Friday, December 11, 2009

Benjamin Bradley

Designer Benjamin Bradley unequivocally adores Christmas. He makes no secret of the fact that he is re-living happy childhood memories when he creates Christmas in his apartment using his collection of over two thousand ornaments, many of which are antique ornaments he has been collecting since high school and college days. Unfortunately he had to deal with a die-hard Scrooge in this interview, because Sian is no fan of Christmas …

I wanted to talk about all of this because I have to admit to you because I am such a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I hate Christmas music—in fact I came in here thinking "Oh my God there’s going to be Christmas music ..."

And there was!

And there was. I really just wish I could leave Manhattan between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Obviously you don’t feel like that, so maybe you should explain to me what makes you so cheerful about the holidays that makes me so cranky!

I think probably I just have really wonderful memories as a child. My mom made every holiday something special. There was always a holiday to look forward to. When it came to Christmas time she would save the Christmas cards from the mail that morning so that when we came home from school so that we could open them. I have a German background and she always made sure we baked cookies. So there was sort of a magic that literally always captured me and it never has gone away.
A garland of sugar pinecones and pheasant feathers is strung across the library bookcase. A small evergreen, “planted” in an antique horn umbrella stand, sits on the butler’s tray in the library.
Photos of family and friends fill the library bookcase while notes and invitations are tucked into the bulletin board below.
An old pharmaceutical globe from Sentimento Antiques stands atop a stack of leather bound books in the library. A former umbrella stand crafted out of Reindeer horns now serves as a base for the library tree.
Vintage taffeta ribbon and a single pinecone add a festive touch to the library sconces. A view of the living room tree from the library.
Where did you grow up?

Indiana.

So it’s a childhood thing?


It’s a childhood thing. I think people for the most part are in pretty good moods during the holidays or at least a little more willing to say ‘Happy Holidays’. There’s sort of a celebration about the whole thing, or at least an over-the-top abundance, which someone like you finds annoying. I find invigorating.
A fire crackles tableside in the dining room.
Brass and wood candlesticks are arranged among antique books and pine cones atop the fireplace mantel. A Steiff teddy bear peeks from the top of a felt stocking featuring a vintage fur coat cuff.
Reflections of holiday decorations bounce off of the glass topped dining table.
Baseballs hats top a headless mannequin. The sketch above is by Benjamin’s life partner, Bruce Wayne. A black and white photo of a boy painting his shoes seems reflective of Benjamin’s early childhood creativity.
The master bedroom features dark brown walls. The portrait over the bed is attributed to Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900) a itinerate American artist.
Bedside lamps crafted from horn were picked up at the Paris flea market. A Chinese toile covered chair proved the perfect reading corner in the bedroom.
Are you religious?

I was brought up Catholic but I’m not a practicing Catholic. That kind of fell by the wayside in high school, probably. So, it’s not a religious thing, it’s just more of a joyful thing. We have a big holiday party, all of our friends come together. There’s really nothing I don’t like. I like the baking … on Sunday I baked nine different types of cookies. I was in the kitchen for twelve hours. It took fourteen-and-a-half hours to put the tree up.

I find it stressful to get all the gifts done. In fact I buy gifts during the year so that I don’t have to go shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Which is probably the smart way to do it. I find it exciting to find the right gift for the right person.
A holiday plate pops off the black ceramic tile backsplash.
Clockwise from above: A silverware set with horn handles is set out among holiday goodies; The aroma from a pan of spices permeates the apartment; Homemade cookies and fudge are set out for guests.
A view of the cozy kitchen with its black tile, pine cabinetry and antique terra cotta floor from Ann Sacks.
Playful elves frolic among the candy in a corner of the kitchen. Framed antique Christmas cards hang nearby; Homemade cookies and fudge are set out for guests on an antique English sideboard in the kitchen.
I guess I’m such a Scrooge about it all because Christmas really emphasizes to me the great divide between the haves and have-nots. It gets me upset.

I get that too. Much like when I see a client or somebody in the world do excessive building or something so outrageous design-wise and millions of dollars go into it. But you know what? Part of my stomach turns and yet at the same time, for future generations I’m going to be thrilled to bits that all of those people … the Rockefellers and everybody, built what they did. I’m glad that today’s modern billionaires are doing what they’re doing. Ultimately I think for the most part those people are doing good for the world too, their philanthropic things.

It seems to be that, particularly in here, it is a very different way to be creative.

It’s just another opportunity to decorate, and you know, pull out all the stops. I actually laugh—it’s always the time to be a little tacky because most of the time we’re sort of dictated by taste, you know, understated and elegant.
Warmth exudes from the ‘dog themed’ den.
An 18th century portrait of a gentleman gets a festive touch with a sprig of holly. An antique architectural model from Paris sits below. An 1870 terracotta sculpture of a dog’s head hangs above an oil painting by Benjamin on the den wall.
A collection of vintage Santas stands atop a Mahogany bookcase.
Presents all wrapped up and ready to go. In a corner of the den is a collection of antique Tartan Ware. Close friend, Cheryl Gluck, gave the first pieces to Benjamin as a gift.
More views of the den. The corner tree is filled with vintage candy containers from Germany in the form of either Santa or his boots!
The guest bathroom, perfectly restored to its pre-war glamour.
It’s very different from what you do day-to-day.

Yeah. A completely different way. It’s almost like the appeal of window dressing. I always thought that would be such a wonderful profession. It allows me, again, to be childlike … I want Santa Claus and I want angels and I want cranberries and I want sugar cookies and I want a gingerbread house and I want … anything that seems Christmas!

You’re re-living your childhood!

[Laughs] I think there is that!
The dazzling Christmas tree stands front and center in the living room. A reindeer hide drapes the ottoman.
Thousands of ornaments collected over the years take nearly fourteen hours to hang on the tree. Silver and gold balls known as “kugels” (Germany, ca. 1850) fill a bowl nearby.
A copper and glass revolving light with a Christmas scene was a gift from Benjamin’s Mom. Vintage bottle brush trees stand atop a William the IV shelf from the Michael Crighton Estate. The needlepoint dog pillows are from Vaughn.
A wreath decorated with Italian paper mache angels hangs atop an 1850 French mirror in the living room.
Looking across the living room. The gilt bamboo chairs are from Dessin Fournir.
A copper and glass revolving light with a Christmas scene was a gift from Benjamin’s Mom. Jolly Santas welcome visitors in the front entrance hall.
So what happens January 1st? Do you go into depression?

[Laughs] You know what? I’m always very happy to get it all back down but I’m a little sad it’s over … the grey days of January.

• Sian Ballen • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch