LINDA ALLEN: TABLETOP AS CULTURAL FUSION
LINDA ALLEN is a self-confessed "aluminum Christmas tree baby." Although that may make her part of the generation of interior designers who celebrated their first holidays in the 1970s, her work has evolved into a synthesis of 21st century multicultural influences.
Her 1950 design-and-build home in the Oaks neighborhood of the Hollywood Hills is a case in point. Playing off the clean lines of Case Study Modernism and Asian fretwork exterior details, Allen has created a living and dining space she describes as midcentury Pacific Modern.
It is the perfect setting for her nontraditional holiday table, which is a part of a set of early 1960s furniture with Chinese Chippendale-style chairs and cabinets with Modernist metal pulls.
"This is an artistic impression of Kwanzaa traditions such as candles and mats," she says of the dining room display. "I am proud of my heritage, but I also believe that everyone should celebrate the season in their own way."
Her vision, she says, was to work with the main symbolic elements of Kwanzaa as well as Christmas colors "to create a wintry feeling for an unexpected but balanced table setting."
Channeling "a little Zen simplicity," Allen says she covered a white tablecloth with a black organza table topper featuring welted seams that ran diagonally across the table, which inspired her to arrange the place settings and chairs to form an X.
Allen laid four 24-inch square linen napkins in a mossy green linen ($22 each from TableArt of Los Angeles, http://www.tartontheweb.com ) on the bias so that the corners of each met, defining a square in the middle of the tabletop for the centerpiece.
Allen fell in love with TableArt's Red Berry pattern, elegant bone-white china plates with a minimalist botanical print by German designer Bodo Sperlein, available for $75 each.
As a focal point, she selected Sperlein's Black Forest orb vase with a black leafless tree print, filling it with branches ebonized with spray paint and flocked with spray snow. Instead of traditional Christmas bulbs, she attached porcelain flowers by Sperlein to the branches.
The effect, she says, "is like flowers and berries frozen in ice, a winter wonderland that's complex and layered, like something from 'Edward Scissorhands.' "
"These are truly collector pieces," she acknowledges, "but not everything on a table needs to be."
The red glasses and goblets, she notes, cost $6.95 each at Z Gallerie. The raffia placemat in the center of the table is from her own pantry, as are small wooden bowls from a trip to Fiji that hold pears as a Kwanzaa symbol for a harvest gift.
"For glitter — pine cones, glass bowls and red jewels," Allen says, "Pottery Barn is my friend."
The designer (www.lindaallendesigns.com), owner of Designs for the Nest, has already filled the living room and stairwell with her own holiday floral arrangements. She twirled a strand of Pottery Barn's faceted plastic gems around the cord of the classic PH 5 pendant light by Poul Henningsen, a fixture that she says resembles a "spaceship floating over the Los Angeles skyline when I look past it outside my window."
Lighting has long captivated Allen, who watched the play of colored illumination on ice during her days as a competitive and professional skater. After taking her degree in interior design, she worked as a lighting consultant for hotels and restaurants.
"Dimmers are a must for holidays and you want a fixture that provides down light on the table so your guests can see each other and the food," she says. "String lights around the room and battery-operated lights on the table give an unexpected sparkle, but there's nothing that adds more character than the romantic flicker of candlelight."
Allen's waxworks are a riff on the traditional Kwanzaa candle arrangement of a black candle surrounded by three red and three green candles. On her table, she placed two black tapers in a pair of candlesticks that look like branches covered in moss, designed by Ted Muehling for the German porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg. For the red and green candles, she floated a trio of colored tea lights in two glass bowls — one filled with cranberries, the other with moss. This simple display casts a magical glow.
"It's just a little trick of mine," Allen says. "At Thanksgiving, I do candles with cranberries and lentils."
SARI EHRENREICH: A MANTEL ALTERNATIVE, GLAMOROUS AND MEANINGFUL
THOUGH royal blue and metallic silver are the shades most often associated with Hanukkah, Sari Ehrenreich is far too colorful a designer to settle for an established palette. "I'm a Reconstructionist," she admits. "I hold onto traditions but move with the times."
Possessed with the color sense of an old master painter, Ehrenreich grew up in a house turned out in turquoise and gold.
"You can spray-paint anything gold and it looks great," she says. "I love color but most people are too timid about it. In my home I can express myself the way I want."
It helps that she had already painted the walls of her Pacific Palisades town house turquoise years ago. The home doesn't have a fireplace, but the designer (www.saridesigns.com) says you don't need a hearth to make your home a holiday destination. In her dining room, a turn-of-the-century reproduction French credenza made from golden cherry wood is the stage for her December décor.
"Any time you get your family together, it's worth celebrating beautifully," Ehrenreich says. "Don't bring out the paper plates; make it glamorous and don't be afraid of sentiment."
When the holidays come, she gathers family heirlooms, framed photographs, flowers and religious objects, as well as the collection of dreidels she has bought over the years for her son Alden, 16.
"These are the things that evoke memories of my family and the many holidays we spent together," Ehrenreich says.
Sacred objects such as her maternal grandmother's silver and turquoise siddur, a wine cup her mother-in-law bought in Israel, and a menorah given to her son for his bar mitzvah sit comfortably next to brilliantly blue Asian Foo dogs from her grandmother's home and porcelain Greek busts that her mother bought at auction half a century ago.
