From the December 2018/January 2019 Issue  

Winter Wonderland

Writer Ren Miller  |  Photographer Vic Wahby  |  Designer Alyson Sugar  |  Location Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  |  Holiday Décor Joanna Policastro

The seasonal décor at the front entrance of the French Manor-style home gives a nod to the woodland setting.

Holiday décor in a Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, home sings in harmony with the surrounding woods

Nature’s beauty in winter inspired the holiday décor at Alyson and Daniel Sugar’s home in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, last year. “I wanted the design to speak to and celebrate the winter season while being a more elegant version of the surrounding woods outside of our home,” Alyson Sugar says.
For help with the holiday décor, Sugar called on Joanna Policastro of Seasonal Surroundings in Waldwick, New Jersey. The two women had worked together before on floral arrangements and garden décor for the Sugar home. “Those smaller projects allowed us to get to know one another and to build the trust that was so important before taking on this holiday project,” says Sugar, an interior designer and owner of Alyson Sugar Interiors in New York City. “Joanna had a very good sense of what I was looking for: neutral and natural tones with layered and luxurious materials.”

Planning began nine months before the holidays. “We spent the summer envisioning this refined winter wonderland, and Joanna sent sketches, inspiration and material images to approve along the way,” Sugar says. “Once materials were approved, I let her do what she does best: arrange and execute our vision.”

Policastro says she enjoyed working on this project so much because she and Sugar have similar tastes, which she says made creating the holiday décor a pleasure. “Her home has a very natural, clean-lined look, so I felt holiday décor that is more earthy, natural and monochromatic would be a good fit,” Policastro says. “It’s a look we both lean toward.”

Sugar’s goal for the interior design, meanwhile, was to carry the classic sophistication of the French Manor-style exterior into each room while at the same time satisfying the needs of her young family, making the home comfortable and livable throughout. She says the art, accessories and furnishings were carefully collected and curated. “This harmonious mix of vintage and sculptural forms with more contemporary works leant itself to a unique and timeless vibe throughout,” she says. “There is a story to accompany nearly every piece. I thoroughly love working with craftspeople to create a custom piece. It’s what I love most about what I do, which certainly carried through to my work with Joanna.”

At the front door, Policastro added two kinds of evergreen branches, natural pinecones and olive-green flocked ribbon to the topiaries flanking the door. Instead of a big wreath on the double door, she added evergreens, natural and frosted pinecones, birch twigs and the same green flocked ribbon to the lanterns on each side of the door. Sugar provided the pewter-color stag figurine, which adds subtle glamour.

  • FOYER | A collection of mercury-glass trees on an antique table and garlands attached to each staircase post complement the clean-lined, serene atmosphere of the foyer.


  • URN | A console opposite the foyer staircase holds homeowner Alyson Sugar’s stone urn, which Joanna Policastro filled with green and frosted branches, twigs and natural and glass pinecones. Meandering under the arrangement are four white doves from Sugar’s collection.


The door itself was part of a total renovation the Sugars undertook after they purchased the home in 2015. Drawing inspiration from doors she and her husband saw on a stroll through the Left Bank in Paris, she designed new, larger doors that are more in scale with the home and are wire-brushed for an aged finish. The Sugars also redid all of the masonry on the exterior, simplified the trim and added fresh paint and new lighting.

In the foyer, the woodland scene unfolded around an antique French oak elliptical table. Sugar’s collection of mercury-glass trees stood under a tall vase of evergreen and birch branches, two shades of blown-glass pinecones (pewtery silver and soft gold) and tan berries. Two battery-operated candles added no-fuss visual warmth. Under the table were two more of Sugar’s contributions: another stag figurine and a large antique sphere that she lined with LED lights. Rather than take the traditional route of hanging garland all along the staircase, Policastro suggested a simpler, more striking option: individual garlands that hang from each post on the staircase. They comprise evergreen and “snow-covered” branches; natural, frosted and blown-glass pinecones; and an elegant, soft-gold woven ribbon. “The garlands are not lit because the foyer is already very bright,” Policastro notes. Here and throughout, she chose faux evergreens so they would look fresh throughout the season.

Sugar’s design of the foyer includes white paneled walls, limestone flooring and natural materials — including a hide area rug and a linen and leather stair runner — that create a neutral backdrop for the most dramatic element: a one-of-a-kind, 14-foot, light fixture she designed with artisan Michelle James in New York City. “Over the course of one year, I worked with her to select 15 vintage globes, performing three mockups to fine-tune the vertical and horizontal elements to fit perfectly within the space so you can experience it from both the upper and lower levels of the house as well as from outside,” Sugar says. “Much like this piece, our home is a curation of the things we have found and fallen in love with.”

Each room was designed to entertain family and friends and make them feel comfortable. “The rooms are cohesive in nature, but each allows for an exciting and independent experience,” Sugar says. In the living room, for example, “custom-designed floor-to-ceiling cerused oak wall paneling is dramatic, “but the warmth of the smoked wood tones is at the same time very serene and inviting.” A layered Venetian plaster ceiling is reminiscent of a cloudy sky, lending what Sugar calls a sense of soothing moodiness. “This is the first place where friends want to gather for a cocktail in the evening,” she adds, “but also a great spot to collect a crowd on the oversized sofa to watch a movie or game on the mirrored television above the mantel.

A ceiling-height Christmas tree with silver, gold and clear ornaments adds to the cool elegance of the living room.

Complementing the neutral upholstery and blue draperies in the living room, Policastro decorated a ceiling-height Christmas tree with Sugar’s collection of silver, gold and clear orbs in different sizes and styles, along with sparkling marquise-shaped drops, miniature birds and bunches of silver berries. Pinecones and the same ribbon as on the foyer garlands tied together the two spaces. A wreath at the front window is dressed in natural and glass pinecones, gold ribbon and spikes of small metallic balls. Sconces on each side of the fireplace and a small bowl on the coffee table carry on the theme with evergreens, natural and blown-glass pinecones and tan berries.

DINING ROOM | Dramatic aubergine walls and a striking wall covering above the wainscoting add a sense of wonder to the dining room.

In the dining room, Policastro designed a table runner of evergreen branches, natural and blown-glass pinecones, tan berries and twigs plus spikes of tiny metallic balls to add an elegant sparkle. The table setting complements a room with walls, wainscoting and trim painted in a dramatic aubergine shade.

“The dining room began as a color experiment for me, as I’m often quite timid with the use of color,” Sugar says. “I chose a chalky aubergine, which felt appropriate and neutral to the home, being that the gray stucco exterior has the slightest tinge of purple.” Silk draperies blend into the walls yet provide a hint of iridescence to make them pop. Sugar circled the top of the room with a mural-like natural hemp wall covering. “It has certainly made the room come alive, Sugar says. “The dripping hues and organic movement on the sumptuous natural material seem to marry the juxtaposition of the live-edge maple table, the draping light fixture and the formal overscaled paneling.”

The Sugars couldn’t be happier with their refined winter wonderland. “Without overpowering or interfering with the integrity of my interior design,” Sugar says, “Joanna provided the necessary touches that allowed us to visually experience and celebrate our traditions.”

TABLE | An evergreen table runner with gold accents, gold pillar candles and gold-trimmed dinnerware create a festive ambience.