20th Century Design

Interior Decorator Alex Papachristidis on the Perfect Mix

By Stephanie Sporn

NEW YORK – “How chic is it to have a French 18th-century chair next to a steel Maria Pergay chair with contemporary art in the background?” asks interior decorator Alex Papachristidis. While many would find this mélange of styles intimidating to execute, Papachristidis fully embraces the art of mixing. “To me, when you live with individual taste, that’s real style.” Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Papachristidis has been internationally admired for his saturated colours, attention to detail and use of eclectic influences ever since establishing his firm in 1987. Now bringing his astute eye and knowledge of decorative arts history to Sotheby’s, Papachristidis shopped our cross-category Contemporary Living sale to share his best tips for blending contemporary and traditional interiors. Read on to discover his favourite lots and why he believes that “if you’re collecting great art, you should also be collecting great furniture.” 


How do you mix pieces from all different periods so seamlessly?  
I believe that the classics are what teach us how to do everything. In my opinion, the 18th century is the time when the best furniture was made, and even if you buy contemporary things, I like when they have the proportion and the scale of 18th century furniture. We don’t want to live in solely period rooms of any kind, even contemporary period rooms, because I think when you don’t mix objects, those kind of single styles will look dated over time. Mixing makes things feel more timeless.  

Curtains can look like a Balenciaga ball gown – they don’t have to look like your grandmother’s.

You once said, "Homes are becoming like galleries because art is so important now.” As homes becomes more art-inspired, how does that influence your decorating?  
We’re in a time in which art has incredible resale value, whereas people don’t find that furniture increases in value as quickly. But truthfully, to me, both art and furniture should not be bought for value but should be bought for pleasure and beauty. You should buy things that you love to live with. A home is not about resale. Of course, value is important to all of us, and interestingly enough, now furniture does have great value. So it’s very important to me that clients understand that when living with very expensive art, there should be furniture with great design and beautiful quality. As there are masters of art, there are great furniture makers from whichever period you choose. There needs to be a level of relevance to everything because a home is about a collection of beautiful things, and they need to balance out. 


What are some tips for integrating contemporary and traditional styles?  
You know, I see things in a very sculptural way, and I love the sculptural quality of contemporary furniture. I think you have to look at the shapes of different objects. Upholstery and curtains are very important too, and I think a lot of people shy away from curtains, but they bring a lushness and a softness that add luxury to a room. Curtains can look like a Balenciaga ball gown – they don’t have to look like your grandmother’s. It’s about the mix of soft and hard. I try to mix bronze and metals with beautiful wood furniture, a little bit of painted furniture, a little bit of lacquer. The mix creates that interesting conversation between periods, and to me, the history of the decorative arts plays a huge role. I think that to best understand how to mix things, it’s good to have a sense of history. I encourage people to look at wonderful old photographs of interiors. People have been mixing furniture for centuries.   

I think the wonderful thing about buying at auction is that your house isn’t going to look like anyone else’s.

You’re the king of details. How do you avoid over-decorating?
I tend to bring too much to an installation and then edit, and I also tend to move things around. I like a lot of continuity in a house because I like to be able to decide, ‘Oh, I want that chair in that room.’ I like the concept that things are interchangeable. It’s like that great Coco Chanel quote, ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’ It’s tricky, but you need to keep that eye patrolling. But that’s all the more reason why you should have more than one house! 

How do you make elegant interiors so comfortable and livable?
Truthfully it’s about comfortable furniture, and that’s why upholstery is so important. I try to sit on every piece of furniture before I buy it, and once in a while there are beautiful, sculptural things that aren’t the most comfortable, so they should be placed near something that is. Or, they should be placed where they aren’t really meant to be used. You don’t put an uncomfortable chair next to a sofa because that’s a place to have conversation. Instead, put it by the fireplace, where it’s fine to perch on, but it’s not somewhere you’re going to want to read a book.   


What are your go-to sources for furniture and décor?
I shop all over the world. I go to auctions, flea markets, tradeshows, the Left Bank. I shop everywhere, and I’m constantly looking for new resources. I don’t buy so much online because I like to see it in person. If I am interested in an auction that’s out of the city, I’ll ask for actual photographs of the furniture, not only what’s in the catalogue. You must make sure you understand the scale of the object. Auction is probably one of the best places to shop today. I think the wonderful thing about buying at auction is that your house isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. If you go out and buy furniture that’s new, you can walk into a hotel and see the chest of drawers that you have in your living room in a lobby. I don’t want to see that! Don’t be afraid to mix. Be daring in your sensibility. Take chances.  

Click below to learn how Papachristidis would decorate with his favourite lots from Contemporary Living

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