Monday, November 26, 2012

...about a fall tablescape.

When it comes to tabletop styling, I’ve always gotten great ideas from advertising images, magazines, and catalogs. When I get the occasional professional styling gig, like this one for Lenox, the venerable china, stoneware, flatware and crystal company, even though the intent is to showcase and highlight product, I try to inspire viewers and readers just as much as I’ve been, with ideas you can take home.
From humble beginnings, and on a ad agency conference room table!
Flowers arrived ready for their close-up, courtesy William NYC Flowers. Read why I went with professionally-arranged flowers over on ApartmentTherapy, and why even at home, it's worth the splurge.
The best shot is always from the tightest corner...
...or up on a ladder!
Coming together!

Checking the shots
Head over to ApartmentTherapy to see more photos and read the six tricks of my styling trade to help you set a perfect table, whether a romantic dinner for two, or feast for a dozen, in the festive fall-to-winter days ahead. This set-up could even make a perfect Christmas dinner table... and might even inspire a custom wreath!
The Bird Salt & Pepper Shakers were the styling inspiration: Birds nest chargers, feathers tucked into the napkins and the centerpiece, and the woven basket for the centerpiece all came from these charming (and practical) little starting points.
Loved being able to mix and match shapes from this versatile line. 
A pair of cruets from West Elm make a great wine-bar touch you can bring home: personal decanters
There are more of my tips over on the Lenox Tumblr page, plus a great ongoing feature: recipes, including some that are only 3 ingredients! Who knew? You go, Lenox!

Flatware: Vintage Jewel, Lenox
Stemware, gold-rimmed:  Eternal Gold Signature Crystal Wine Glass, Lenox
Wine goblet (in soup shot): Lenox
Floral design: William NYC Flowers
Centerpiece ceramic woven basket: Pier 1
Woven placemats: Nito Placemats, Williams Sonoma
Multi-colored glass tealight: Mosaic RIm Tealight, Amber, Pier 1
Rustic Woven Chargers: Decorative Bird's Nest, Pottery Barn 
Dark brown rattan charger: Pottery Barn (discontinued)
Hammered brass napkin rings: Navato Napkin Ring, Gold, Crate & Barrel
Plum napkins: Cotton Currant Napkin, Crate & Barrel
Gold napkins: Gold Beaded Napkins, Pier 1 Imports
Individual wine carafe: Oil and Vinegar Glass Bottles with Wooden Stoppers, West Elm
Woven birds: Festive Quail Friends, (sold as a pair) Wisteria
Photos: Linda Greene for Lenox

Get Social! Find Lenox, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Crate & BarrelPier 1 Imports and Hale & Hearty on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

...about Holiday House 2012, Part 3: small, odd and lovely

The triple-wide mansion that’s the annual setting of Manhattan’s Holiday House has largely been spared the cut-and-paste architecture that a house passing through multiple owners, years and hands tends to suffer. This storied mansion still has its share of ample spaces, with plenty of room and plenty of character before the first Oushak is unrolled.

But there is still a scattering of odd rooms, tucked under stairs or off entry ways, that threw designers a curve, odd angle, and vaguely defined function. Often, they’re not even rooms at all. They’re corridors, landings, stairwells, and the design equivalent of Top Chef’s Quick Fire challenge. And often, they're just as revealing of a designer’s problem-solving and space management skills.

Even with such tough starting points, the solutions, when they work, exhibit great style, prowess and, to this small-space resident and design practitioner, big inspiration. Without fail, the rooms that hold my attention are these small ones. Like last year, these small and odd spaces are often my very favorite moments in the house. 

Claudia Giselle Design
This dressing room, from Claudia Giselle Design is called “Girls’ Night Out,” but this is no ordinary girl. This is Christine from Phantom of the Opera, or maybe even more fittingly, Carlotta. It’s all Diva, this space just off the entry (and missed by one or two visitors for its odd location.)
Taking the style-factor soprano-high is the gorgeous and clever use of the Maya Romanoff Bedazzled Leaf beaded crystal wall-covering, here applied to drawer fronts and (under glass) tabletops of the practical wall of built-ins. 

From the pair of Jonathan Adler lamps (like back-up genies at the ready) to mirrored walls and dramatic lighting, this room is all sparkle and shine.

