Walk into the Jersey City brownstone of Christopher Knight and Carlos Aponte and you might think you’d entered the classical sculpture halls of the British Museum. The colossal head of Apollo smiles placidly from a corner of the dining room. (“Some dinner guests find it a little overwhelming,” Knight admits.) In the adjacent living room, a fragment of a bas-relief frieze—the kind you’d find on a Greek temple—hangs above the fireplace; on evenings when the couple entertain, the soldiers and horses on the wall gear up for battle while drinks are being served below.
These tributes to Greek art—not real antiquities, but plaster casts made in France in the late 19th century—have been thoughtfully combined with the kind of ornate gilt sconces and sumptuous sofas that would be right at home in a Saint-Germain salon. Knight is the director of Maison Gerard, a New York gallery devoted to French decorative arts from the early 20th century to the present day. The soigné creations of Jean-Michel Frank and Jacques Adnet may seem a far cry from Attic austerity, but at home Knight expertly demonstrates the lines of reference that connect them. A pair of wine-color klismos chairs from the 1940s, for instance, reproduces a traditional Greek silhouette while managing to look plump and sexy. The curling leaf shapes on a 2006 plaster mirror by Marc Bankowsky, a designer represented by Maison Gerard, echo the braid on Apollo’s forehead.
In the dining room, cabinets, shelves, and tables are chockablock with antique Wedgwood ceramics. Knight traces his love of collecting back to his Indiana childhood, when he amassed marbles, tin cans, and glass bottles. “My grandparents dabbled in antiques and went to flea markets and estate sales, and I loved to tag along,” he says. The impulse to decorate proved irresistible, even at an early age. “My parents would travel, and when they came back I would have moved all the furniture around.”
That habit persists to this day—the decorative components of the house are subject to what Knight calls “rotation” at a moment’s notice. “I’ve always had the need to edit and change,” he says. “Carlos jokes that it’s a good thing he’s not blind, because I rearrange the objects and the furniture all the time.” Aponte, an artist and illustrator, doesn’t have quite the same collecting bug, but gives his partner free rein to indulge his acquisitive impulses. “His concession is that everything be clean lined,” says Knight, “but he’s definitely come closer to my side—to more is more.”
In the late 1990s, Knight and Aponte were living in a “small, expensive, noisy” place near New York City’s Washington Square when, drawn by the prospect of more space for less money, they decided to move across the river to Jersey City. “We thought it would be a year out of our lives,” Knight recalls. “But we came to realize that, with its brownstones, the area had all the appeal of Brooklyn or Harlem.” Eight years later, they purchased the 1860s Greek Revival building, located in a tree-lined neighborhood just south of the Holland Tunnel. The previous owner had decorated the interiors with lace curtains, Persian carpets, and lots of pink. “In some rooms every piece of molding was a different color,” Knight says. “It almost looked like a San Francisco Victorian.” Fortunately, the grand neoclassical proportions had remained intact for more than a century and a half.
The couple inhabit their home in an upstairs-downstairs way. The first-floor living room and dining room are showcases for Knight’s collections and are primarily used when guests come over. “We don’t have central air,” Knight explains, “so we’re seasonal. In the summer we hang out in the garden or on the stoop, but we have dinner parties every weekend through the fall and winter.” Most of their private time is spent on the second floor, in a light-flooded sitting room, where Danish ceramics from the 1920s and ’30s are mixed in among the Greek pots, and in a casual television room at the rear of the house.
Both Knight and Aponte have their own spaces for working at home. Aponte’s cheery, bright-green studio is tucked away behind the kitchen; the walls are decorated with fashion portraits he makes using intricate ribbons of masking tape, and, above his desk, the sketches for his work-in-progress, a children’s book.
Upstairs, a door carved out of the fabric-covered hallway leads to a nook originally intended as a dressing room. Knight uses it as a library. There’s a 1950s daybed by the great French furnituremaker Jules Leleu, good reading lamps, and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books on history and the decorative arts. “This is where I come to get inspired and dream,” he says. “All the things that I love or have been drawn to are here.”