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A Designer's Festive Country House
Matthew Patrick Smyth gilds his country house with a childlike delight of Christmas
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Really, designer Matthew Patrick Smyth says. “I don’t think you should overstudy Christmas. It’s a temporary, fleeting, special style. The main thing is to have fun with it. Don’t worry about good taste—just go for it. Christmas gives you license to decorate.”
Matthew gleefully makes use of that license at his country house in Sharon, Connecticut, a 1790 Colonial that lends itself to a traditional Christmas with some playful twists—like the cheeky holiday finery dressing the busts of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in his living room.
“At the last minute, I looked at George and decided he needed to be wrapped with red ribbon,” Matthew says. “It takes out the seriousness and brings a smile to anyone who comes in this room.”
Photography: John Bessler
Produced by Tori Mellott
Interior designer: Matthew Patrick Smyth, Matthew Patrick Smyth Interior Design, 136 E. 57th St., Suite 901, New York, NY 10022; 212/333-5353, matthewsmyth.com.
Wall paint (“Barely There” #CSP-725); ceiling and trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Sisal area rug: Patterson, Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
Mirrors (custom); pedestals (custom): Daniel J. Murphy Inc., 845/634-8085.
Busts on pedestals: Elements of Home, elementsofhome.com.
Reindeer by tree: Lexington Gardens, lexingtongardensnyc.com.
Chair to left of tree (vintage); pedestal table (antique): David Duncan Antiques, davidduncanantiques.com.
Chair fabric (“Piet Performance Linen”/Flax #69904): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Slipcovered chair (custom); throw (antique); drawings (by James Turrell): designer’s collection.
Slipcover fabric (“Piet Performance Linen”/Cream #69901): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Sofa (antique): Doyle Hudson, 1stdibs.com.
Sofa fabric (“Barnett”/Garnet #69400): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Coffee table (custom): Matthew Patrick Smyth Interior Design, matthewsmyth.com.
Reawakening a childlike joy is truly the heart of Christmas decorating, this designer believes. “It’s not a contest. It’s about having fun,” he says. “You can walk into a room and immediately see who felt tortured by their holiday decorating and who had fun. If you’re amusing yourself and you’re at ease, you put your guests at ease.” And isn’t that the goal of a holiday party?
For Matthew, Christmas ease is the gift of years of practice. Before he was an A-list interior designer, he decorated windows at the Baccarat crystal store in New York City. “I had to change the windows and tree every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas to show off the maximum amount of merchandise. I learned to work fast,” he says with a laugh.
Mantel: original to house.
Art above mantel: by Victor-Raul Garcia, victorraulgarcia.com.
Art to left of mantel (by Victor Vasarely): Denise Rene Gallery, Paris, deniserene.com.
Fire screen (“Courchevel Glass Panel Fireplace Screen”): Restoration Hardware, rh.com.
Ceramic stool (vintage): Lexington Gardens, lexingtongardensnyc.com.
Inviting Living Room
A year-round palette of warm neutrals accented by cheery red meshes easily with the holiday decorating designer Matthew Patrick Smyth loves to layer into his Connecticut country house. Simple holiday branches and florals mix with furniture pieces ranging from designer showhouse “leftovers” to cherished antiques. It’s all capped off with whimsical touches like ribbons on reproduction Houdon busts and collected ornaments, including a striking gilded owl.
Flooring: original to house, painted black.
Floor lamp: vintage.
Pair of sofa pillows (“Venetian Silk Velvet”/Peacock #62740): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Art in stairwell; photograph on chest (by Dorothy Imagire): designer’s collection.
Stair carpet: Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
Chest behind sofa (antique Captain’s trunk, Dutch): Black Swan Antiques, blackswansouthampton.com.
In fact, Matthew can have his entire country house festooned for the holidays before the rest of us have managed to untangle a single strand of lights. “I always set aside the second weekend of December for decorating—and do the decorating myself with no people hovering around,” he says. “I start Friday night and finish by Saturday night.”
Even the tree is all adorned before you can say Jolly Old St. Nick. “I have a system down,” Matthew says. “I can decorate a tree pretty fast.”
A custom sectional snuggles up to the kitchen fireplace, where garland spiced with berries and leaves crowns the mantel with seasonal style.
Window shades: Icon Motorized Window Treatments, 914/238-5200.
Sectional sofa (custom): M Designs, mdesignscustominteriors.com.