A brocade fabric cloaks the walls, and the whole room is framed with gilt, dotted with crystal (in both natural and cut-and-polished form), and underscored with mascara-black accents. A sweep of skin-tone flattering coral fabric (from Hyland, whose head, Christopher Hyland, is this year’s Holiday House co-chair) helps set the stage for this dramatic little endeavor. The music of the night, indeed.

Mr. Call Designs and J.Pocker
Upstairs, interior designer Jon Call of Mr. Call Designs and Robyn Pocker, of the venerable New York framing house J. Pocker & Son, used the tricks of both their trades to give Versailles shine to an upper floor stairwell. Jon combined stock mirrors and custom framed versions, creating a trumeau-effect and instant architectural presence.

A striped wallpaper was cut apart and reapplied with panache, like Art Deco lightning bolts or the Chrysler building’s rays. It’s a dazzling display of what can be done to elevate an economical purchase with a little out-of-the-box thinking (and a patient paperhanger).
Floating against that patterned ceiling, a stunning tiered crystal fixture that shares the paper’s banding, the mirrors’ sparkle, and even a touch of lavender from the nearby Sweet Sixteen confection of Robyn Karp Design. All together, it brings a little Radio City Music Hall to a space that not many would even consider decorating. It also exhibits perfectly Jon’s take on design: some prêt a porter, some haute couture, some investment, some savings, and a lot of style weaving it all together.

My only regret about this space? That my portraits of the dashing Mr. Call himself did not at all do him justice. 

Janet Rice Interiors
Things may be bigger in Texas, but Dallas designer Janet Rice seems to make her mark in just a few feet of space. In a multiple-arched but hardly ample hallway (leading to Charlotte Moss’s grand cube of a bedroom) Janet used a trailing and lyrical Gracie hand-painted paper (in a yet another paperhanger’s tour-de-force). Pewter, dove gray, platinum, crystal and quartz bounce limited light and up the elegance, while custom shallow demilunes give the space actual function.

In a note of show house chance, serendipity, and karma, the paper Janet chose is the same paper in the bedroom of Evelyn Lauder, pictured in Evelyn’s portrait downstairs.

The overhead fixture (an arching Venetian glass lantern, not shown) seems too good to not have been part of the original house, but it’s one of Janet’s limited, but super-smart additions.

My favorite element (also not shown) is a high-tech gem of a freestanding light fixture, bringing contemporary spin to this otherwise traditional take, like a dazzling Elsa Perreti pin on a vintage gown.

I have a soft spot for this, well, spot. Last year, Dineen Architecture + Design turned this pass-though nook into destination with equal aplomb.

Brett Design
There are at least fifty shades of gray in the wallpaper of her own design in the room of Brett Beldock, and that’s exactly the tone being set in her kitten-with-a-whip take on Valentine’s Day. Sure, there’s romance in that all-over modern floral, (the effect is a New Age, amped up grisaille), chocolate-evocative daybed, and a table set for two, bon-bons at the ready. But while the table is set for dining, the room is set for, well, dessert.

What sets the nicely naughty tone? Mostly, contemporary (and lush-lipped) photography by Alex Prager, evocative of movie stills and rife with seductive tension.

The biggest of the smalls among this little roundup, Brett's room was still a challenge with an odd footprint, low ceilings and just one window, but all no match or worry for the seasoned interior and wallcovering designer. She incorporates two of my favorite space-stretching tricks to overcome. First, a dining area hiding in plain sight, with Niedermaier’s Saarinen spin-off table, scaled down then raised to perfect sofa-dining (or laptop surfing) height, that would stretch function for miles in a studio apartment. The other, a large photographic landscape which makes another window where there is only one, in this odd little el of a room.

Brett’s paper backdrop is the modern floral to Tobi Fairley’s black and white contemporary grasscloth trellis just steps away, proving that timeless black and white is not going anywhere, ever, if only for its ability to provide the perfect foil for whatever’s in front of it.

SMG Photography 2012
Archives ID
Alla Akimova, of Archive ID, made celebration, ceremony and art of a stairwell, a light well and what basically amounts to an elevator lobby. That’s the modern alchemy of Archives ID, and Alla has bridged two trends shown elsewhere in the House: Art installation and classic show house storytelling, to make a mark in two of the home’s toughest spaces.

