Driving from Manhattan to Niederhurst, designer Sara Story’s 1870s country escape north of the city, you can’t help feeling that you’ve crossed over the George Washington Bridge and onto the set of a holiday movie. Perched above the Hudson River, the house offers impressive views from every angle, its Victorian Gothic exterior a gingerbread fantasy.
Step inside, though, and you find that Story has eschewed historical constraints to create a home tailored to the needs of her young family, which includes her husband, three kids (ranging in age from 8 to 14) and their Standard Poodle. It also reflects her elegant, whimsical style, its sleek finishes juxtaposed with period moldings and contemporary art covering its walls. After all, what are the holidays if not a mashup of beloved traditions and new memories? With that in mind, Introspective teamed up with Story to deck out her house with singular pieces from 1stdibs. The living room, for instance, contains playful pieces like vibrant Elyse Graham vases and otherworldly Monty J living sculptures from Greenpoint Hill, plus Atacama Home’s handwoven pom-pommed pillows. And in the dining room, the table is topped with a mix of brass candlesticks by Fort Standard and Ilse Crawford for Georg Jensen, while a collection of Alexander Girard’s quirky wooden dolls for Vitra stand guard on the mantel. These items combined with Story’s own artworks, furniture and tableware to create the ultimate setting for holiday entertaining. The designer also shared her tips for making the most of the season.
Build a collection.
“We have a collection of nutcrackers that I’ve had since I was little. Every year I take my kids to buy a new one, and then we set them all up together,” Story says. “I definitely think it’s fun to collect something. That becomes a whole story unto itself — a history of your traditions. Find something you love, like old candlesticks, and then you can mix all these amazing candlesticks on your dining room table. Mixing new and old always adds so much depth to any kind of atmosphere or design setting, and even to the conversation. Having stories behind pieces that you have in your house always makes it more interesting.”
Choose a rich palette.
For Story, holiday decorating doesn’t mean sticking with red and green or other traditional color combinations. “I like mixing jewel tones with greens, like emerald, sapphire and gold,” she says. “I love magnolia leaves — I think that’s from being from Texas. Our wreaths always have magnolias, and we add big gold ribbons and old ornaments to them.”
Honor favorite family traditions.
With her three children, Story is carrying on some of her favorite traditions from growing up, like baking cookies (gingerbread and snickerdoodles are among their favorites) and making an annual trip to the ballet. “I drag my kids to the Nutcracker every year, and they say, ‘We saw it last year.’ ” To which she replies, “And you’ll see it next year, too!”
Create a snug environment.
“In the wintertime and around the holidays, I’ll put out cozier throws, big nubby blankets or furs,” Story says. “I love layering all those textures.” She sets the mood with plenty of candles and makes use of Niederhurst’s many fireplaces. “I’m always starting a fire,” she says. “Some of my friends are like, ‘We don’t even need the fireplace,’ and I insist, ‘No, you have to have the fireplace.’ It just makes it so cozy.”
Set a vibrant table.
Story, who has been amassing Richard Ginori’s Oriente Italiano tableware in malachite since she discovered his work at Salone del Mobile, also has a set of china from her husband’s grandparents. Instead of going the matching route, she mixes all the dishes and linens. “It’s so much fun to set a table,” she says. “I really try to do that every night, even if it’s a casual evening with just my kids, my husband and me.”
Keep your priorities in check.
Professional photos of beautifully decorated spaces on social media and in magazines (like those in this very article) might spark a desire to create a scene of holiday perfection, but even a designer like Story believes that decor should come second to honoring the spirit of the season. “I think the most important thing about the holidays is being with your family and friends,” she says. “That’s number one. Be in the moment, and enjoy your time with everyone. And then you want there to be great music and good food and drinks!”