Sofa fabric, pillows (“Hopsack”/Flax #27066-003): Scalamandré, scalamandre.com.
Pink-and-green pillows: Claremont Furnishing, claremontfurnishing.com.
Hide rug: Hudson Home, hudson-home.com.
Coffee table; benches: designer’s collection.
Floor tiles (discontinued): Shelly Tile Ltd., 212/832-2255.
Mantel (custom): Savage Construction Inc., savageconstructioninc.com.
Sconce above hearth (“Payson Sconce” #RL14021, by Ralph Lauren Home): Circa Lighting, circalighting.com.
Traditional cabinetry, antiques, and collected pieces suit the 1790 home. The island is an early-18th-century English lift-top chest. Matthew had the back removed and added a shelf.
Trim paint (“Old White” #4): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
Ceiling paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Mantel (custom): Savage Construction Inc., savageconstructioninc.com.
Dining table; dining chair; log bucket; china hutch; desk; desk chair: designer’s collection.
Kitchen toward sink—
Wall tile: Shelly Tile Ltd., 212/832-2255.
Cabinetry (custom); cabinetry paint (custom); hardware (custom color); range hood (custom): Kitchen Solutions Inc., kitchensolutionsinc.com.
Range: Viking, vikingrange.com.
Island cabinet: antique.
He uses many of the same ornaments each year, adding to his collection here and there on his frequent travels or whenever something catches his eye. “Occasionally I’ll be at a flea market and I’ll buy an ornament that reminds me of the Christmas tree from my childhood,” Matthew says. “We lost our ornaments in a fire when I was in fifth grade. It’s nice to bring back those memories and find new keepsakes.”
A breakfast nook affords cozy comfort under original beams.
Banquette (custom): M Designs, mdesignscustominteriors.com.
Banquette fabric (#GDT1245 by Gaston Y Daniela, discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
Long lumbar pillow (“Hopsack”/Flax #27066-003): Scalamandré, scalamandre.com.
Mirror (vintage); sconces (vintage): Hunter Bee, hunterbee.com.
Dining table (antique): Sutter Antiques, sutterantiques.com.
Chairs; art; and accessories: antique.
Even a family of three twig deer gathered next to the tree evokes a sense of wonder. “I found them in a New York garden shop, and I just love them,” Matthew says. “Thanks to them, there’s something to look at under the tree after the presents are gone.”
A small desk parked near the china hutch provides a sweet spot for correspondence.
Those neatly wrapped packages are another of Matthew’s Christmas stars. “I love gift-giving,” he says. “But I never want to buy a gift just for the sake of buying a gift. I pick up things when I see them during the year—things that my friends might not have seen or might not have thought of buying for themselves—an old postcard showing a friend’s house long before he lived there, or a vintage magazine that includes an article about a favorite star.”
Silver eucalyptus leaves bring seasonal glam to the table, which is flanked by an art wall featuring engravings of Paris, circa 1730.
Paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Street maps (engravings of Paris, c. 1730); andirons (vintage): designer’s collection.
Area rug: Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
Chairs (1950s French Side Chair”): Neo Studios, neostudiosnyc.com.
Tablecloth (“Avery Cotton Plain”/Java #62956): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Trim (“2.75-inch Aristotle Greek Key” #977-33661): Samuel & Sons, samuelandsons.com.
Bronze stool (by artist Bruno Romeda): Dutko Gallerie, Paris, dutko.com.
Similarly, the guest rooms at Matthew’s home are never an afterthought. “I think about how each one functions for the person who stays there. It’s so important,” he says. He stocks plenty of books and magazines, then adds special surprises tailored to the guest’s interests—like vintage Royal Ballet playbills from the ’50s and ’60s for a ballet-loving friend.
An antique serving table makes a glamorous bar.
Wall paint; ceiling and trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Shutters: Icon Motorized Window Treatments, 914/238-5200.
Art on shutters (artist unkmown): designer’s collection.
Serving table (antique); lamp on table (antique): David Duncan Antiques, davidduncanantiques.com.
Ice bucket, decanter, glassware, and stemware on serving table; chair to right of serving table: designer’s collection.
Art above chair (by Frohawk Two Feathers): Morgan Lehman Gallery, morganlehmangallery.com.