Both images, SMG Photography 2012

Up the stairwell, a botanical and contemporary lightbox installation, to bring light and life to a back stair, and honoring Arbor Day. Even an awkward lightwell providing roof access has been turned to something noteworthy, with a sound installation and flickering candles.

Up the steps and around the corner, great tricks and perfect choices make the most of a windowless throwaway space. The stunning Maya Romanoff Meditations Ohm paper and overhead Arctic Pear Double Wave fixture from Ochre (at once, both ocean wave and water drops) prove that the exhausted décor term of “Zen” can still have great life deep-breathed back into it. Uplighting and lush, creamy textiles create a window where there is none, and creates dreamy, diffused and flattering light in the process. A square of watery turquoise, on loan from LUMAS, is the monochromatic room's sole color jolt, above a Niedermaier console.  
Details extend the Arbor Day theme, but the narrative changes, and this room celebrates Columbus Day, with New World watery, natural and nautical references that stayed “inspired by,” and not “slave to” the holiday at hand. The built-in banquette of Alla's design is ship-shape and super smart: the inward orientation of the shelves keeps things practically right at hand, but keeps the visual of the room calm.

Roger Thomas Collection for Maya Romanoff
Speaking (again) of Maya Romanoff, Roger Thomas' design of red-hot hallway (shown, very top) was due to yet another generous donation from these exquisite paper and surface crafters. The hand-painted Tremolo hand-painted lipstick-red wall covering brought life, and opium den-meets-Grauman’s Chinese theater intrigue and Hollywood Deco glamour to another tiny hall that could have otherwise been lost to the shadows.

Design is, in large part, problem solving. Even in the smallest of spaces. Sometimes, as shown in this year’s Holiday House, especially in the smallest of spaces.

What details did you most love from among the house’s more diminutive spaces? 

Holiday House 2012, to benefit Breast Cancer Research Foundationis open to the public from October 25th through November 18th, 2012 at 2 East 63rd Street, in New York City.

Get Social! Find Holiday House, Mr. Call Designs, Janet Rice Interiors, Maya Romanoff, Archives ID, Ochre and Niedermaier on Facebook.

PREVIOUS: Read Part 1 and Part 2.

All photos, Patrick J. Hamilton unless noted.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

...about a holiday wreath giveaway.

The plans have changed for this year's second annual Holiday Wreath Giveaway. Hurricane Sandy saw to that. While many of us were extremely lucky, and weathered the storm with little or no ill effect, many saw the worst this area has ever seen... losing homes, businesses, and hope. I'd like to help bring a little of that hope back. But I need your help. 

This year, the giveaway will be an auction, to benefit the Ali Forney Center, whose West Village Drop-in Center was flooded, four feet of water ruining all facilities and equipment. Ali Forney provides support, counseling, a safe place and more to at-risk teens in the LGBT spectrum.

The rules are simple: Post here with your bid amount. If there's a bid, you need to beat it by $5, and the highest amount above the cost of materials ($150) by December 1st wins this year's fully custom wreath. 

On December 1st, the winning bidder will be contacted and a custom 20" wreath will be creating especially for the winner.

The money will be donated to Ali Forney, to help restore the space and equipment they lost this past week. Winner be be responsible for shipping costs. Any amount above $150 is tax deductible to the full extent of the law. 

Pictured, the winner's wreath last year. See more about how it came together here, and read some tips about putting together your own wreath here.

Opening bid is $155... and starts... NOW! 

Friday, November 2, 2012

...about Holiday House 2012, Part 2: Five big designs, in not-so-big packages

Bigger spaces in a show house are both blessing and curse. So much space to flex creative muscle! SO MUCH SPACE TO FILL. Holiday House, in its ample footprint, has a handful of rooms that are big on space. But to this studio-dweller and frequent designer of small spaces, I’m much more interested in rooms of a more manageable size. I love to see how fellow designers coax the most style and function out of rooms that, to many in Manhattan, still seem ample, but by high-end designer/client standards, are mere shoeboxes. But like the high-end shoeboxes in Carrie Bradshaw’s closets, there are some well-heeled and sexy designs lurking under the lids.

