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.
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!
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!
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.
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.