Interior designer: Christopher Hyland, Christopher Hyland Inc., 979 Third Ave., Suite 1710, New York, NY 10022; 212/688-6121; christopherhyland.com.
Construction Inc., Oak & Division St. W., P.O. Box 4422, Greenwich, CT 06831; 203/531-6070; and 150 E. 58th St., New York, NY 10155; 212/752-0270, xhema.com.
Text by Amy Elbert
Photographs by John Bessler
Produced by Ann McVicker
Picture a trim, clean-shaven Santa Claus in a pinstripe suit with a crisp white pocket handkerchief, and you have Christopher Hyland. Come the holidays, this Manhattan interior and furnishings designer, renowned for his elegant personal style and historically inspired traditional designs, embraces Christmas with the enthusiasm and warmth of old St. Nick himself.
The day after Thanksgiving, the 10-foot-tall tree goes up in Christopher's 12th-floor Chelsea apartment and is laden with ornaments reflecting years of travel, Christmases past, and good friendships. "Christmas is about memories and celebrating on-going traditions," he says. Elegant glass balls and glistening crystal icicles share branches with a google-eyed Santa Claus and a silly-faced moose. (The Santa arrived on top of a gift from a friend, and the moose harkens to visits out West.)
"Nothing is banished because it is considered not design appropriate," Christopher insists. "All the decorations are appropriate because they are part of the story of our lives."
He festoons chandeliers and candelabras with garlands and feathered bird decorations. Gold wreaths adorn sconces, and even a stately bust of Louis XV wears a holiday crown. Packages wrapped in shimmering papers and bows are scattered throughout the apartment on tables and chairs-not just for decoration but as gifts awaiting holiday visitors.
When Christopher entertains, the apartment is awash with delightful fragrances of pine, ginger, and chocolate. "Those are the smells of Christmas and the holiday season," he says. The designer welcomes friends for weeknight wrapping parties; simple wine-and-appetizer gatherings; and blow-out, sit-down dinners accompanied by bagpipers-with a Santa Claus dressed in an Edwardian-era costume distributing gifts.
Christopher's apartment is designed for entertaining, thanks to his tweaks to the original bare-bones floor plan. The 100-year-old building was converted into apartments about a dozen years ago, and Christopher combined two apartments to create his 4,000-square-foot residence. The rooms were spacious, with 12-foot ceilings and large windows, but they lacked architectural detailing. Working with New York contractor James Xhema, Christopher gave the apartment a sense of history and character, adding tall baseboards, square and fluted round columns, detailed friezes and crown moldings, and several sets of nearly 9-foot-tall double doors.
"The entire apartment pays homage to America's first great architecture, which many call Greek Revival," he says. Like the classic architects, Christopher introduced elements reflecting other cultures and influences as well. A Renaissance-style arch connects the living room to the Gothic-inspired kitchen. "Oftentimes with Greek Revival architecture, American and European architects would add a Gothic twist. In my case, the Gothic twist is in the kitchen," he explains.
Rooms open one to another through a series of satin-polished mahogany double doors that introduce guests gradually to the home's interior spaces. When hosting a dressy dinner party, Christopher often builds suspense, letting guests enjoy cocktails in the drawing room before he dramatically opens the double doors to the dining room, unveiling a table lavishly set in holiday finery.
"For me, holiday decorations are also the flatware, the glasses, plates, cups, and candelabra on the table," he says. "These are the fine details of architectural and decorative interior design." Christopher's tabletops are visual feasts, with china in a mix of patterns, crystal stemware, antique silver serving pieces and flatware, and luxurious linens¬-all illuminated by candles held aloft in regal candelabra. Each place setting usually has a small wrapped gift peeking out of a cup or bowl. "It's fun when having a dinner to provide a little favor for each person," Christopher says. "It doesn't have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a candy silver coin or a miniature book."
Setting a lovely table and dressing up for dinner denote respect for your guests and recognize the importance of the holidays you are celebrating, he advises. "Set a table, even if it's just a folding table. Dress for dinner," he says. "These things create ceremony and ritual, which are so important, particularly at this time of year."
Even without the glamorous tabletop, Christopher's dining room is magical. Walls are upholstered in a sumptuous orange-and-gold damask he designed, drawing on textile archives in Caserta, Italy. "The fabric looks as if it's woven with fine gold," he says. Windows are swagged with damask draperies lined in purple silk and trimmed with tassels.
The apartment's color palette reaches a crescendo here in this richly appointed room, Christopher says, while other rooms play a quieter role. The vestibule, gallery, and library wear various shades of gray, with the deepest tones covering the walls of the library.
Christopher custom-mixed a barely there blue paint for the drawing room walls and boosted the impact with a sky blue area rug he designed. The family room and breakfast room are light green, and the trim throughout the house is painted in several shades of white.
These subtle shifts in color (different shades of white color the baseboards, crown molding, door frames, and ceilings within a room) create shadows and enhance architectural features, notes Christopher. Hints of pink and spice tones in textiles warm the rooms as well.
"People say this is a cozy, comfortable apartment," he says. Maybe that's because Santa Claus lives there.
Flatware: owner's collection; dinner plates ("Botanique," Historic Collection): Bernardaud, 800/884-7775, bernardaud.com.
Stemware ("Society" and "Coronet," by Royal Scot): Home James, 631/324-2307, homejameseasthampton.com.