Dineen Architecture + Design
Last year, the lovely ladies behind Dineen Architecture + Design showed considerable small-space prowess in what otherwise could have been a throw-away space, and the moment they created was one of the prettiest, smartest pictures painted in the house last year. 

This year, Joan Dineen and Alyson Liss got an upgrade and a lot more legroom, then ran with it. With their architect’s eye, they focused first on the envelope of the room, adding tailored, graphite gray grasscloth and a buttoned-up bleached-wood wall that gave the fireplace elevation a 40’s French and shipshape streamlined makeover (lurking beneath, a wild mosaic surround from years past).

In a room full of such individually high-personality pieces, the net result is surprisingly quiet. But a whisper is often much more intriguing than a shout, even if whispering is a show house risk, when trying to grab a little ink and vying for press and publicity.

The portrait of this lady is intriguing, too. There are lovely storytelling details in the styling, which these architects so humbly said is not their particular strong suit (coulda fooled me). Speaking of suiting, Chanel-suiting-inspired window treatments (look close! There’s a little glitz in that warp and weft!), curvy art furniture (the wood piece, fireside, by RISD alum Sean O’Hara, from A.Rudin), and a beveled wall mirror that’s pure jewelry all bring to life a fictional grand dame of confident style. 

And while all about her, the room tempers the girly with elements of harder edge... an angular Dineen-custom daybed (that some manufacturer needs to start producing asap), the floral but not flowery area carpet from Fort Street Studiothe spiky Vestal firescreen by gentleman designer John Lyle, and a gender-bending Marcus Leatherdale photo, one of several pieces of art I wanted to smuggle out under my coat.  
I also love that this collection of items, decisions and art looks like it came together over a life's time, so hard to do in a room that apparates in a matter of weeks, usually from a designer’s familiar, go-to and signature sources. And bonus, of growing import: many of the room's main pieces were locally produced, including the Brooklyn-crafted overhead light fixture.

Interesting to note, and a great by-product of the show house taking place in the same venue each year: this was the space given a Halloween take in 2011. The deep-dark walls from Suzanne Eason’s haunting design made this room seem far larger, living proof of the adage many still disbelieve: dark rooms seem bigger. But here, bigger wasn't necessarily better, and size seemed no obstacle to style.

Donald Schermerhorn
Never has second place seemed so appealing. Donald Schermerhorn’s take on President’s Day tells the story of an also-ran, licking his post Election Day wounds in a cozy octagon of a room that I’d gladly take as runner-up consolation. Donald's show house narrative kicks off with a copy of "Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation," and the unnamed oil portrait with decidedly near-presidential airs.

Driven by spectacular textiles, and above wall-to-wall muted leopard spots, Donald conjures up Federal style in a most capital way. This patriot’s palette steers clear of cliché, but the effect is still full-tilt Blair House, with Chinese export pots, deep woods and traditional upholstered silhouettes. Modern oils over the mineral blue sofa shake the dust off the place.

The ceiling-raking and show-stopping screen (not pictured), put in place to balance out an oddly-placed door seems perfection, but is also a runner up: Donald chuckled about the call he received, days before install, that his first choice screen had been sold out from under him. Plan B, it was. A+.

Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Donald Schermerhorn fan, since seeing a past show house room of his where a queen bed was floated, mid-room, to inventive and heavenly effect. But this room won me over on its own merits, not the designer bromance I have with this gent’s gent who always solidly delivers, under the radar of far too many shelter magazines.

Robyn Karp Design
A bedazzled door getting all the attention of wanna-be-teens wandering in opens on to a candy-colored room of lilac Venetian plaster, an all-out girl's room by Robyn Karp Design. Part Willy Wonka, a lot of Violet (Beauregarde), and most definitely all Veruca Salt.
There is always risk with uppercase-t Themed rooms... but just when you think this lavender confection is headed to sugar overload, it reaches the end of the cul-de-sac and spins right ‘round, baby. What steers it back in the clear? A shot of coral (an amped up version of Tobi Fairley’s shell pink), most notably in a pair of Bergeres, fireside, some funky art and graphic pattern, confidently mixed.
Then there’s the room’s real star, the constellation overhead. My delightful tour companion Jill and I joked that this would be one lucky 16 year old for the light fixture alone, a starburst that stopped Robyn in her tracks when she first spotted it in a store window from a moving car. This going-on-Seventeen Magazine inhabitant better be getting straight As. Or be Selena Gomez. Hard to believe, too, that last year this was the scene and setting of Charles Farruggio’s dark and handsome engagement party.

