Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Celebrating Sukkot with Jonathan Preece

Many of you likely remember my blog posts that featured Jonathan Preece's beautiful holiday decorations. Jonathan, who is Creative Director and Special Projects Designer at Bunny Williams Inc. and Bunny Williams Home, has become a go-to person for creative and well-researched holiday decor. Over the years, Jonathan has done Thanksgiving tables, Passover tables, Saturnalia-themed vignettes, and Christmas decor.  And now, we have Sukkot to add to the list.

In 2006, long-time clients of Bunny Williams decided to expand their Park Avenue apartment by buying the penthouse above them.  Bunny was responsible for the decoration in this newly combined apartment, which you'll likely remember as it made the cover of Elle Decor in 2010.  During the renovation process, the clients requested that part of the apartment's rooftop terrace be set aside for the annual assembly of a Sukkah, in which they could celebrate the Jewish holiday, Sukkot.  (Click here to read the Wikipedia entry on Sukkot.)

Bunny recommended to her clients that they engage Jonathan to create and decorate the Sukkah, and they readily took her up on her suggestion.  First, Jonathan created a tent in which the clients could host their Sukkot dinners.  The tent is quite small, measuring little more than 8' X 10'.  The exterior, which you can see above, was made of 19th century raw silk linen bed hangings that are embellished with strie ribbon detail.  (The hangings were part of an antique canopied bed that Bunny Williams purchased from an English estate sale.)  A Sunbrella waterproof "rain coat" was made for use in inclement weather, which can be fitted over the silk linen hangings.  The inside of the Sukkah changes from year to year.  A few years ago, Jonathan purchased twenty Queen-sized printed Indian bedspreads from Urban Outfitters and hung them on the tent's interior walls in a pinch-pleat fashion.  Most recently, Preece chose to adorn the interior walls with something more durable: canvas murals painted by artist Liz Fleri.  The murals were meant to make guests feel as though they were seated in a wooden structure while looking out to the desert beyond.  The mural's imagery was inspired by 19th century Orientalist art, while the paintings' style was evocative of the work of Chagall.

Jonathan informed me that the Sukkah's ceiling must always be made of natural material, hence his use of bamboo for the ceiling.  Also, tradition calls for three stars to always be visible from within the Sukkah.  During the first Sukkot celebration, Jonathan hung mercury glass stars within the tent, while in later years, the murals, which featured three painted stars, satisfied this religious requirement.  And finally, the Sukkah beams are always covered in a decorative technique known as Schach, which is comprised of natural materials like fruit, leaves, and flowers that are representative of the Harvest.

There are many other religious symbols that can be seen in these photos.  There is always a tied bouquet of Palm, Myrtle, and Willow, known as a Lulav, that is placed by the host's seat.  Also, you'll see lemons, which refer to the Citron fruit known as Etrog.  Together, the Lulav and Etrog are symbolic of the Four Species, which are the four plants that are part of the Sukkot ceremony.

Now, I'm sure that some of you are questioning the safety of this rooftop tent.  Well, Jonathan paid as much attention to that as he did the tent's decor.  The tent is tied-down and secured tightly, while the candles that you see in the photos are battery-operated.  It really does seem that Jonathan thought of everything.  And whether you celebrate Sukkot or not, I think you'll find a great deal of beauty in these photos, which span six years of the celebration of Sukkot.

All photos copyrighted Jonathan Preece and Elizabeth Swartz


  1. Jennifer, this is such a stunning and intimate space for the Sukkot celebration!
    The Arts by Karena

  2. I enjoyed this so much + we made a Sukkot one year for a client of mine(nothing to match this one) xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

  3. I loved the flower arrangements

  4. Anonymous3:28 AM

    Jenn, this one really blew me away! Decorated and furnished tents are everywhere here in Doha (I've even seen a silk ikat one recently) and they have inspired me to want to tent something myself, but the incredible materials and care in the design of this one is amazing.

  5. The tent, brilliant colors,camels, this is the direction my Christmas/Epiphany decoration is taking. Thank you for writing about these exotic authentic ideas and presenting the inspiring photographs.

  6. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Amazing! Jonathan Preece is a master of his craft!

  7. This certainly got my atTENTion!! franki

  8. Wow! What an interesting and not so well known topic. It was fun to see the BW look translated by Jonathan in such an eloquent and fun way. Thanks for the post!