Friday, August 1, 2014

Alex Papachristidis

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


We think Alex Papachristidis has recovered from Sian’s admission that she uses paper plates and, at his exhortation, she might even consider exhuming her full set of Tiffany silver that has spent decades at the back of a closet. An aesthete to the soles of his bespoke shoes, on our first visit to his former apartment, he gently removed from our hands the paper coffee cups we were holding and decanted the coffee into porcelain cups. And we love this about him. Why not use the pretty things every day? Pretty plates, old crystal, silverware: all these things are a source of delight in a utilitarian world and in that sense, he is un-American. He has made certain accommodations with modern life and is especially fond of Instagram—his profile is called “Alex’s Viewpoint”—but the new apartment still has an Old World European feel. This type of decorating, says Alex, is all about history. Is he a dying breed? His answer: “If I’m a dying breed, is history going to die?”

So I live in Williamsburg and coming in here I feel like I’ve just landed on another planet …

We say that all the time: we could be anywhere in the world. We could be in Paris … Istanbul.

It’s not a Manhattan apartment. It’s very Old World European. I really love your taste.

You’re so nice. Thank you!
A photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor greets visitors at the front door. A double-sided chinoiserie bookcase from a Hudson antiques store takes center stage in the tented foyer.
The walls and ceiling are covered in a bold Oscar de la Renta striped fabric. The antique chandelier is tole and gilt with painted flowers and leaves. The stenciled floor by Andy Holland was inspired by an Andre Arbus carpet.
But are you a dying breed?

Did you go that Sotheby’s show? (Sotheby’s Inaugural Designer Showhouse] Well there’s a decorator, 26 years old, Max Sinsteden and we’ve just become friends. We went to his apartment the other night for drinks and it’s all this. I mean it’s a young version of this. To me, he’s that next generation of old school decorators. Look at vintage fashion—this is modern vintage. This type of decorating is all about history. If I’m a dying breed, is history going to die?

How does a young person decorate like this if they don’t have much money?

Well you can’t do this—I am also 51 years old and I’ve been collecting since I was 23 years old. My apartment didn’t start out looking like this … 27 years of shopping and buying and shopping and buying competitively.
Antique mirror-fronted cabinets with glass knobs give the pantry and kitchen a touch of glamour to an otherwise practical space.
Tea and sandwiches from William Poll were served upon our arrival.
The dining room is a mix of different shades of plum with wool felt walls and satin curtains. Chalky-white chairs upholstered in Fortuny fabric surround a custom lacquered dining table.
A 19th century tole chandelier hangs above the dining table filled with art and design books.
Orientalist paintings and a peace sign by Rob Wynne fill a corner of the dining room. The shell-encrusted bust presides over meals, as it did in Alex and his partner Scott 's (Nelson) previous apartment.
Foo dogs and a Delft plate from Paris sit atop an early 20th century Chinese cabinet with a gilt base.
Stacks of books on art and design include a few copies of Alex's recent book, The Age of Elegance (Rizzoli).
Gorgeous city views and a slice of Central Park can be seen from all windows of Alex and Scott's Upper East Side apartment.
What does shopping and buying competitively mean?

Auctions … how cheap you get things are now! When I started decorating Chinese secretaries were all selling for $120 000 and over. Nowadays you can pick up a beautiful one for $30 000. I’m not saying that’s cheap … but it’s cheap-er. Look at this beautiful Truex gourd I just bought—Christie’s house sale—sterling and vermeil—1800 bucks! This is the time to buy because all the rich people are into art work.

You’ve titled your book “The Age of Elegance”—I’m not sure we’re living in an age of elegance.

