Published on September 28, 2019

Artist and designer Josh Young has one rule when it comes to holiday decorating: “Your home should feel collected. Don’t just buy something generic like a 40-piece white bauble set; attach yourself to items that make you happy and that you have a sentimental bond with.”

For the first 10 months of the year, Young’s home—a prewar apartment in Chicago’s historic Gold Coast district that he shares with his husband—is quite possibly the antithesis of what one might consider an eclectic, festive space. He calls his living room “a sea of cream”: tonal neutrals peppered with the occasional amber or saffron accent.

imagePin It
Photography by Aimée Mazzenga

The space is hardly one-note, though. Chrome stools and contemporary light fixtures balance out vintage pieces and the 1919-era home’s original charm. Young’s apartment is a lesson in juxtaposition—something he picked up during the seven years he lived in Milan. “I like mixing modern elements with traditional decor,” says Young, who studied in Italy’s design capital before moving to New York and eventually Chicago. “Don’t get me wrong. I love traditional decor, but when there’s a good, balanced mix, that’s what makes it timeless.”

This mantra rings particularly true during the holidays. Young, a self-professed Christmas devotee, goes all out with nostalgic decor—you won’t find sleek trinkets or simple metallic accents in this house. Instead, the festive decorations are ceremoniously deposited smack in the center of the room; undeniable focal points that, when set against Young’s usual, more pared-back aesthetic, really pop. “I’ve always been a firm believer that Christmas is a time to have fun with design,” says the designer. 

The guests of honor? Young’s antique ornaments, which he started stockpiling when he was 5 years old. Now the collection surpasses 1,000 pieces, which he has spread out between the three trees in the apartment (one in the bedroom, one in his art studio, and one in the living room), and each one serves as a sentimental reminder of the season.

If you, too, are a holiday junkie who’s ready to break out the wreaths as soon as the pumpkin pie is put away, keep reading. We asked the designer to share his unique approach to decorating, because it’s never too early to get in the spirit. 

imagePin It
Photography by Aimée Mazzenga

On the Importance of Tradition…

The ornament collection started when I was a kid because of my late grandmother, Rose. I used to walk into her living room and she would have all these beautiful ornaments, each one unique—actually, some of the things on these trees are hers from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Decorating is a constant case of, “Do you remember when we got this in New York or when we got this in Paris?”

On His Favorite Ornament…

At the top of the tree, there’s a little mouse on a ladder. That was the ornament my grandmother used as a tree topper for years. As a kid, I’d go to people’s homes, and they’d have a big star or ribbon; she always utilized ornaments in unique and creative ways. I remember being captivated by that and her mentality to think outside the box. 

“I’ve always been a firm believer that Christmas is a time to have fun with design.”

On the Biggest Holiday Shopping Myth…

It doesn’t have to be expensive. My friends and my husband make fun of me because we’ll be antiquing in the middle of July and I’ll buy ornaments—they have buckets of them that are $5 for 20. People look at my collection and say, “You must have so much money invested in this.” I don’t. I go to vintage Christmas stores. Or you can find them at the Salvation Army.

On Creating a Focal Point…

I’m okay with my trees being over the top, because if you pan over and look at the rest of the house, I’m very simplistic with how I decorate. There’s nothing red or flashy. Use garlands and different colored ornaments and lights, and let the tree have its moment, then let the things around it breathe. It can get stuffy really fast.

On Decorating With Greenery…

I use real greenery because I love the smell, and it brings a very natural vibe to the apartment. For the most part, it looks beautiful as is. Our bay leaf wreaths above the mantel in the living room and the studio just have simple red ribbons—no huge bows, no ornaments, nothing elaborate. 

Decorating is a constant case of, “Do you remember when we got this in New York or when we got this in Paris?”

On Taking Time to Decorate…

I set aside a Friday night, buy a bottle of wine, get some Christmas music going, have a nice little dinner, and try to enjoy the moment of decorating the tree. It’s like bringing back the past every year. Half the time you forget what you have because it’s been 365 days since you’ve last seen it.

On the Cardinal Rule of Holiday Decorating…

Create nostalgia and don’t stress about having it be perfect or in line with your current home decor. It doesn’t have to be that way!  

See more ways to get ahead of holiday decorating:
This Is How One of NYC’s Coolest Women Hosts a Knockout Party
The Worst Thing a Guest Can Do at a Dinner Party, According to Hosts
Over Red and Green? Cool Holiday Decor for the Rebel at Heart

Discussion