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Alex Papachristidis by Susanna Salk for 1stdibs
“Show houses are a six week obsession: your business and personal life take a complete back seat while you are submerged,” says designer Alex Papachristidis, a veteran of four venerable ones. “It really is like giving birth and if you’re not going to look at it like that, then you shouldn’t do it.”
Born in New York to Greek parents, Papachristidis was raised in Manhattan by a mother who taught him how to tackle rooms — not to mention life — with equal parts passion, intellect and charm. “My mother is an Auntie Mame character,” says Papachristidis who spends time with her at his sister and brother-in-law’s home in the Hamptons which he designed for them, and where they all spend weekends and holidays.
“We traveled constantly from a very early age. We’d go to Bermuda on the weekends because my mom hated the cold. We visited Greece one summer and stayed for two years. When I was six she took me to see ‘Belle du Jour.’ It was all about the aesthetics.”
Often during their travels, furniture would be shipped ahead and arranged in whatever new space they found themselves. “I learned so much from this experience,” says Papachristidis. “Not only how to socialize and orient myself wherever I was, but how to personalize a space no matter its size or location.”
Not only did his family expose him to international style, they also helped launch his career. He was in his first year at the Parsons School of Design when one of his sisters bought a large Park Avenue apartment and began looking for a decorator. “I was helping her interview designers while I was looking to intern with a known decorator. Suddenly we both looked at each other and said, ‘Why should we work with other people when we can collaborate with one another?’ It became a wonderful experience!”
It wasn’t long before he met a glamorous couple at a dinner party in the South of France who had just bought a townhouse in Manhattan and were about ready to move to into it. By dessert, Papachristidis had the job and from there on in, his design firm became official. “Once I found what I loved, I was off and running,” says Papachristidis, who before that time had worked in various aspects of his family shipping business and was looking for something more creative. Launching his design firm in 1987 (consisting of only himself and a secretary), gave him the luxury of making and learning from his own mistakes and the chance to offer clients his personal design vision which is both eclectic and luxurious.
“I’ve done an ultra-formal 18th century English country house with embroidered walls for a nice couple and a hip ‘grand boheme’ downtown loft for an entrepreneur and his family,” says Papachristidis. “I thrive on variety.” His office now boasts a staff of nine, including his other beloved sister Thaleia.
When he’s not creating fantastic rooms for actual clients, Papachristidis is fashioning real spaces for imaginary ones. The show houses he’s done for Kips Bay and Hampton Designer Show House reflect his commitment to detail, history, and originality. For the Kips Bay Show House in 2000, he created Shangri-La, a room which began with a fabric. “I often start the design process with a fabric pattern I fall in love with,” says Papachristidis. “And I’m crazy about brown, yellow, and blue together.” Inspired by the bedroom of the Countess Isabelle d’Ornano, the show house room became both evocative and sumptuous with exotic touches.
As in the Shangri-La space, the bed is also the primary focus in Papachristidis’ 2006 Hampton Designer Show House room: La Chambre du Jardin Chinois. “A bed should make a real statement,” explains Papachristidis. “I find simple headboards and dust ruffles dated.” He created a guestroom where he’d like to wake up on Sunday mornings, surrounded by comfort and bold style. Not to mention four posters. “People are afraid of four poster beds but once they try them they see how fabulous they are,” says Papachristidis who painted the floor a blue and white hexagon pattern inspired by Pauline de Rothschild’s London home.
His Kips Bay 2005 Salon de Bois (Living Room) was, as he describes it, “a life-changing moment.” The vast scale of the room called for something spectacular and Papachristidis delivered with stenciled curtains in cognac and aqua colored satin mixed with a pair of gilt wood George II eagle consoles and two Judith Eisler paintings.
Does Papachristidis have a dream project? “Everything I’ve done has been a dream project,” he says, “and the best thing in the world is when clients call you from their newly completed homes and tell you they couldn’t be happier. That’s a dream come true.”
And is there another show house in his future? “Absolutely!” he says. “As draining as they are, I love doing them. It’s not just about giving to a wonderful charity. It’s also about giving to yourself the gift of a fantasy moment. We never have enough of those in life and it’s an important exercise in your own creative evolution.”
1. What rooms continue to inspire you again and again?
Any rooms of Charles de Beistegui, both in the Paris apartment and the Chateau Groussay; and rooms in all the homes of Mona von Bismarck or Pauline de Rothschild.
2. I've got only $1000 with which to revamp my living room: What should I buy?
If you like crafts projects, the ideal thing is to get a sewing machine, then find a home accessories/pillow pattern book and go to a local shop for pillow fillers. Next, go on the Internet and order some wonderful bedspread batiks that work with your color scheme. Make sure you choose patterns with a repeat as well as a border. Order an extra one that can fit right over your dining room table (measure it first) as a new table cloth.
And then shop your local antique markets and fairs for some pretty Chinese cachepots that you can put in ferns or orchids from your local nursery.
If there’s still money left over, go out and buy new lamp shades and hand glue on pretty trims that coordinate with your batiks.
These suggestions can work with a traditional or more contemporary interior, adding a splash of color.3. If you could design for any person in history who would it be and why?
For Arturo Lopez Wilshaw because he was a great collector and lover of the decorative arts and enjoyed living with an incredible level of decorating which is always great fun for a designer.
4. If you could spend the day clothes shopping with any woman from
history who would it be?
The Duchess of Windsor. She was a great style icon with amazing taste and would have been fascinating to get to know.
5. How best to mix exotic pieces with traditional?
When I think of exotic furniture, I think of Anglo-Indian and how beautifully it mixes with French or English antiques.
6. How do I get over my fear of wallpaper?
I adore wallpaper. It’s an important part of decorative history; just look at the many beautiful living rooms and dining rooms covered in hand-painted Chinese wallpaper bringing fantasy and glamour to interiors. Examples include the Winfield House living room which is the American Embassy in London (originally owned by Barbara Hutton and featured in Winfield House, text by Maria Tuttle and Marcus Binney and photos by James Mortimer, Thames & Hudson, London, 2008); Jayne Wrightsman’s living room in Palm Beach (New York Interior Design, 1935-1985, Volume 1, Inventors of Tradition, by Judith Gura, Acanthus Press Visual Library, New York, 2008).
Other examples are the Patina dining room (featured in New York: Trends and Traditions, text by Chessy Rayner and photography by Roberto Schlezon, Monacelli Press, New York, 1998); and the Chinese Parlor of the Winterthur Museum, (featured in An American Vision: Henry Francis Du Pont’s Winterthur Museum by Wendy A. Cooper, Tara Louise Gleason and Katherine A. John, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 2002).
7. You are fanatical about floors. What's the easiest way to give them the attention and power they deserve?
The simplest approach is to throw down a divine area rug like one of my soon-to-be-launched new designs (sold exclusively in New York at Beauvais Carpet).
More elaborate is a fabulous painted floor which can be inspired by the great Russian palace floors either in a stained finish or in 2 paint colors, creating an unusual and chic backdrop for a stylish interior.
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