There are still elegant people. There are people who care. Everybody in my family lives beautifully and their houses are beautifully maintained. Every meal is a different place setting and different dishes and different linens. Scott and I stay home and we eat off beautiful dishes and use linen napkins even if we’re having pizza!
Looking across the living room into the library. The hand stenciled parquet de Versailles floors are by Andy Holland.
A custom-made sectional covered in a plum velvet from Schumacher fits perfectly into a corner of the living room. The gilt French armchairs have Claremont covered cushions and antique ikat backs.
The chinoiserie wallpaper is based on an 18th century document that Alex saved for many years. He gave the document to Gracie and they produced this hand painted paper in shades of brown, green, gold and Prussian blue.
A Chinese bamboo chair was deliberately chosen for contrast and to tone down the formality of the living room.
A French lacquer chest of drawers with gilt-metal trim and lion's-paw feet is paired with a side chair upholstered in two contrasting satins.
When I got married, we had all the crystal and china, you know, on the registry list, Tiffany and so on. I have a complete set of Tiffany silverware.

And don’t you use it?

No! It’s in the back of the closet! And the dishes too …

Why?! Why!? Why is it not in your drawer?! What are you saving it for?!

I don’t know. You have to handwash it!

I have a lot of dishes I handwash. How many dishes are you using for you and your husband? What? Are you washing dishes for forty?!

I think it’s more of a European thing. A girlfriend was visiting from Brussels and I took out a paper plate. She was about to have a heart attack. She said, “I think that’s horrible. Get me a real plate.” I said, “It’s just breakfast.” She really gave it to me.

Paper plates … [he doesn’t faint]
More views of the living room. Alex added a braided trim in Prussian blue to the plum satin valance and swags of the floor-to-ceiling curtains.
A living room sofa is upholstered in a cut velvet from Fortuny. Alex found the upholstered armchair many years ago in Paris and has reproduced it several times for clients.
Peeking into the dining room from the front seating area of the living room. The marble top coffee table found at William Doyle is in the style of a piece by Maison Jansen. The gilt rope stool is Louis Philippe.
'Alex Lamps' designed by Alex for Christopher Spitzmiller stand atop a pair of gueridon tables which belonged to Alex's mother.
Exquisite porcelain flowers by Vladimir Kanevsky are displayed atop one of a pair of gueridon tables flanking the living room sofa.
A gold candlestick by ceramic artist Eve Kaplan and a sculpture by Igor Mitoraj are mixed with other favorite objects upon the other living room gueridon table.
Teddie, Alex and Scott's adorable Yorkshire terrier, tries to get our attention.
Scott, immersed in a book.
But you live in New York—I mean it’s dirty and noisy and gritty …

But New York is also friendly. I mean if you have an accident here, people just fall over themselves to help you. You can’t get to that person because so many people are calling and getting help. Scott always I can’t take the subway because I make too many friends

Scott: He makes me take the subway once in a blue moon but he is too friendly. He’ll just talk to people all the way. He’ll say things like: “Oh that’s a really nicely-wrapped package. Where are you going? A birthday party?” Like … we don’t need any more friends. He doesn’t know that on the subway you don’t talk to anybody.
A view into the library. The custom chevron carpet by Langhorne from Beauvais is colored in two shades of red and brown.
A painting by Rob Wynn that Alex and Scott had in their previous apartment hangs on the deep plum velvet upholstered walls. The sofa is a combination of six different fabrics including cotton ikat seat cushions from Schumacher. The coffee tablewith a faux-painted Delft tile top is from John Rosselli Antiques.
More views of the library. The pagoda lantern was custom painted by Paul Boyko to match the room, the custom Parsons bookshelves are upholstered in a wool felt from Cowtan & Tout by Jose Quintana.
A pair of Chinese Foo dogs are displayed on gilt-wood brackets carved with three feathers, which is the crest of the Prince of Wales that was used by the Duke of Windsor.
In a corner of the library Christopher Spitzmiller lamps have shades made from a piece of batik, that was a former tablecloth from William Wayne & Co.
A painting of Scott and Alex by Scott's sister, Jennifer Nelson, stands atop the living room windowsill.
The library shelves are filled with Alex and Scott's extensive collection of art and design books. "Our biggest challenge was unpacking the 200 boxes of books," says Alex.
Bright pink orchids fit well into the library color scheme.
A group of small porcelain fruits, boxes and objects shares space with fresh cut flowers atop a library side table.
A close-up of the library coffee table from John Rosselli antiques.
I read somewhere that you had to be careful about saying you don’t like something because in time you might come to like it. Do you have any examples of that from your own experience?