Suzanne Eason
To paraphrase a hot topic, “Life begins at decoration.” At least that’s what happens in the apt hands and glowing almost-cube of a room of Suzanne Eason. A jewelbox of lapis blues and malachite greens starts at the walls, with Trove’s Double Helix DNA-inspired "Chroma" wall covering. It evokes joy as much as it does science: it’s every bit happy birthday ribbons and confetti as it is genetically encoded protein strands. The room is arranged on a symmetrical plan, but enlivened with bright, unapologetic colors and simplified, tailored shapes. 

The room is a sly, witty and elegant face-off of Science vs. Creationism (more than one serpentine and Eden-esque reference lurks and slithers) that stands on the merits of beauty alone, even if you take away the high concept. 

Photographed at press preview before the sculptures found their final home on a pair of pedestals, the lovely (and pretty genetically-perfect herself) Suzanne brought me up and into the back halls of the house to see the pair of plaster statues by Daniel Williams, of the New York Academy of Art, waiting in the wings. The sculptures were commissioned by Suzanne, who has a patron-ly track record of highlighting and engaging artists to bring life to her room, and her rooms to life.

Like any polished woman knows, sometimes all it takes is a dash of cosmetics and a bit of jewelry before making a new appearance. That’s how Suzanne chose to address the adjoining bath, with its existing mother-of-pearl border and soaking tub: add a deep blue ceiling, a rock crystal fixture, and oil painting (one of two by Kathy Buist)... done. It’s a simple lesson in how a few definitive details transform a room without ever having to dial up a contractor.

Javaras Kennally Associates
First-time Holiday Housers Javaras Kennally Associates made a grand and glowing entrance in a small room with big givens. An existing wall of built-in bookcases throws the little alley of a room out of balance, but their choices of strong art and an all-over golden glow threw it right back in.

The collaged photo portrait felt old and new, downtown and tribal, and settled back into the hand-applied squares of gold leaf, torn edges marrying the two. That gold-leafing also blurs the edges and pushes out the walls. This is a tough little room, where some have struggled in years past, but perfectly scaled pieces made this gilded box hardworking and highly inhabitable.

Like I said before, I miss some of the outright holiday references, house-wide. But there’s still plenty to love in Holiday House. Even in small doses.

NEXT: The smallest spaces and details that show big creativity! See how designers chose to take on their challenges here. PREVIOUS: The biggest rooms, and the three ways designers address show house design, here.

Holiday House 2012, to benefit Breast Cancer Research Foundationis open to the public from October 25th and has been extended through November 25th, 2012 at 2 East 63rd Street, in New York City.

Get Social! Find Holiday House and Javaras Kennally Associates on Facebook.
All photos: Patrick J. Hamilton

Thursday, November 1, 2012

...about Holiday House 2012, Part 1

I love a lot, and there’s a lot to love, about Holiday House. It’s the annual Manhattan charity show house, now in its fifth year, and this year benefitting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a venture of the venerable Lauder family. Almost thirty spaces, rooms and passages are transformed by interior designers and architects (along with armies of upholsters, painters, cabinetmakers, volunteers, paperhangers, florists and stylists). But it’s also not just an exercise in décor... it’s themed decorating at its finest, in all its finery, as the designers also add a holiday interpretation on top of their design plan. Win, win, indeed.

One of the things unique to Holiday House among other show houses is that each year, the venue remains the same. It’s like watching the same Broadway play with different casts, or maybe more aptly, different scenic designers. You get to see how a parade of high-powered design names chooses to enhance, celebrate, correct or even ignore the spaces and architectural detail (or lack thereof) they’ve been given. It’s the perfect place to play compare and contrast (my very favorite game!) with past years’ installations.

Aside from those designers, and like in a Merchant Ivory film, the other real star of this show is the house itself. An historic and rare triple-wide townhouse just steps away from Central Park’s tony east edge, the house has several rooms that are spectacular even empty, and it’s been fascinating to watch those rooms, specifically, get dolled up and decked out.