Fresh flowers and found things from nature accentuate the festive mood through all the rooms in the house. “I like simple branches. I find things in my backyard,” Matthew says. “I also work with a great florist, Kamilla in Millerton, New York, on my wreaths. As an interior designer, I rely on people who do things well, who bring something to the table that I wouldn’t have thought of. Kamilla is one of those people. The silver eucalyptus leaves in the dining room were her idea. I would never have found them.”
A custom daybed with a tufted mattress can prove irresistible to Matthew, who loves to indulge in a good read. His finds often come from Johnnycake Books in nearby Salisbury.
Wall paint (“Stiffkey Blue” #281): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
Trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Built-in daybed and bookshelves (custom): Daniel J. Murphy Inc., 845/634-8085.
Mattress and bolster pillow (custom): Charles H. Beckley Inc., chbeckley.com.
Fabric (discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, brunschwig.com.
Pillows; art behind daybed (by Jennifer Bartlett); stool beside daybed; art on floor (by Jefferson Hayman): designer’s collection.
Wall sconces (Jerome Sutter Lighting): John Boone Inc., johnbooneinc.com.
Area rug: Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
Sit a Spell
Sprinkling on Christmas sparkle is easy in this home, with its unequivocal Colonial charm. Built as a private residence, it was converted to The Iron Cauldron Inn—a hotel for teachers from the schoolhouse next door—then back to a single-family home in the 1940s. When Matthew bought it a decade ago, he renovated it back to its original state, savoring its rich history. “It’s beautiful all year-round, but at Christmas it’s even more special, with all the nooks and crannies to decorate,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss the holiday season here. The town is so pretty too—the New England snow at Christmastime is perfect,” he says. “I love that I’m in the village, and I can walk around and explore.”
When he renovated the house, Matthew uncovered a spectacular Palladian window, which he dresses for the holidays with a richly embellished wreath.
Wall paint (“Blue Gray” #91): Farrow & Ball, farrow-ball.com.
Ceiling and trim paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore, benjaminmoore.com.
Area rug (“Bachelor’s Walk,” by Matthew Smyth): Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnandmartin.com.
Sofa (custom): M Designs, mdesignscustominteriors.com.
Sofa fabric (“Toile Amiens Cotton Plaid”/Maron): Claremont Furnishing, claremontfurnishing.com.
Pedestal table: Florian Papp Inc., 1stdibs.com.
Chair beside pedestal table (“Gloria Chair”); fabric: Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, mgbwhome.com.
Spool chair (antique): designer’s collection.
Chair fabric: Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
The wonder of the season drips like icicles of tinsel from the rooms of Matthew’s home, from the village, and from the entire countryside as Matthew makes his way each weekend from New York City through the snow-covered countryside.
This well-appointed sanctuary features art by Joseph Beuys above the custom bed.
Wallpaper (“Calico Stripe,” dscontinued): Zoffany, zoffany.com.
Bed (custom): Interiors Haberdashery, interiorshaberdashery.com.
Sheets and pillowcases (“Three Lines”); bed cover; duvet: Pratesi, pratesi.com.
Art above bed (byJoseph Beuys): designer’s collection.
Carpet: Patterson Flynn & Martin, pattersonflynnmartin.com.
Area rug (vintage): Privet House, privethouse.com.
Bedside table (antique): Sutter Antiques, sutterantiques.com.
Wall sconce (discontinued): Hinson Lighting, hinsonlighting.com.
Art on table (by Robert Courtright): Pavel Zoubok Gallery, pavelzoubok.com.
“This artisan touch on an Irish Gothic chair I have sums up my love of unique objects!” Matthew says.
A claw-foot tub lends old-fashioned charm to the former bedroom.
Wallpaper (“Casa di Whitney”/Driftwood, Black #5102, Scheherazade Collection): Tyler Hall, tyler-hall.com.
Area rug: Hammertown Barn, hammertown.com.
Bath fixtures: vintage.
Mirror (vintage): David Duncan Antiques, davidduncanantiques.com.
Art (by Jarvis Wilcox): Southport Galleries., southportgalleries.com.
Sconces (vintage); towel rack: Hunter Bee, hunterbee.com.
Small table (by Karl Springer); art above towel rack (artist unknown): designer’s collection.
Tray table (vintage): Sutter Antiques, sutterantiques.com.
Matthew Patrick Smyth
“What I love most about the Christmas season is my Friday night drive to the country,” he says, “seeing all the houses aglow, seeing what people do to celebrate the holidays. If someone has 800 ornaments lit up on the front yard, so be it. If it brings out the child in them, how nice is that?”