Alex Papachristidis

Alex Papachristidis has a saying about life that is very apposite for an interior designer: You’re always walking into a dark room looking for the light switch.

Once you’ve turned on the light switch in one of his rooms, there’s plenty to delight the eye. ‘I’m a more is more kind of guy. I love food, I love travel, I love luxury. I have twenty-five best friends. More is always merrier for me.’ He doesn’t take himself seriously and really does have a wonderfully generous spirit—and it shows in his home and in his manners. When, at the last minute, JH was unable to make it to photograph, he was gracious and unruffled, fed us delicious sandwiches and … as you can see from our first question, did something so unashamedly ‘decorator’ that we had to ask him about it straight away:

So we both love the fact that you didn’t want Sian’s ugly cardboard coffee cup to be, er, there, and you decanted the coffee into a pretty mug…


Well, look, you know. I’m from that school that everything should be used. You know we use all our good silver, we use all our good dishes …

Ah, but this was something more than that – it was that you did not like the ugliness of it.

I don’t like plastic. I don’t like paper. I don’t like artificial. I always say to my housekeeper if we have containers in the house, I don’t want price tags on them. I don’t want to open the refrigerator and see a price tag on a bottle of ketchup. I don’t like to see unattractive things. I looked everywhere for the right sugar bowl.
A sunburst mirror hangs above a photo of an African chief in the front entryway. Who else but the Duke and Duchess of Windsor?
A back-to-back gilt black lacquer bookcase purchased in Hudson handily divides the space into living and dining areas.
A commode from Maison Jansen is topped with a whimsical pair of elephant and ostrich egg lamps from John Rosselli. Curtains with a distinctive valance made out of Braquenie fabric from Pierre Frey cover the large windows of the living and dining area.
A colorful silk Chinese wedding ball from J.F. Chen in Los Angeles balances on a stack of books in the dining area.
A vintage Fornasetti chair is piled with art and design books in the dining room corner. The telescope table is from Paris.
Lately we have been wondering which way we go in the debate over whether an obsession with design and decorating is frivolous and superficial or whether or not it’s actually almost a brave thing to do in the knowledge that life is hard and involves suffering, introducing beauty where you can.

I totally agree with that. It’s actually very hard work to try and make everything in your life pretty … I have friends who are even worse than I am. I have a girlfriend who is talking about getting pregnant and she said, Alex, what do I do? I can’t stand those hideous little plastic bathtubs.

I said that’s easy. You buy an 18th century christening bowl and you bathe your child in a big Chinese porcelain bowl—I mean you sit and listen to that conversation and you think: These people really have nothing to do with their time and they’re really not well! But you know if it makes us feel better and it makes us happy and you’re not hurting anybody …

It is easy to parody…

Here’s how I also see it: it should never get in the way of human beings and people’s feelings. And it should never be that it’s so important that it affects your relationships.

Yes, it is interesting the way good taste is not an indicator of whether or not you can be close to someone. There are so many people in my life, and probably in yours, to whom I am close who do either have very different taste to me, or whose taste probably just isn’t ‘good’ – but it has no effect on the relationship at all.

You’re a hundred percent right. Some of my oldest friends in the world I don’t think have particularly great taste but that doesn’t define who they are as people. And then they call on me for that!
An antique French tole and crystal from John Rosselli is suspended from the ceiling of the dining room. The dining room table is covered with a bold Suzani purchased in London. The Villa dining rooms from J. Robert Scott are covered in Les Colonnes fabric from Pierre Frey.
A view across the living room.
A Louis XVI desks looks out across Alex’s Upper East Side neighborhood. A silk velvet leopard pillow adds a bold touch to a French chair covered in Brunschwig & Fils cotton.
Antique Indian Bronze birds from H.M. Luther are displayed on a 19th century cabinet in the entrance hall.
Clockwise from above: Alex’s partner, Scott Nelson amongst some his favorite living room details.
Your own taste seems to come from another era – I don’t mean it’s dated but it really isn’t ‘in’.