The first floor holds most of these spaces: a stone-walled, wildly-marbled, fully fire-placed and almost double-height Grand Entry; a spectacular vaulted dining room; a front parlor/formal living room with arched French doors opening to a center courtyard; and a back room with leaded windows, dark and deeply-carved paneling, and remarkable fireplace.

Over the years, designers have dealt with these period-ready rooms (some have been backdrops for HBO's Boardwalk Empire) in a multitude of ways, either giving into the existing vibe and bones, or updating the traditional spaces with modern art and broad strokes in an attempt to upstage the diva they’ve been dealt. The successes seem to come, mostly, from working with, not against the rooms (Charles Pavarini’s Thanksgiving dining room, and Bradley Thiergartner’s Christmas entry from years past, most notable among those successes). But whether success or near miss (there are generally no failures here), it is delightful to see the spaces get attention from another annual string of suitors.

This year, the first floor was handed over to show house veterans and shelter mag favorites, and their rooms alone presented an encapsulated view of three trends of how designers tackled their task within the house’s remaining entirety: artful installation, walk-in magazine spreads from style-first designers (whose signature is immediately evident to anyone following design today), and traditional show house storytelling.

Artful Installation
Show house rooms are generally works of art, but several participants pushed the artful concept even further, creating spaces and rooms that were more “installation” than décor.

Leading the charge of the art brigade was Inson Dubois Wood, whose partnership with luxury brands Hermes, Lladró and Promemoria, and his “Carnavale” theme, yielded a riot of color, shape, texture, and pattern, in a room already lacking none of the above. This is a love-it-or-hate-it room, but it’s sure to garner the bulk of the conversation and press. It’s a Salvador Dali production of Alice in Wonderland, or the barcarolle scene from Act III of Tales of Hoffman, after a big gulp of absinthe. 

All the elements of a dining set-up are here, but faceted, fragmented, deconstructed and exploded. It is one notch away from feeling merchandised, and getting so close without falling over that edge is no small feat. The fun Inson had with gilding this lily of a room (even the already-ornate ceiling got an extra layer of gold, paint and venetian plaster) is quite clear.

Art is modern and sharply cutting edge, and every single piece of furniture is stand-alone sculpture. The Phantom-of-the-Opera crash-landed chandelier is part art, part necessity... no overhead junction box, in this large room with only one electrical outlet. No doubt candlelight was intended in the original room, but the uplighting from this grounded flight-of-fancy is almost as flattering.

It’s one of the most exuberant showhouse rooms I’ve ever wandering into, amazed and agape. As a room that people are going to run home and duplicate, probably notsomuch, but that seems far from the intent of the same designer who wowed here last year with his lacquer red box of Chinese New Year. As a designer looking to garner clients, this assemblage is perhaps also a risk, but the bravado of this showhouse showman has to be admired either way.

Installation-chic rooms also included the “Grand Entrance Hall” by Paula + Martha, given the tough space of the entry, where traffic must first be stopped before getting any further notice. The inverted Baccarat crystal stalactite above a stalagmite of sand or salt did just that. A Jacques Jarrige screen held its own against the room already full of detail, a giant artful scribble on the mantle against the travertine walls, as did their large-scale color field paintings and highly sculptural furnishing choices. I’d still settle into last year’s Christmas set-up on a snowy day faster, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at this decidedly insouciant take on modern glamour in a traditional envelope, either.

Paula + Martha also eased us further into the house with their more traditional design of the adjacent space, an homage to Evelyn Lauder. She makes a most elegant and suitable lady for this folly of a house, her oil portrait flanked by artfully modern sconces, proving that a woman of grace and presence can command any room. The tangerine dress doesn’t hurt the cause one bit.

Not pictured, but of art-installation note: the Christmas yoga room of Stephanie Odegard, actually two adjoining rooms. One, felt-cloaked with a custom Tibetan cloud motif; the other, a room where Tibetan monks were making sand mandalas... far more living art than living room. Other rooms also fit the bill, closer to store window installations than show house room.


Walk-in Magazine
What was black and white and dramatic all over was the easily pegged room of Geoffrey Bradfield. His signature crisp drama, and his love of white as a color, limited palettes and floating seating groupings all made walking into this room a familiar experience to anyone who has picked up a copy of Architectural Digest in the past decade or two, where he makes frequent appearance.

