The holidays almost always, in even the smallest way, mean magic. This year for so many, the magic is a little bit harder to find. Thankfully interior designer and “Mr Christmas” himself Benjamin Bradley is bringing his patented brand of holiday heart directly to Netflix for his new show Holiday Home Makeover With Mr Christmas is bringing the holiday directly our homes. Bradley brings his own passion for Christmas and appreciation for vintage holiday splendor direct to some families that truly can use it this year to charming and wonderful results. I sat down with Bradley to discuss the road it took for him to become the unofficial “Mr. Christmas”, what the holidays look like for him this year, and where he gets holiday inspiration all year round.
Michael Cook: Interior design is always such an exercise in creativity, but merging it with a passion for Christmas truly amps it up a few levels. When did you know that you would be channeling your creativity through interior design?
Benjamin Bradley: I don’t know that I ever really knew. I grew up in a tiny little town and we had never even traveled to New York on vacation; for me though, New York was always the goal. I was able to maneuver my way through an exchange program at FIT and Perdue University was my first exposure to New York. I felt at home, as probably so many gay people do, with the anonymity and the acceptance of the city immediately. I finished up college, went back to Indiana for three years and met my partner. We moved here soon after and started our lives here and thankfully it’s been really good to both of us. My mother was an interior designer. I had gone to school at FIT for fashion and I wasn’t too enamored once I saw Seventh Avenue, but it had to translate since it was about things like color and texture. I met a couple people at my first job at ABC Carpet & Home and we ventured out and started out own company. That’s really where it started; and I’ve been doing interior design for thirty years. The people I met there are what I call my chosen family; it was a magical place.
MC: Did you always love Christmas, even as a child?
BB: I always loved Christmas. Somebody asked me the other day why they thought gay men had a penchant for Christmas and I never really even thought about it. I always just thought anyone who sort of loved Christmas was chasing their childhood memories, and that’s what I think. If you are lucky enough to have had wonderful Christmases, I know Christmas can bring on a lot of sad feelings for some people. For myself, Christmas was always magical. I think I recognized at an early age that it was a kinder, nicer, just gentler time of year. There was Santa Claus, gifts, lights, everything; I was always doing crazy things during the holidays. I was setting up trees in my room, I asked for a full-sized Christmas tree when I was seventeen for my birthday gift, and I would go to the Christmas section of the Sears wishbook instead of the toy section because I wanted an outdoor nativity set; I always loved Christmas. Some things come and go, it has never faltered.
MC: When you got into interior design, was your passion for Christmas able to be translated into something where you were able to make Christmas even more magical?
BB: I have set a lot of Passover tables and a lot of different celebratory events for the Jewish faith. When my partner and I got our first apartment and we had friends gather in, the idea of inviting friends in and the expression of what Christmas is as far as decorating has always been my biggest wish. Being an interior designer you’re sort of bound by what is tasteful or not tasteful according to whoever sets those rules the rest of the year. At Christmas time, you don’t have to show restraint and you don’t have to necessarily be “tasteful”. I always say, I am an ornament away from tacky. I think it’s a time for complete abandon. I love the abundance of the holidays, I love the whole thing; its too much everything but who cares that’s what makes it fun. Too much sugar, too much alcohol, too many ornaments, I love all of it.
MC: Since you have such an adoration for Christmas, when Netflix came to you with the idea to do Holiday Home Makeovers With Mr. Christmas were you even more excited?
BB: You know, I think I might have been too naive to be nervous (laughs). When Steven David Productions came to me, I had made a promise to myself that I was going to “say yes” to saying everything. Whether it was a dinner invitation or anything, that was my year of saying yes. I am one of those people that says yes and then cancels, and I said that I just had to say yes and see where it leads. They came to me and said that the network needed content and that “I do Christmas better than anyone they know” and asked me to try something. I said “sure” ! I had never been in front of a camera and have never done anything like that. I am not a reality television person per se. I didn’t know what any of the lingo was or anything, but we did what I now know is a sizzle reel. They shopped it around and finally called and said that Netflix picked it up. It has really been something and has been two years in the making. It was something that I knew so well in terms of Christmas and loving it so much. I wasn’t even aware of the cameras that much, it was just fun. I got to deal with these fabulous families, I got to play with Christmas, and my friends were around helping out as elves. What more magical a creative life could someone like me wish for? The only pressure that I felt was the pressure of time, because that factor was real having to get something done in two days.
I applaud Netflix because they wanted to do it in real time, not in July or August. We filmed right up until Christmas two years ago. I was thrilled at the opportunity, but I didn’t want drama. I mean, there could be a story, but I wanted heart. Christmas is the last frontier and we don’t take it for granted. It’s a time of goodwill; If I’m going to take the time during the holiday season to sit down and watch a holiday program, I want to feel good. I was really pleased that they went to the heart of the story. I am a big vintage and antique Christmas collector and this allowed me to introduce some retro concepts. My mother did all of these things, gluing peppermints onto a styrofoam cone in garden club but a whole generation has never seen it so its all new to them. I wanted it to have a warm and cozy overall vibe.
MC: As the unofficial King of Christmas, how have you been able to keep the Christmas spirit throughout these unparalleled times?
BB: Because Christmas is sort of my happy and safe place, I think it is something that kind of buoys me along. It is a little bit like it was after 9/11 in some ways, there as a cloud over everything. I know for myself and for my partner that getting together with our chosen family and with the family we love, that is embodiment of Christmas for us. Welcoming our friends in is what makes Christmas; to not have our annual Christmas party, to not have any of the gatherings that we typically do, it does put a big pall over everything. I said to someone the other day that my reason for decorating, for baking this year is that these recipes were handed down from my grandmother, those ornaments were gathered on vacations that we have been on or were given to us by friends, that is all coming out. That is the closest we are going to get to those people this year and that is important to me. If I can’t physically be with them I am going to be with them in spirit and in memory. That is my reason for doing it. To other people that are putting up a wreath and just lighting a candle this year, then do that. I am not really blasting it out this year, I am letting it be a little quieter. I also am not in a rush; usually I am in a rush because there is a party or a fundraiser or something like that. Now I am just doing it for myself and for Bruce and that’s it. It’s a refocusing year on so many levels; this pandemic has really slowed us down.
MC: Christmas is a very inspiring time for so many of us, but for you its an all-year long holiday. Where do you get your inspiration from?
BB: I get inspiration from anywhere. It could be the corner on a building as I walk down the street and think it would make a wonderful holiday decoration and I am constantly online with sites like Etsy and Ebay. Travel also is inspiring; we were able to go to England a couple years ago during the holidays and there is inspiration everywhere. I think I am always thinking Christmas; whether it’s a new clients home or anywhere, it’s always present to me, I am shopping for holiday gifts all year round, its constant. I am picking things up, finding things in bulk that are vintage, the inspiration really just comes from anywhere.
Holiday Home Makeover With Mr Christmas is streaming now on Netflix
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