Christmas Without a Tree
But every bit as Merry and Joyful
Photographs by Wendy Carlson & John Kane
It’s no surprise that Rob Deyber and Bob Graham don’t put up a traditional Christmas tree. Since they’ve moved into their renovated Greek revival house in New Milford more than two years ago, Deyber, a prolific artist, and his partner, Graham, the proprietor of Housatonic Trading Company in Bantam, have been busier than a pair of espresso-fueled elves during the holidays.
Deyber spends long days holed up in his studio at the Switch Factory in Bantam where he might be working on 25 different paintings at one time. Across the street, at Housatonic Trading Co., Graham sells antiques, replica fine art, furniture, home furnishings and décor, many of which he finds at auctions and estate sales. And just like Mike and Frank, hosts of the reality TV show “American Pickers,” Graham has a fondness for vintage signs and anything else that’s slightly offbeat.
So, Christmas can be an especially hectic time for both of them. “We’ve been together 15 years and we haven’t had a tree up yet,” says Graham. Still, they manage to put their own quirky spin on the holiday season. “We are not the type of people who celebrate a traditional Christmas. We prefer to kitsch the heck out of the holiday based on our rather unique tastes,” Deyber says. “I like to put lights on just about everything I can find that is wacky. One year I completely wrapped a taxidermy brown bear in lights. Another year I found this beautiful dead evergreen sapling in the backyard with no pine needles on it at all, so I spray painted it black and decorated it to the nines with this oversized Moravian star on top. I once even wrapped the toilet in the guest bathroom with Christmas lights!”
Another year, Deyber suspended a three-foot-tall, black Christmas tree upside down from the middle of the ceiling and strung it with brown lights. “I love illuminating odd-shaped trees in the yard, the more crazy looking the tree the better,” he says. “I used to get up on a huge ladder and weave intricate patterns inside these giant maple trees. We really like to avoid decorating with the typical primary colored Christmas lights, so during the year I scour the Internet for unusual colored lights, like smoky brown or purple.”
This unconventional approach makes Christmas at their home fun and singularly unpredictable. Even though time is precious during the holidays, they often invite artists and friends for an afternoon potluck dinner. The informal gathering makes the process of preparing a meal stress free, and gives them a chance to mingle.
Winter afternoon gatherings typically unfold casually. A steady stream of friends arrive adding their potluck items to an expanding smorgasbord of dishes. Wine bottles are uncorked; flutes are filled, and conversation flows.
The house, which was totally gutted then rebuilt, was refurbished with entertaining in mind. The kitchen features an 18-foot-long marblecounter with seating, and there are several cozy sitting areas throughout the house for guests to gather.
The oldest part of the house was built in the early 1700s, and while it has undergone extensive renovation, it still has the warm feel of an old New England home. Graham took on much of the renovation himself and within just a few years transformed the disheveled wreck into a beloved country retreat.
Deyber’s whimsical art is a focal point and his paintings are juxtaposed with antique signage, vintage pieces, and a preponderance of American eagles—one of his favorite motifs. They jokingly refer to their house as a “repository for found objects.”
Since Graham routinely buys and sells antiques, he often needs the space in the house to temporarily house those items. This collection of eclectic objects contrasts with the spacious, open-floor plan. A contrast of themes is also a hallmark of Deyber’s art. A self-taught painter, he refers to his works as “pop surrealism.”
Humor plays a major role in his paintings, which he often achieves by taking familiar words, sayings, and idioms and reinterpreting them on canvas. In War of the Roses III, cannonballs blast out of white and red roses, and in Cold Call III, a line of penguins wait their turn to use the telephone box.
But on this winter afternoon, as guests filtered into the house, the focus is not on the intriguing art, but on the lively conversation andgood company. As a blustery wind builds snow drifts outside, the atmosphere inside is warm and festive. A touch of greenery on the mantle, a string of small lights around the window, and boxwoods in the kitchen all work to make this vintage house feel an awful lot like Christmas.