This is signature, and vintage Bradfield. He did dabble in art installation himself, with floor-to-ceiling graphics of dandies from way back in the day, in an homage to Marcel Proust’s “Remembrances of Things Past” and the house’s own history. On opening night, it was more like performance art: Geoffrey’s room was populated by tuxedoed, gloved and moustachioed boys, like a belle epoque Abercrombie and Fitch.

Geoffrey manages to keep Dynasty-era (Carrington, not Han) glamour fully alive, in a room of a scale which could easily accommodate the shoulder pads and charisma of Alexis herself, creating three seating areas of similarly proportioned pieces. Malachite green canvases and Nevelson constructions gave the room some old money gravitas, while a tongue-in-cheek and pie-in-the-face bust in the firebox gave this old dame of a room a little age-erasing nip and tuck.

Other “I can name that designer in three notes” rooms included Vicente Wolf, and to a lesser extent, design and social media maven Tobi Fairley. Vicente’s room had his elegant thumbprint all over it: barely-there glass green, Asian influence, an anachronistic mix of eras, and confident, dark notes against a pale backdrop. When you Wikipedia "Vicente," if Wikipedia had pictures, this room would be it.

In a showhouse-smart gesture of space management and crowd control, he set all the room’s action against three walls, demurely tucked behind gauzy scrims, leaving a clean pass-through left completely unadorned. With those curtains and an opening upon which the bed was centered, it became the stage set of a most elegant drama, but even in the wings, the designer still stayed the star.

Tobi Fairley dialed her normal high volume color choices down a notch but still stayed true to her identifiable signature style. It was a nod, said this buoyant and omnipresent Arkansas designer, to a more refined New York audience, who, for all their sophistication, still seems a little color-wary. 

With limited choices and an overall backdrop of (Trend Alert!) printed grasscloth (from Phillip Jeffries), this room was graphic and crisp, but every bit as color confident as this gal normally is, and Exhibit A why the magazines seem to love her.

Tobi managed, with whispers of blush, a dusting of coral-y pink and a shot of emerald green (another color jumping from room to room) to keep visual appeal high while allowing plenty of breathing room. That was accomplished by limiting pattern to basically two (stylized trellis and sketchy faux bois), restraining the palette, and giving shape and silhouette the real star turn. 

It yielded a breezy Palm Beach-meets-Hollywood Regency room (where last year, James Rixner taught us life is indeed like a box of chocolates), all floating above a black area carpet (sisal?) to keep the sugar content from rising too high.

Showhouse Storytelling
Typically, showhouses seem a slight exaggeration of a designer’s style, amped up for press appeal and the sheer fun of it, then given a healthy layer of styling detail to tell a story about the fictional inhabitants.

In that more classic showroom fashion, Holiday House veteran Ally Coulter told a deep and layered story for her cheeky spin on Father’s Day, for a real DILFF (that’s “Daddy I’d love to furnish for”). Last year, Ally spun a decidedly more feminine yarn with her Hollywood-glam, Mommy-Dearest-fantastic take on Mother’s Day, and like that effort last year, this is the kind of room you get hired from and for.

This redhead’s Ralph Lauren roots (and sponsorship) showed nicely in this masculine room where the guy also gets to get his glamour on. Like traditional show house narrative styling, it looked like the dude of the den had just sauntered off to check the whiskey reserves. Like her neighbor Inson, Ally had palpable fun telling this story, with racy props (riding crop and phallic missile, anyone?) and muscular art. Even in such a high-personality frame, Ally had the last laugh: Her showstopper was the gun over the mantle, a vintage piece gleaming like the most contemporary of sculpture, having a great conversation with the moderne light fixture overhead.

Overall, the Lauren look worked perfectly with this equally handsome space. Ally worked the room (as only this Rita Hayworth-invoking designer can) with deep blacks and rosewoods, so her pieces settled back easily into the room instead of just perching nervously within its walls as has happened in other years, while reserved doses of regal purple and camel took the cliché off this most elegant of mancaves. 

The tented ceiling (a vestige of when Ally had briefly considered an all-over and Out of Africa tented room, perhaps) was a tiny question mark, but the rest was pitch and picture perfect. It made me want to meet this man of Ally’s making, even if he didn’t wield that big of a gun. We’d find something to do, in this room I didn’t want to leave.

