‘That House on Sanford Lane’ in Stamford is lit up again with hundreds of decorations

Photo of Abby Weiss

Drivers slow down when they pass by 35 Sanford Lane on Tuesday evening. Many pull over to check out the Stamford house on foot.

By 5 p.m., almost every inch of the lawn and the house is illuminated with Christmas lights and decorations. The house displays ornate wreaths, candy canes, snowmen, reindeer and signs wishing neighbors a "Merry Christmas." 

In the half hour leading up to the lighting, several people blow up a sea of inflatable figures, which includes a 20-foot-tall Santa Claus and Snowman. The grounds are covered in objects ranging from Baby Yodas to The Grinch to exhibits of Jesus' birth. "Jingle Bell Rock" plays in the background while toddlers squeal at the sighting of their favorite Christmas figure.

A sign at the beginning of the driveway reads "Please Enjoy Our Winter Wonderland. Sincerely yours, Mrs. Claus and all her elves."

Mrs. Claus herself, Karen Cingari, walks out of the house. She's talking into a walkie-talkie, directing several employees on where to place the decorations. 

Cingari does this seven days a week during the holiday season. Her Winter Wonderland is ready for viewing at 5 p.m. but dozens of people have arrived already. On the weekends, she receives hundreds of visitors, she said. 

"I'm known as 'That House on Sanford Lane,'" she said.  

The effort is a culmination of 15 years worth of decorations, she said. Starting with the flower bed by the front door, she and her mother have been decorating the lawn since 1997. Her house has been featured on the Instagram account @heystamford and the post has garnered over 3,000 likes as of Dec. 21.

Her love for decorating comes from her mother, who was a huge crafter and would make Cingari's Halloween costumes when she was little. She and Cingari often would make decorations together and would get festive for every celebration. 

"She was the Martha Stewart before there was a Martha Stewart," Cingari said. 

Cingari's mother decorated the dozens of wreaths currently displayed on the house with bells and flowers. "She looks forward to it every year," Cingari said. 

Karen Cingari bought a blue peacock to honor her mother, who decorated the wreaths on the windows. 

Karen Cingari bought a blue peacock to honor her mother, who decorated the wreaths on the windows. 

Abby Weiss/Hearst CT

She and Cingari whip out decorations for every major holiday: Memorial Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Halloween, which draws scores of trick-or-treaters, she said. 

Her Christmas decorations became a major attraction eight years ago and she significantly expanded in 2020 to uplift neighbors during the COVID-19  lockdown.  

"It puts them in a special mood especially during COVID. It uplifted quite a few people. And I love that," she said. 

Like the one on her lawn, it takes a village to set up the decorations. Cingari hired several people from the construction and landscaping field to help during the holiday season. Elmer Oliva, who has been working for Cingari for about 10 years, said it makes him happy to see people's reactions to his work.

Cingari and her employees begin setting up for Christmas during Halloween, a process that takes about eight weeks to complete. Taking down the decorations starts early January and can last up to late March, as some decorations need cleaning or fixing from damage caused by the weather, she said.

Several people brave the cold everyday to help set up and take down Karen Cingari's Christmas decorations. 

Several people brave the cold everyday to help set up and take down Karen Cingari's Christmas decorations. 

Abby Weiss/Hearst CT

When walking around the grounds, Cingari points to a lion on a floral bed. It represents her late father, who was a member of the Darien Lions Club and whose astrological sign is a lion. The object is overlooking the misfit toys from "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," her favorite Christmas movie as a child.

Another one of her favorites is a blue peacock in honor of her mother, as blue is her favorite color.

Karen Cingari dedicated this lion to her late father and it is one of her favorite decorations. 

Karen Cingari dedicated this lion to her late father and it is one of her favorite decorations. 

Abby Weiss/Hearst CT

Cingari said seeing the children's excitement and the positive community feedback makes the the effort worth it. People visit annually with their family members, and one year, a couple got engaged in front of her Cinderella coach decoration. 

"I've gotten great feedback. People stop when I'm outside and they thank me. I have a sign for donations because people have asked if they could donate," she said. "I get a lot of messages on Facebook or Instagram from people thanking me for doing this, but I love it. It's my passion. I totally love it."

One notable message she received was a letter addressed to "Mrs. Claus" that thanked her for bringing holiday spirit to the sender and her two children. 

"I actually had tears in my eyes. It was so sweet," she said. 

She said the operation is as time-consuming as a full-time job. But whenever she hesitates about doing the grueling process all over again, someone asks about the displays and she remembers her 'why.' 

"Just seeing everybody feel happy and thanking me, especially reading posts that show how much people love and it puts them in the Christmas spirit, it really fills my heart," she said.