|Dining table by Wendell Castle|
|Porcelain Balcon du Gualdalquivir by Hermes with St Louis Stemware and Puiforcat Flatware.|
|Figurines by Jaimie Hayon for Lladro. Hemes Puiforcat Tea Set.|
|Inson Wood collaborated with Hermes and their new line of St Louis Crystal stem ware and Chandeliers.|
|Lesage hand stitched pillow sits on a Roccocco chair.|
|Pillow by Christopher Hyland.|
|Window treatments by Scalamandre.|
|Crystal Horse Head by Hermes. Kemrman antique rug from Doris Leslie Blau.|
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, theother 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 remarkablefireplace.
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.
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.