Pacific Northwest | December 21, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 21, home
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In glass and greens, bows and beads, a merry little Christmas is made
The leaf-green living room leads to the sunshine-yellow dining room, all tied together with white trim and warm-toned wooden floors. The tree is an unsheared Noble, carefully chosen for its perfectly spaced branches ideal for draped garlands and the many hanging, figurative ornaments.
Gardens were the subject of designer Richard Hartlage's book, "Bold Visions," but the title is also an apt description of his decorating bravado, especially during December. Christmas ornaments add sheen and richness to his apartment, which is painted in a bevy of bright colors and garnished in every season with art glass, books, paintings and photographs. Whether holiday or everyday, the living room is furnished in shades of red, purple and forest green, and the rugs are patterns of stripes and circles in primary colors.

Hartlage lives in an historic brick building south of Volunteer Park, its classic exterior giving not a clue to the explosion of color and creativity going on in one of the corner apartments. The first hint is found at Hartlage's door, where pots of red poinsettias greet guests, and the doorway is draped in cedar garlands dripping with balls and bows. Inside, the most unique décor has to be the chicken wall in the master bedroom, painted persimmon and hung with a collection of contemporary photos, paintings and 19th-century lithographs celebrating the birds Hartlage raised as a teenager in Kentucky.
Fearless use of color reigns from Richard Hartlage's orange shirt to the multi-colored glass balls dripping from the cedar garland outlining the doorway to his apartment. Inside, every room is painted a different and distinctive color.
His childhood nostalgia doesn't carry over to his family's Christmas trees, which he describes as looking like green toilet brushes stuck onto a stick. The glittery, fragrant fantasy in a corner of his living room is a reaction to "the God-awful plastic trees I grew up with," says Hartlage.

It usually takes him two days in early December to hike around in search of the perfect tree, always an unsheared noble with perfectly spaced branches. He cuts it himself, then spends hours wrapping the tree trunk and each branch with little colored lights, festooning it with beaded garlands and finally coating the branches with ornaments. He describes his Christmas tree as childlike and old-fashioned, but the iridescent silver sizzle topping the tree (made by glass artist James Minson) adds an unmistakable gloss of sophistication. And the fancifully painted glass ornaments — in the shapes of peacocks, parrots, moons, goldfish, roosters, the cookie monster and pink elephants — are far too classy to bring tinsel-drenched trees to mind.

The lively and varied colors of the apartment walls form a perfect stage-set for the vivid decorations. The living room is painted to match the fresh green of leaves when they first come onto trees in springtime. "I wanted to feel like I was living in a tree house, looking out into the treetops," Hartlage says. Most of the year, the warm, soft green of the walls sets off a collection of glass rattles on the mantel and a pair of swirly green-glass vases. At Christmas, Hartlage adds pots of spicily-scented paperwhite narcissus and vases of red roses and amaryllis.
An entire wall of the persimmon-painted master bedroom is devoted to framed depictions of the chickens Hartlage used to raise and show as a teenager in Kentucky. These days, his city apartment is home to just a parrot and a couple of canaries.
The entrance hallway is painted the only cool color in the apartment. The baby-blue walls trimmed in almond serve as backdrop for an old pine wagon seat holding a bristly little aluminum tree, a hip reincarnation of those hated faux trees of Christmas past. Three clear-glass balls, suspended by ribbons from the ceiling, look like huge festive bubbles floating in the air above the chest.

Hartlage loves to cook and entertain, so it is in the sunshine-yellow dining room that his decorating touch shines even a bit more brightly. He designed the dining table and had a local welder craft it of aluminum and square steel tubing. The table is set with patterned napkins from Paris, a gift to Hartlage from a client whose garden he designed. Each hand-crafted "celestial theme" wine glass is unique, also made by James Minson. Placemats of AstroTurf look like emerald-green buzz cuts, creating quite a contrast to the tall vases holding elegant yellow roses. To complete the eclectic look, a huge glass lemon and grouping of fat yellow ceramic balls rest on the floor and atop the register next to the dining table.
Green walls, above, set off the bold colors of the purple armchair, green couch and striped rug. The coffee table is made from wheels Hartlage found at Boeing surplus; they're topped by leftover linoleum tiles.
Despite the apartment's many seductions — beautiful books, fragrant flowers, intricate art glass and little boxes of Fran's chocolates scattered about — it is the Christmas tree that holds center stage. Every inch sparkles while it exudes the fresh, spicy scent of the forest. The little faces of glass snowmen, seahorses, Gumbys, bulldogs and bears reflect the glow of its colored lights. A New Year's Eve party of an ornament tops it off. It is impossible to keep your eyes from straying to the presents piled beneath the tree and spilling out to spread around the floor. Each is swathed in polka-dotted tissue paper, tucked into brightly hued clear plastic boxes and tied with generous fluffs of tulle ribbon. Wouldn't you love to be on this man's gift list?

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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