Monday, November 7, 2016

...about Holiday House All-Stars, part 1.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has its All-Stars (congrats, Alaska! Hieee!!) and sport-folk have their fantasy sportsy leagues. Why can’t show houses have some all-star realness and serve up some fantasy action, too?   

To help celebrate the 2016 Holiday House Design Showcase (opening November 17th), and to commemorate its first in-town foray to a new location, I’m looking back at Holiday Houses past, and pulling my very favorite rooms from its eight year run at the Academy Mansion, creating to me the perfect “calendar come to life” for which Holiday House is famous.

What was my all-star criteria? Above all (and with almost no exception,) the room had to reference an actual holiday or date on the calendar: that’s always been the brand differentiator and best part to me of Holiday House, the annual labor of love of breast cancer survivor and force-of-nature Iris Danker, who created Holiday House to raise awareness and funds for women’s health issues, most notably and recently on behalf of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

And it had to be a successful room on its own, even without the layer of holiday folly on it: I’m a huge fan of “theme done right,” where the story unfolds, and the room rewards by revealing its narrative the longer you spend time in it. The room’s theme should be that reward, not the sudden punchline to a one-note joke.

As a color lover, I leaned towards rooms that used color (even if neutral) to full effect, since nothing says “holiday” to me more, in any season, than the pure exuberance of color.

For extra points, these of calendar girls (and guys) did all of the above starting with a holiday not normally known for its own color combos and style cues... or by casting a fresh eye on long-established tropes and palettes.

It’s not every room in the house, it’s totally unscientific, I’ve left out LOTS of friends and their gorgeous rooms, and its all in good fun, meant to honor every single participant of this show house powerhouse. And above all, it’s meant to get you to this year’s house. So, as she sings in the Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning! Hit it, Maria!

Christmas, Bradley Thiergartner
Although it ran the risk of making passers-by catching glimpses through the doors think that “Holiday House” meant “Christmas House” (as many mistakenly assume each year), the Christmas foyer of Bradley Thiergartner was the one-to-beat version of the entry, in a space that, even bare, served up an almost dizzying list of daunting Givens: Wildly patterned floors, an improbably-scaled walk-in fireplace, stone walls, and the house’s main circulation slicing the high-ceilinged brazen box squarely in two.
 Bradley Thiergartner; Top photo: PopSugar; Above: Editor At Large
Every one of those challenges was used to full advantage, and the designers served up a Christmas space inspired not by the expected red and green, but by the clove-brown and orange-orange of traditional pomanders, and in the process, made total sense of the stones and browns in their holiday context. I’d place the throaty, robust Ghost of Christmas Past from the movie-musical Scrooge! right atop that limestone mantel (“I like life!”), or put Fezziwig himself in front of it. It was warm, cozy, elegant, and made it look like they had trucked in the mosaic floors, all while making the space feel much more human in scale without losing any of the built-in grandeur.
St. Andrew’s Day, James Rixner, 
James bumps runner-up Geoffrey Bradfield out of my top slot for the Grand Salon, largely for his solution to the unpaintable all-white room, something with which renters can certainly sympathize, and glean inspiration from. While Geoffrey ran with the white, adding more “intentional white,” plus large doses of black, yielding a palette he’s famous for, James took a more colorful route, showcasing fabrics from Scotland in honor of the St. Andrew’s holiday on upholstered pieces, giant colorful abstract art, and great swaths of tartan at the windows.
James Rixner; Photo: York Avenue Blog
Geoffrey Bradfield
And while Amy Lau, Tony Ingrao and Ally Coulter all created gorgeous spaces out of this same airplane-hanger of a room, James was the first Holiday House designer to use true, clear color in this big, fancy white box. It made the room crisp, festive, fresh and contemporary, even filled with traditional pieces.

Easter, Harry Heissmann
If you know Harry, you know he has a sparkling, wicked-with-a wink sense of humor, and even his most elegant spaces can’t manage to hide it for very long. The first clue Harry Heissmann was here: the Alpha Workshops-crafted chocolate bunny, with both sugar-sweet (and holiday-literal) lightness, and the art-weight of a Koons puppy. The other clues: a brash and buoyant color sense, his ability to keep antiques from feeling stuffy, and stopping the showy space in which he was working from upstaging his interior intentions.
Harry Heissmann; Both photos: Peter Rymwid

Charles Pavarin III; Photo: Phillp Ennis 
I’d give Runner-up honors to Charles Pavarini III’s Opening Night back in 2011, where a piano held court, and a picture was fully painted with the fewest of brushstrokes.

Daddy’s Day, Ally Coulter 
My calendar-girl-crush for Ally Coulter started in this room, and she met her handsome husband in the very same space. Love of all kinds was undoubtedly in the air in this deep, dark and sexy room, cheekily dubbed “Daddy’ Day.” She added deep purples and cashmere camel (and her tousle of Rita Hayworth red hair) to the Fifty Shades of Grey vibe (in a paneled room where it’s verboten to touch that paneling with hammer or paintbrush). And it brought a kitten-with-a-whip sensibility to the Upper East Side, all with Ally’s crackling sense of style.
Ally Coulter: Top photo: Marco Ricca
It was swarthy, Deco-y, art-fueled and tastefully double-entendre’d (is that a rocket in the corner, or are you just happy to see me?), and the perfect melding of that room and the content brought into it, without yielding to its coulda-been-stuffy envelope.

