Libby Alexander's apartment is eek-chic, but can it attract the spirit world?
Libby Alexander, 31, is hosting a Halloween séance to contact her late grandfather, and she wants everything to be perfect—including the guest list, her costume and, of course, the decor in the West Andersonville apartment she shares with boyfriend Ryan McCarthy, 27. But their place, the top floor of a two-flat, won’t look much different on Halloween than it does on any other day. “There will be more bones,” Alexander says. “More of what’s already going on.”
What’s already going on in the couple’s three-bedroom, one-bath home is an Addams Family extravaganza: vintage furniture, family heirlooms, alley finds and thrift-store deals. In the living room, a vintage gold cotton sofa (scored via Craigslist) looks opulent beside a gold-painted Trojan-warrior floor lamp, while the head of a porcelain doll, a stuffed baby crocodile and a stuffed iguana constitute an everyday vignette on the fireplace mantel.
Along with her friends, Alexander, who works part-time as an assistant at the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce and sells vintage items in the Etsy shop she operates, will hold her first séance in the dining room, where a pair of fiberglass mannequin legs stands atop an old-fashioned wooden floor radio, and a silver-fox pelt hangs over the door leading to the kitchen. “I’d get really scared if it was the full mannequin,” Alexander says. “It has to be parts or just the torso.”
Elsewhere, 1960s-era swag lamps hanging on brass chains emit a muted glow; for added ambience on séance night, Alexander will use candles. Other party decor will include a small faux cemetery featuring glass “tombstones” filled with decorative graveyard dirt; cheesecloth cobwebs will hang from the ceiling and doorways. The séance table will be covered with a lace tablecloth, contrasting nicely with the midcentury seating: two Eames shell chairs and a pair of white Burke reproductions of Saarinen’s Tulip chair.
To increase the odds of contacting her late grandfather, Alexander and crew will concentrate on photos and personal effects such as his pocket watch. And she only invited people who are at least open to the possibility that they’ll make contact. “I grew up Catholic, so I was really fascinated by devil worshippers, vampires, the occult and Ouija boards,” Alexander says. “But Ryan’s not coming because he doesn’t believe.”
Yet McCarthy does appreciate Alexander’s unusual decorative flair. “I was reticent, at first, to accept the animal skulls into our home,” he says. “I had the image in my head of a giant, furry deer head on the wall. However, Libby has taken the skulls and incorporated them into the decor in a way that retains the fluidity of the rooms and even brings a peculiar warmth.”
“I don’t have an ulterior design motive,” Alexander says. “I just pick things I like and make them work.”
Her motive for attempting to make contact with her grandfather, though, was easy: He’s made his presence known before. After he passed away in 2004, Alexander’s grandmother reported that she felt her late husband’s weight lying in bed beside her. Also around that time, Alexander’s dog began to stare obsessively at his photo on the wall.
But whether or not her grandfather makes a ghostly visitation, Alexander, who believes design does not always have to be so serious, says she enjoyed planning the séance if for no other reason than as an excuse to decorate, have a party and “play house.”