Sian Ballen, Lesley Hauge and 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!
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.
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!
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]
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.
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.
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.
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?
What do you think about nostalgia … is it a good thing?