I used to only love chinoiserie but now I’ve all of a sudden realized my love for the Japanese aesthetic. It’s less fanciful and it’s quieter. I never really understood the Arts and Crafts and the Aesthetic Movements and I’m obsessed by it now.

I find Arts and Crafts furniture rather brown and squat.

Yeah they’re a little sad. But I just did an Arts and Crafts era apartment but I used the greens and the aquas and what I did was just modernize them by freshening them a little. But the other thing that looks unbelievable with Arts and Crafts is Fortuny fabric on the furniture.
Scott's dressing room and office was designed to be an old-fashioned gentleman's sitting room. The custom geometric- patterned carpet is by Langhorne through Beauvais.
Scott's desktop. A pair of hand-painted lamps from John Rosselli are topped with custom lampshades by Blanche Field out of a Le Manach print fabric.
The daybed of Scott's dressing room is topped by a coronet lined in a raspberry silk satin. The walls of concealed closets are upholstered in a tree-of-life fabric from Manuel Canovas.
Scott's shirts are neatly stacked atop hidden dressing room shelves.
Side chairs and a 19th century French armoire with Coromandel panels are from Alex and Scott's previous apartment.
The guest bath is covered in a bamboo trellis wallpaper by Billy Baldwin for Scalamandre.
Fortuny probably looks good on most furniture.

Scott: Oh, we were at Fortuny in Venice and there is a women’s prison behind it—the women make the pillows and they get paid to do it. I thought it would be really cheap but they pay them 70 or 80 euros an hour. How smart is that? So they can walk [the pillows] back and forth.

So you’ve moved to this new place—how efficient are you at the actual moving, especially with all this stuff?


My whole office, my entire staff [helped] and the apartment basically looked like this in two days. I have a major, major issue about every box being out of the house within the first week. My theory is that if you leave boxes in the house for more than a week, it’s going to be there for another six months. You have to have a chair, a broom, a whip and a duster.
A leather and bronze 'Roman soldier' valet stands in the entryway to the master bedroom.
In the master bedroom Alex selected a Swedish wallpaper from Old World Weavers. It reminded him of Charles de Beistegui's Chateau de Groussay.
A custom velvet bed is topped with cut velvet green pillows and a cotton quilt from Les Indiennes. The sunburst mirror is 1950s French.
A pair of Francois-Xavier Lalanne ceramic elephants were a gift to Alex from his mother.
A glass wall sculpture by Rob Wynne and a group of oil paintings, including one of a French soldier by David Fertig hangs on the master bedroom wall.
Christopher Spitzmiller lamps in a custom blue-green glaze are surrounded by more favorite objects, books and photos.
A desk from Yale Burge displays a group of blue and white pottery, enameled boxes and more books. The photograph standing atop the bedroom windowsill is a scene from the movie 'Pink Narcissus' by director James Bidgood.
In the master bedroom, custom Cole Porter brass bookshelves hold a flat screen, more books, art and objects.
An occasional best seller is mixed in with Alex and Scott's massive collection of art and design books.
'Green Shadow' a print by Anish Kapoor hangs in a corner of the master bedroom.
Looking into Alex's dressing room from the master bedroom.
A chair covered in a chalk-white Fortuny fabric belonged to Alex's mother. Alex paired the Swedish wallpaper with other strong patterns, including this custom Beauvais Mariya trellis carpet, named after his mother.
Alex's dressing room.
Where have you been lately to have fun?

We travel a lot … oh but we went to Brooklyn because everyone’s talking about how cool it is. We went to see Cher at the Barclay’s Center and then we went to this restaurant called Walter’s. The best spaghetti vongole I’ve ever eaten! It was like the spaghetti vonglole on a little island outside of Venice.

Scott [looking it up on his phone] It’s 166 De Kalb ... so where is that?

Fort Greene.

Oh, okay.

What do you think about nostalgia … is it a good thing?

Oh I’m totally nostalgic! Absolutely! So yes!