Red, Green, and White: The Colors of Tradition

The indoor tree is about eight feet high. Durell Godfrey

Richard Udice uses only red ornaments. A designer who loves Christmas, Mr. Udice decorates C. Whitmore’s Gardens every year and helps the shop’s clients choose flowers, accessories, and even clothing for the holidays.

Mr. Udice bought a small house dating to 1906 on Route 114 in East Hampton about 23 years ago.  But it was only 900 square feet. He doubled the size and reversed the order of the rooms, moving the two bedrooms closer to the front of the house and adding an 18- by-22-square-foot living room,  which looms out over the garden. A small studio, which is a renovated outbuilding, sits at the bottom of the garden behind a pergola.

“I’m a visual person and am happiest in beautiful places, which is why I moved here,” Mr. Udice said. An elementary school teacher in Chappaqua, he was familiar with the East End and is now retired.  His work for Whitmore’s fits in with his lifestyle and he also creates displays for Jim Marvin Enterprises, a company based in Tennessee. But at heart he is a painter.

“I’ve been painting forever and was surrounded by amazing art all the time, growing up,” Mr. Udice said. His childhood was spent on the Rockefeller estate in the Pocantico Hills of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and he was the assistant curator of the Rockefeller collection for a time.

He usually paints in oils on canvas, but he has been experimenting recently with watercolors, even adding salt to certain dark colors to produce a special effect. He also hand paints each Christmas card he sends out, and this year has added a small photographic cutout of himself, skating on Town Pond. He is, in fact, a devotee of skating and can be seen at the Wollman Rink in New York City in season.

His explanation for why he collects only red ornaments is simple. “I think the red and green together are so traditional,” he said. Every year he adds about 12 ornaments to his tree, a Fraser fir about eight feet high that he puts in a three-foot-high urn to make the tree even taller. He finds most trees too dense, however, and prunes about a quarter of their branches to create visual depth and allow him to put ornaments inside, although the special ones remain on outer branches.

His family’s tradition at Christmas was to go into the nearby forest where his father cut down a huge tree and they gathered princess pine and holly to fashion into wreaths. In a similar way, Mr. Udice gathers winterberry, a species of holly, in the woods around East Hampton, and puts it together with a large bunch of greens in a vase on the chest next to the mirror at the north side of the living room. He also makes a small boxwood display for the dining table toward the back of the living room, which sits in a white china bowl with three doves around its edge.

The  living room tree isn’t the only one that has become a personal tradition, however. He also hangs an eight-foot tree from the roof of the pergola at the end of the garden and decorates it with every size of white bulb he can find. The lights are on a timer and come on at day’s end, when he can enjoy seeing the tree lit up and swaying in the distance. He sometimes even leaves it up through Easter.

“This is the smallest house I’ve ever owned, but it’s my favorite,” he said. The pleasure he derives there at Christmas is manifested in simple but stunning tall trees, red ornaments, and white lights.

The mantel is decorated with miniatures.Durell Godfrey
A small boxwood surrounded by doves graces the dining room table.Durell Godfrey