For dazzle, Ehrenreich shops locally. Glittery green apples and pears are from Rolling Greens in Culver City, cut glass striped candleholders were bought at Verea on La Brea Avenue, and for whimsy, jewel-toned Baccarat crystal butterflies came from David Orgell in Beverly Hills.
To keep her credenza from becoming mere clutter, Ehrenreich arranges objects in pairs, working from the center out to the sides.
"Symmetry creates order," she says. To showcase small-scale framed family snapshots and photographs of white poppies by her friend Judith Gigliotti, Ehrenreich sets them on stacks of gilded leather books.
The secret to mixing cool blue, warm gold and zesty green, she says, is "making sure the colors are all the same intensity and using restraint."
For visual texture, Ehrenreich laid gold mesh trimmed with sari fabric ribbon on the surface of the cabinet. She also stuffed iridescent gold and blue fabric into inexpensive clear glass vases from the L.A. flower market, trimming the top edge with a band of turquoise ribbon.
Her florist, CJ Matsumoto of Culver City, played into the color scheme with mint green Yoko Ono mums, 'Green Goddess' calla lilies and chartreuse cymbidium orchids.
The result has the glow of a still life painted in oil and glazed with an amber resin, a three-dimensional version of the painting that hangs above the credenza. Ehrenreich has the artwork on loan from the Morseburg Galleries in West Hollywood. "Oh, how I wish I owned it," she says.
Ehrenreich likes to mix the classical with the contemporary. "There's not enough character and history in design today," she says. "Picasso was a brilliant draftsman before he became a Cubist. To be a good modern designer you have to understand the classics."
Libraries and museums are teeming with inspiration, but nothing replaces the truly heartfelt gesture.
"Look around the house and gather all the treasures that bring back memories of past holiday seasons, important photos and even silly souvenirs," she says. "Then go to Crate & Barrel, go look at ribbon and decorations in gift shops and fabric stores. Bring it all home and create something on the mantel, the credenza, the bookcases. Mix in some old toys or precious things your kids have made."
Think of the process as romancing your home, Ehrenreich says.
"My philosophy is to bring enchantment and joy to the holidays with glamour and excitement and take every opportunity to treat your family like your most important guests."
JONATHAN ADLER: A MERRY CHRISMUKKAH
A household name for his Mod decorative ceramics and textiles, Jonathan Adler becomes a minimalist this time each year. "I had a pretty classic Jewish upbringing: Go to the movies and have Chinese food on Christmas Day, while Hanukkah was an eight-day extravaganza where we were so fixated on the gifts that decorating didn't matter," he says.
Now, he is making up for lost time. "I am a convert to Chrismukkah. I'm Jewish, my boyfriend is gentile and our dog, Liberace, is a pagan," says the designer, author of the new coffee-table book "My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living."
Living on the ninth floor of a prewar apartment building in New York's Greenwich Village, Adler preaches a "deconstructed holiday design scheme, where you don't have to put in too much effort, worry about flammability, kill a tree and deal with the gnarly cleanup in January," he says. "In New York, we don't have the luxury of being able to pull an SUV up to the door."
Most years, Adler places Christmas bulbs bearing the likeness of Liberace — the pianist, not the dog — on the mantel. "Liberace induces instant holiday cheer. He's a nondenominational icon in our multidenominational home," Adler chirps antidepressively.
This year, Adler's tree is a 1960s white metal accessories retail fixture, hung with his miniature menagerie of ceramic figurines. They are available at his Melrose Avenue store or through http://www.jonathanadler.com .
The streamlined sapling sits next to one of his menorahs and a Danish figural vase by Björn Winblad on a mirror-topped white-lacquered Danish Modern credenza in his vivid green dining room. On the wall, completing the picture, is a nude by Pop artist Mel Ramos.
"It's always good to be a bit racy at the holidays," Adler says. "I do think the holidays are a time when people reflect on their life, and they may get a bit glum. That's why a chartreuse room is an absolute necessity at this time. It's a surefire way to banish the holiday blues."
DAN MARTY: TREES OF LIFE
GROWING up in Palo Alto, Dan Marty recalls the holidays as "huge family gatherings where we would sit for hours making ornaments and stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands." Known for his mix of European country charm and California casual, Marty has taken crafty family tradition up a notch. For the last six seasons, he has created holiday trees out of fresh fruit.
"I was influenced by topiary arrangements I had seen in French garden shops," says Marty, who has an interiors atelier on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and earlier this year opened the upscale garden store Porch across the street with actress Mary Steenburgen. "I started experimenting with crab apples, Forelle pears and baby sugar oranges."
Early attempts were not particularly fruitful. Marty tried attaching apples to old-fashioned spiked forms that he had seen in antique shops, but the fruit turned brown. He turned to a hot glue gun and plastic foam cones for a fresh, natural decoration that will last.
"It's a very homey and family-oriented project, though it's not as easy as it might appear," says Marty, who can produce a 3-foot version with small fruit and a 5-footer with Red Delicious or Granny Smith apples in less than two hours. "The trick is holding the fruit in place until the hot glue sets." As a final touch, Marty presses sheet moss between the fruits. Another version consists of cones covered in seashells and topped with starfish.
Marty turned the mantel of his Beverly Hills apartment into a woodsy European country Christmas tableau, placing his topiaries in faux bois planters and setting them atop pine branches and cones, concrete mushrooms and birds' nests filled with crab apples.
Foam cones and glue guns are available at craft stores. Or you can just buy Marty's finished trees, which sell for $29 to $235, at Dan Marty Design, 1318 Montana Ave., (310) 576-6008.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times