From the December/January 2014 Issue:

A Collector’s Christmas

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: Peter Rymwid | Interior Designer: Gail Whiting, Professional Member ASID, CID |

A Bedminster designer draws on her collection of artifacts and artwork to create a unique holiday look


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enlarge | Designer Gail Whiting decorates her Romanesque-style limestone fireplace with its stunning hand-carved frieze dramatically each year because it’s a focal point in the family room. Gold and silver reflective balls mix with large pine cones, metallic ribbon and greenery. Artwork by a Vietnamese artist hangs over the fireplace, while a large abstract dominates the wall behind the sofa. This kind of mix is typical of Whiting’s eclectic design sensibility.
The Christmas spirit in designer Gail Whiting’s Far Hills home comes alive through a collection of ornaments and objects with an eclectic—often unexpected—style. It’s a look that mirrors the design scheme throughout the home.

“I love mixing periods in an eclectic way,” says Whiting, a state-certified interior designer, professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers and owner of Design Consultants in Bedminster. “I love a collector’s look but well done.

“This gives your home longevity. You don’t tire of it—it’s classic but with an edge.” Whiting achieves this by how she puts things together—a mix of fabrics, a pop of color, something that doesn’t say “same old, same old,” she says.

Whiting takes the same approach with her holiday décor, which is fashioned in large part with distinctive, often one-of-a-kind objects she has collected in her travels. She’ll often take an object not automatically associated with Christmas and make it a part of a holiday vignette.

And throughout the home, Whiting’s stunning collection of artwork—a mix including traditional, abstract impressionist, Asian and African—forms a rich backdrop, contributing interest, warmth and distinction.


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enlarge | A nearly nine-foot tall fir Christmas tree occupies a prominent place in open space between the living room and family room. It’s decorated each year with a collection of ornaments from the designer’s mother, handmade decorations, icicles and lots of lights.
Not Matchy-Matchy
“I decorate every Christmas; it’s my favorite time of year,” Whiting says. She calls her holiday scheme semi-traditional. “It’s not matchy-matchy with all the same colors,” she says. “It’s a soft, warm, eclectic look.”

Her family’s nearly nine-foot tall fir Christmas tree is adorned each year with a time-honored collection of ornaments, including some handed down from Whiting’s mother, some handmade and some large ball ornaments along with lots of icicles and lights.

The tree is positioned in open space between the living room and family room. Roughly opposite it is an unusual antique kitchen cupboard where Whiting places an antique, handcarved wood deer decked out with a persimmon ribbon around its neck. The unexpected touch here: a Buddha statue that lives atop the cabinet year-round but is surrounded by holly and greenery for the holidays. Rounding out this top-of-the-cabinet display is an earthenware vessel filled with greenery.

Other surfaces throughout the home provide opportunities for Whiting to mix decorations and artifacts for unique holiday vignettes. In the living room, the marble top of a carved wood Art Deco chest displays an Old World Italian clay rendering of the Nativity. It’s flanked by two unexpected artworks that somehow seem at home with it: an African sculpture Whiting bought in Santa Fe and an Art Deco bronze sculpture from Florence, Italy. It’s all backed by a serene landscape purchased in Telluride, Colorado. The oil painting turned out to be by one of Whiting’s husband’s professors at New York University.

In the dining room there’s another example of “what I call edgy,” Whiting says. “It’s the mixing of old and new.” A traditional toile wall covering in mustard and purple mixes with a contemporary angular take on a wing chair. Meanwhile, a transitional French walnut chest is topped with miniature glass-bead Christmas trees, which provide sparkle and contrast with antique bronze candlesticks and a pottery vase filled with spruce and berries. A lovely original oil painting of a milk maid sits over the chest.


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enlarge | Miniature coppery Christmas trees decorate a small side table with a marble top and sculptural wrought iron base in the living room. The fabric on the chair features quill pens and small script. “I thought this fabric would look good on the chair, and it did,” Gail Whiting says.
Mix of Styles
Throughout the home are strong influences from Asia as well as from celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In the living room, for example, Whiting placed an Asian kitchen cupboard and, from her travels in Japan, a small antique Japanese chest. Asian influences work well with any period, she notes. Meanwhile, part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision was about open spaces, which are an important part of her design philosophy.

Whiting, who had a hand in the architectural plans for her home, also says pathways and angles are very important to her design philosophy. “Pathways enable you to keep everything in order but also are warm and inviting,” she says. “They create wonderful circulation; everything flows so you are invited into each room just standing at the front door.”

Incorporating angles in the design of the rooms also made her home more interesting, Whiting says. “Angles help expand the space,” she says. “They provide for intimacy and dimension. And they have created very interesting pathways.” For instance, “I can see my fireplace reflected in the mirrored backsplash in the kitchen, and I can see the art in the library from the kitchen,” she says.

Robin Amster is a Madison-based writer and editor.


Adding Character
There’s a host of distinctive—sometimes unexpected—holiday accents throughout Gail Whiting’s home. An Italian clay Nativity scene as well as African and Italian sculptures sit atop an Art Deco chest. • A small gold and gray plaster cherub is at home on an antique Japanese chest. • A Lladro angel and a tiny Swarovski crystal tree—both gifts to the designer—rest on the piano.


Sources

Overall: interior and holiday design, Design Consultants in Bedminster. Vestibule: accessories, Gilani in Houston. Family Room: sofa, Holly Hunt in New York City; club chair, Henredon in New York City; rug, Rug & Kilim in New York City. Living Room: sofa, Lee Jofa in Bethpage, New York; coffee table, Holly Hunt; chair, Giorgetti in New York City. Dining Room: wing chair, J. Robert Scott in New York City; sconce, Baldinger Architectural Lighting in New York City; wall covering, Zoffany in Teterboro. Kitchen: table, Mathews & Co. in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

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