Charlotte Moss managed two trends of the house: that walk-in, recognizable, signature style, magazine look, plus classic showhouse storytelling. Like Ally’s room, Charlotte’s was propped to tell a real story about the inhabitant, in this case a classic but modeern woman destined to split her time between the Upper East Side, the south shore, and perhaps Darien.

This is a more traditional take on showhouse style than Charlotte’s boxwood aerie for Kips Bay, and she managed to activate the entire large volume of room without overfilling it. Favorite spot was the tea table and window banquette, where an afternoon could be whiled away with cucumber sandwiches or Apple laptop.

With a growing number of friends as Holiday House designers, since design is so subjective, and because the house itself a charity endeavor, it’s hard to find fault. But there were a few minor bones to delicately pick...

Lacking in Holiday House this year is the “Holiday.” It seems this year more than most, designers have stretched the definition and interpretation of “holiday,” coming up with themes like Charlotte Moss’ “Every Day is a Holiday,” Vicente Wolf’s “Winter White,” and DiSalvo Interiors’ “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While they yield gorgeous rooms, a trademark idea of this house is the holiday, and I think watering down that aspect is a huge misstep. It’s a concept, and the event’s brand, that sets this house apart. This year, without the banner fluttering outside, this could be any showhouse, and that seemed a shame. Even Christmas seemed a throw-away, and there wasn’t a single room I walked into and knew what holiday was being honored without asking.

I’m not saying this house should read like Party City, but past years have managed to strike a balance between holiday theme and high-design room... Suzanne Eason’s Halloween, Bryant Keller's Columbus Day, and James Rixner’s Valentines Day, all perfect examples. Sure, most holidays have been done before, but that’s the fun of it: seeing how a new batch of designers steers clear of theme cliché and expected holiday palette pitfalls.

Also throughout, lighting seemed to be an afterthought, and a lot of rooms seemed just plain murky when perhaps moody was the intent. We’ll chalk that up to the dreary, dreary day of the press preview and move right along.

The other issue, a holdover from years past: that top floor. It is a gargantuan space, with skylight and arched windows with odd curtain rails, and odder lighting that seems to combine rope lights and some sort of schoolhouse fluorescents. It’s also an often-missed room, reached via back steps and a small passageway. I know people who never knew this room existed.

As yet, it has proven to be too big a beast to be properly tamed, although the sculptural and poetic pieces chosen this year by Huntley & Co. helped zone and define a space bigger than most Manhattan apartments. But even the best laid plans and sharpest eye (and Huntley & Co. had both) still leave this room perennially feeling slightly unfinished year after year. Their Intrepid-scaled sofas were all but swallowed up, as one example. I would have loved their work even more if it existed in a space one-half the size.

To make this space work next year, two thoughts: Give this room to a real design headliner, to make it a draw and a destination, and make it someone with enough clout (or eager sponsors) to give the room the amount of content it demands. I'd LOVE to see Darryl Carter or Thomas Pheasant take on this room, with its Palladian-meets-loft references. I could also see Bill Sofield coaxing maximum potential from this airplane hangar.

Or, return to the tabletop roots of Holiday House, and fill this space with ten or twelve tables, each decked and designed to full holiday effect by another, newer generation of New York Designers. Make it an event party space, the site of an actual luncheon perhaps, a different kind of draw, where the room becomes a non-issue and the table's the thing. It’s a thought.

Even with a slight case of hiccups, Holiday House always keeps me up for a few days after first tour, plotting and planning what room and holiday I’d pick. I’m kinda a Halloween guy. But I love birthdays... hmmm! Maybe next year I’ll be writing about my own room at Holiday House. I'll make a wish as I blow out the candles next August.

Holiday House 2012, to benefit Breast Cancer Research Foundationis open to the public from October 25th through November 18th, 2012 at 2 East 63rd Street, in New York City.

Get Social! Holiday House is on Facebook.
All photos: Patrick J. Hamilton

NEXT: Five big designs in not-so-big packages, and the magic of Suzanne Eason, Dineen Architecture + Design, Javaras Kennally Associates, Donald Schermerhorn, and more.