Every detail: ALEX PAPACHRISTIDIS’s New York apartment
Alex Papachristidis loves a spectacle. The gregarious interior decorator, who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has harbored a passion for pageantry and drama for as long as he can remember. As a child, his default playground was the grand halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where his mother brought him for his weekend entertainment. Her school-age son was her regular companion at the opera and the city’s foreign-film houses. “She took me to see Belle de Jour at the Paris Theatre when I was five,” he says. A production of Verdi’s Aida—seen on a trip to Italy at Verona’s Arena, the ancient amphitheater renowned for its extravagantly scaled opera performances—had the greatest impact on the young Papachristidis. “Live animals—real camels!—waltzed out onto this open-air stage,” he says. “It was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen. I instantly became a nature and animal lover.”
In the Manhattan apartment that designer Alex Papachristidis shares with his partner, Scott Nelson, the library features a chair, stool, and custom-made sofa, all covered in a Schumacher cotton ikat, a custom-made cocktail table by John Rosselli Antiques, and an artwork by Rob Wynne; the étagères and carpet are by Papachristidis, the vintage foo dog is from Liz O’Brien, a lamp by Christopher Spitzmiller has a custom-made shade, and the walls are covered in a Stroheim velvet.
Not that the affable decorator is trading his pocket square and his custom-made slippers for a bandanna and hiking boots anytime soon. More Tony Duquette than Teddy Roosevelt, Papachristidis has fueled his passion for exotic creatures and natural materials by surrounding himself with as much flora and fauna as is possible in 2,000 square feet. Indeed, books of Duquette’s over-the-top interiors have earned a place on the gold-leafed faux-bamboo cocktail table in the library, as if Papachristidis needs reminding. His proclivity for “man-manipulated nature,” as he jokingly refers to it, is legendary among his clients and friends, who dubbed his former place the “wild” apartment.
After two decades of living there, Papachristidis answered an urge to migrate, if only two blocks north, to the contemporary apartment building where his late mother had long resided in the penthouse, and where most of his family—a sister and brother-in-law, two -nieces and their husbands and children, and a nephew and his fiancée, all of them clients—live on various floors. “I am my family’s Auntie Mame,” Papachristidis quips. “We’re modern in most ways, but we live the way families did in the 1950s and ’60s, within walking distance—now elevator distance—of each other.”
Along with the designer came most of his collections of ceramics, bronze, and porcelain, his painted and printed menagerie, and a good deal of his furniture. But not before the three-bedroom apartment was gutted over the course of 14 months. Not surprisingly, Papachristidis wanted a classic apartment with a proper entrance hall, and with the rooms arranged in an enfilade to give the space a sense of grandeur. He repurposed one of the bedrooms to house his handsome book collection and converted another to serve as an office and dressing room for his partner, Scott Nelson, who has recently begun to play a role in Papachristidis’s firm. “We’re constantly traveling and shopping to find the best sources,” he says. “Scott is handling a lot of that now.”
From the first step into the entry, a visitor has a distinct Dorothy-in-Oz moment: You are not in a 1970s high rise anymore. Not only are there a pair of deer with gilded antlers, a Walton Ford print of a parrot, and a terra-cotta dog, there’s a real, live Toto—Papachristidis’s beloved Yorkshire terrier, Teddy—to greet you. In a nod to his decorating hero, the postwar French designer Georges Geffroy, Papachristidis used a variegated-stripe fabric on the walls and the ceiling of the entrance hall, where he subtly mitered the corners. Why not employ a wide-and-bold cabana stripe stretching from one wall to the other, as some designers might? “Too big-top even for me,” he admits. “I needed some kind of stopping point.”
In the living room, the custom-made sofa is upholstered in a Luigi Bevilacqua cotton, the Rococo-style cocktail table was found at auction, and a bamboo armchair from John Rosselli Antiques sports a cushion of a Donghia cotton; the gueridon table was a gift from Papachristidis’s mother, and the lamp is custom made.
A chair in the living room was purchased at auction, the chest came from a Paris flea market, and the lamp was found at Christie’s; the sconce is antique, and the walls are covered in a Gracie wallpaper.
It’s hard to imagine Papachristidis putting the brakes on. To his mind, the more color and pattern abound, the more freedom he has to pile it on. “A limited palette would limit the amount of things I can put in here,” he says. “I can’t control myself.” Plum, raspberry, and delft and Prussian blues, punctuated by hefty doses of gold, provide the backdrop for hundreds of objects. And, as if textile genius Geffroy were tapping him on the shoulder, Papachristidis upholstered not only every sofa and chair, but the walls, too. “For 20 years I wanted velvet walls. Now I have them in the library,” he says. In that same room, the windows are draped in satin curtains, the étagères are overlaid in wool felt, the lampshades are trimmed in batik tablecloths, and the sofa is covered in nine different fabrics and studded with exuberant tassels along the base. Upholstering it, he says, was “a wacky, crazy moment.” Even Teddy gave the designer an opportunity to push the limits of luxury. In each room, Papachristidis has appointed an upholstered antique child’s chair for “His Lordship,” making it easier for the 10-pounder to make it up onto the sofas. “I’m a total ‘thing’ guy. But Teddy is my most prized possession, and he deserves a little gauffraged velvet too,” he says. “Honestly, living things are far more important.”
The walls and ceiling of the entrance hall are sheathed in a Lee Jofa linen, the print is by Walton Ford, and the tole light fixture is vintage; the bookcase is antique and the mirror is Italian.
A 19th-century chandelier hangs above a custom-made dining table, which is surrounded by J. Robert Scott chairs upholstered in a Fortuny cotton; the bust is by Creel and Gow, the poured-glass peace sign is by Rob Wynne, the walls are covered in a JAB wool and Houlès nailheads, and the curtains are of a Donghia cotton.
A 19th-century Indian mirror, foo dogs, and a Delft plate from Paris sit atop an early-20th-century Chinese cabinet with a gilt base in the dining room; the doorway leads to the kitchen, which is outfitted with mirrored cabinetry.