It’s not an easy room, and Patrik Lonn and Robert Passal both tackled it beautifully after Ally.
Thanksgiving, Charles Pavarini III
Even empty, the room dishes up a dining vibe, with its lengthy vault, Biltmore-esque fireplace, wood panels and Palladian windows. And what holiday is the epitome of dining? Thanksgiving, naturally. That’s what Charles Pavarini III chose, and walked that show house tightrope between showmanship and relatability as deftly as you’d expect from this former dancer.  

It’s also the room that made me fall in love with Holiday House, and it put this gentlemen’s gentleman onto my Top Designers to Aspire to, for all sorts of reasons.
Columbus Day, Bryant Keller
One of the hardest things to do in a show house: the public spaces, and the circulation areas. The second hardest thing? Capture attention with a whisper, when often, everyone else is shouting. Oft hilarious and ALWAYS talented Bryant Keller did both, and spun a vivid and evocative tale of Columbus and Isabella with a limited palette and a perfectly edited collection of selections, all on an upstairs landing.
It was neutral done right, and like Bradley Thiergartner downstairs, Bryant made the halls and walls of limestone look like it all been quarried just for the occasion, with warm woods and a transportive grisaille mural.
Halloween, Suzanne Eason 
Truly bewitching, utterly gorgeous, and highly intelligent: and that’s just the room’s designer, Suzanne Eason. But the room most certainly followed suit, with the chicest spin on Halloween, drawing from Poe and making magic with every detail, and never falling prey to Halloween kitsch or cliché. Style? Evermore!
Suzanne Eason; Top photo: Phillip Ennis

Patrick James Hamilton Designs; Photo: Rikki Snyder; Houzz 
Okay, yeah, I’m giving myself, and my Kentucky Derby Day Derby Deconstructed room, the “Place” place of the “Win, Place, or Show” showhouse ranking. But Suzanne’s room, and its beguiling references, made me want to do a room— this room— which Iris Dankner helped make come true for me in 2014.

St. Patrick’s Day, Patrick James Hamilton Designs 
Mom always told me, in school elections, if you’re in the running, make sure you vote for yourself. So I’m doing that, and including my Modern St. Patrick’s Day in the mix. In the longstanding tradition of Irish storytelling, the room was built upon a narrative: a worldly young gent inherits his ancestral Dublin row house, and starts to give the old bones some modern blood. I had great fun tying the modern and antique storylines together, all the while hiding references to Celtic knots, church organs and ossuaries, Ireland’s flag, the chased-out snakes of fable and leprechauns of lore. Once people were in on the theme, you couldn’t make them leave the room as they continued to search for shamrocks (in the wainscot!) and other Eire references like a treasure hunt.
Patrick James Hamilton Designs; Top photo: Peter Rymwid; Above: Jody Kivort
I’m not kidding when I say doing this room was a dream come true, and an incredible connector to the Irish half of my family tree... and people still remember me for it.
Chinese New Year, Inson Wood 
In one of the very first years Holiday House graced the halls of the Academy Mansion, the floors in this master bedroom were painted with a giant geometric, and it's been disappearing and reappearing ever since.
Inson Wood; This photo: Peter Rymwid
Inson Wood took that black and white then added red all over, in an exuberant Chinese New Year’s room, hot as a firecracker and chic as a modern Shanghai palace, if Auntie Mame herself were throwing the bolts of fabric about. He steered clear of the foibles of literal theme, but there was no doubt what this room was about, in that Year of the Dragon.
Valentine’s Day, James Rixner
Life is certainly like a box of chocolates, but with James RIxner, you always know what you’re going to get: something stylish, something witty, and something where every detail is considered, every decision has a razor-sharp reason.
His pared-down vision of Valentine’s Day was deceptively simple, but full of smart choices and witty reference. Traditional Home exclaimed “Effortless Elegance!” when the room ran on its cover, and while elegant, certainly, anyone who’s ever done a show house room knows that “effortless” part is, well, notsomuch.
Gary McBournie; Photo: Peter Kubulis
Cullman & Kravis; Both photos: Peter Rymwid
Marks & Frantz
James makes his second All-Star appearance with this room, once again bumping out some very stiff competition.This room was a TOUGHIE to decide, since its great bones and prime location have attracted some superstars over the eight-year run... so the list of Runners-Up really starts stacking up, and would include Gary McBournie, Cullman & Kravis and Marks & Frantz... all bumped from the top spot only because gentleman James opted for an actual holiday (I’m a stickler about that! Well, mostly. Stay tuned!), and it demonstrated the power of color to inspire in unusual ways... his came from the Valentine’s chocolates themselves.

We'll continue the tour shortly. with Part 2, but make sure to put THIS year's Holiday House Design Showcase on YOUR calendar now!

Holiday House 2016 opens to the public November 17th, at The Sullivan Mansions in Soho. Buy your advance tickets, and tickets to the Opening Night Gala, here.

All photos, Patrick J. Hamilton unless noted.

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