchids in white and deep pink from Exotic Plantscaping & Nursery in Lake Worth. “The pink adds a pop of color to the tropical holiday setting,” says the designer.
Sutka set a weathered driftwood dining table with rustic elegance, repeating the use of blues, greens, and golds to keep with the water theme. Each place setting is anchored by a gold charger beneath white dinner and butter plates by Villeroy & Boch. Classic, clean-lined crystal goblets, Parisian-inspired flatware with gold-banded handles, and white napkins tied together by a clever pair of gold napkin rings in hammered metal and cord complete the table setting. As a centerpiece, Sutka combined starfish, seahorses, colored balls, and garland that looks as if it is growing underwater and moving with the tide. “I brought in beach colors and themes that worked magically for dining and also played off of both Christmas trees,” he says of the table.
For the food, Susan turned to another friend, James Bartle, owner of SandyJames Fine Food & Productions in West Palm Beach, who catered the dinner and appetizers. “I have been friends with Susan for 40 years and greatly respect the Ford family’s work with Leeds Endowment,” says Bartle. The dinner was prepared by Chef Julio Taveras and his assistant,
On the menu is a Sconset salad (Bibb lettuce, dried cranberries, Maytag blue cheese, candied walnuts, and cranberry vinaigrette), whole roasted turkey, jumbo stone crabs, roasted New Zealand crown roast rack of lamb, candied rainbow carrots, potatoes au gratin, green beans almondine, sweet potato soufflé, dinner rolls with whipped herb butter, and cranberry bread with cranberry butter. “Susan wanted a casual yet upscale traditional Christmas dinner,” says Bartle. For dessert, guests nosh on rose apple tarts, Chantilly cream coconut cake from Kitchen in West Palm Beach, and decorated Christmas cookies.
As the Fords and their friends wind down the evening, Wilhelmina Stanton, a longtime friend of daughter Christina, sums up the atmosphere perfectly. “The food is always wonderful, and it’s just so much fun to be in the Fords’ home at Christmas time,” says Stanton, 39, who is Christina’s partner in Thresher Aquatics, a nonprofit they founded to help people with disabilities learn to scuba dive. She continues: “The Fords are so great, and being around them at Christmas is like being with family where everyone gets along.”