You’re a hundred percent right. I don’t really feel that I am … I’m an 18th century person at heart really. Do I decorate in a modern way for some of my clients? Do you know what, I don’t have a style for what I do in that I don’t have a cookie cutter look. You can see if you look at my decorating that I have projects where everything is white. But here because of who I am and because of what I do, I’m a compulsive buyer, shopper and collector. My partner always says to me: Why don’t we live in a white box? And I say: Because we can’t.

Where did you study?

I went to Skidmore and then I went to Parsons and I stayed at Parsons for a year. I just felt like, you know what? I don’t want to be an architect. I don’t need to learn about plumbing and how pipes work. I’m always going to have a contractor. But I’ve been doing this now for about twenty-five years and there’s no training that can teach you for the horrors that go on in this business!
A pair of Gueridon tables, a gift Alex’s mother, flank a sofa covered in Bennison fabric.
‘Meissen Violin,’ an inkjet and silk embroidery on canvas by Rob Wynne from Raphael Castoriano hangs above the living room sofa. Fresh flowers sit atop of gilt bamboo coffee table from John Rosselli.
A carved 19th century camel table from India is flanked by a pair of chairs covered in Lee Jofa fabric.
Looking north across the living room. A zebra skin rug from Africa lays next to Alex’s adored ceramic monkey ‘Samson’ in the front entryway.
A view across the living area.
Flora and Fauna and more living room details.
Tell us about some of the horrors of this business.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I [once] used a major, major carpet company in the city. They had detailed plans of everything. They knew that they weren’t to do anything before I arrived. They started before I arrived and they started nailing the carpets into the stenciled floors. There’s nothing you can do about those nail holes in a stenciled floor. The floor had to be ripped up … and the client was about to move in.

Are you close to your family?

I’m very close to my family. My father was married twice – I have three sisters; it’s three girls and a boy, twice and I’m the last of eight children.

Did you grow up in New York?

Born and raised.
The master bedroom walls are filled with an eclectic array of artwork, including an antique mirror from John Rosselli and a painting of a French soldier by David Fertig found at The Stamford Antiques Center.
An Orientalist painting from London hangs in the bedroom hall. A Moroccan style table from Slatkin & Co. is filled with bedtime reading.
Ready for the chariot. John and George.
A print of a parrot by Walton Ford Hangs in the corner of the Master bedroom. The bed pillow fabric is from Claremont; the walls are papered in Billy Baldwin’s Bamboo from Scalamandre
An Italian terracotta dog from John Rosselli is tucked in a corner of the bedroom. Vintage Beatles posters by photographer Richard Avedon and sold by Look magazine hang above an 18th century French desk in the master bedroom.
Alex’s desk is filled to the brim with favorite objects and reading materials.
The Cole Porter bookcase holds the requisite flat screen, more books and decorative objects; More books and art in two corners of the bedroom.
In the kitchen: Alex welcomes us with coffee and pastries ... The ‘very personalized’ refrigerator doors.
Could you live anywhere else?

As I get older I feel like the only thing that really bothers me, truthfully, about New York is the noise. I just find that grueling! We’re lucky enough that my mother, my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece and nephew, and my partner Scott and I all live together in a big house in the country, in Bridgehampton with five dogs.

How do the dogs get along? How about Teddy? [Teddy is a tiny Yorkie, at that moment perched on the back of Alex’s chair, the highest point in the room, lording it over us.]

My sister has every size poodle, from standard to miniature. [Teddy is] fine, but truthfully …

Is Teddy the alpha wolf?

This is just the king of the jungle. Nobody messes with him.
A vintage Chinese cabinet from Doyle camouflages the TV. The Cole Porter bookcase holds the requisite flat screen, more books and decorative objects.
More views of the library. A Charles H. Beckley sofa is covered in Fonthill fabric and topped with silk ikat pillows.
The walls are covered in a David Hicks pattern from Clarence House. The American wicker side chair is from Noonan Antiques in Hudson.
The library also doubles as a guest bedroom.
Alex and Scott’s bulletin board is filled with invitations and photos of family and friends. Red leather and bamboo Gucci frames fill the library desk.
A tapestry covered table from John Rosselli doubles as a coffee table in front of the day bed.
• Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch