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Thomas O'Brien

At his revamped Manhattan home-furnishings store, Aero, designer Thomas O'Brien displays both vintage finds and tableware of his own design. Here, this veteran party-thrower reveals his favorite ideas for Christmas.

Do you prefer formal invitations for holiday parties? I used to handwrite every invitation on my personal stationery. Then I started doing engraved invitations using my handwriting as the font. Two years ago I picked light ivory paper with luminescent blue script. Continental Corporate Engravers has printed all of my stuff for the past 12 years (718-797-0900; $300 for 100).

How do you celebrate the holidays? For me, it's all about the tree. At my house in Bellport, on Long Island, I always trim the tree with magical, old ornaments I've collected. My Manhattan apartment has 18-foot ceilings, so it can handle a big tree. I do a different theme each year. Once I focused on gold tones, both matte and shiny, along with garlands made of different kinds of leaves. Another year, I used insane amounts of silver tinsel.

What glassware do you use for entertaining? I'll usually set the table with vintage glasses—say, a tall colored one and an etched goblet. A lot of my glassware designs were inspired by my personal collection ($9 for "Kizmet" trumpet glass, $27 for "Etched" trumpet vase, $7 for "Kizmet" pink glass from Marshall Field's; 800-MFIELDS).

What drinks do you serve at holiday parties? Perrier Jouët Champagne—always. It's my thing because everyone else does Veuve Clicquot. l'll also have a selection of wonderful whiskies and sherry, plus Acqua di Nepi Italian mineral water ($12 a case from Moka d'Oro; 718-387-2373). I drank it for the first time at New York City's Union Square Cafe and wondered, What is this water? So they showed me the label.

What's your favorite way to decorate for Christmas? One year I bought a Blue Atlas cedar tree and three seedlings. I wrapped the root balls of the seedlings in pieces of cashmere and placed them around the house for a party, then later planted them at my house on Long Island.

What are your favorite hostess gifts? The best gifts are about exploration. It's really great when someone brings a present back from a trip—pencils wrapped in marbleized paper from Venice, or something from the Conran Shop in London. I love giving people luxurious soaps, maybe one from Fresh with an interesting fragrance, like coriander-lavender or pink grapefruit—something to be noticed ($9; 800-FRESH20 or fresh.com). Books are great, too. Someone gave me the 1959 book Zen Telegrams, by Paul Reps (8), when I first got to New York City. It's still in print, and now I give it to friends on both happy and sad occasions. The book has lines like "Lose your un-flower mind" or "Don't worry, day will come" that are funny but thoughtful, and they are accompanied by drawings and calligraphy.

What are some of the best Christmas gifts you've ever received? My staff always gives me the best gifts. One year I got a Cannondale bike (800-BIKE-USA or cannondale.com). Another year, it was horseback-riding lessons and all the paraphernalia to go with them. Last year they gave me a telescope.

What do you serve for your staff holiday party? We call California Pizza Kitchen and order a stack of five-cheese pizzas and grilled-chicken pizzas. Then we have Champagne and wine—nothing's better than pizza and Champagne.

How do you set your holiday table? I'll use my collection of transferware, two-toned ceramic plates with engravings depicting romantic scenes. You can find sets, but I'll buy one or two distinctive pieces at a time. Older plates used to cost $20 or $30 apiece; now they're $70 to $125. I love to set the table with a plate and a rimmed soup bowl. It's great for the grandmother-type hearty food I like to serve at the holidays.

How do you entertain casually? I put linen on my long kitchen table, set down a big copper pot of Irish stew in the center and have the neighbors over. l lay out my collection of vintage dishes and silver so guests can pick what they want.

Aero, 419 Broome St., Manhattan; 212-966-1500.

Published December 2004
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