A lifelong collector fashions a showcase Christmas tree



A lifelong collector with eclectic tastes, based on international travel and his career as an architect and designer, David Warren wouldn’t be expected to put up a conventional Christmas tree. And he hasn’t.

In the foyer of his east Sarasota home, in a gated community, Warren put up an 8-foot faux tree.

It’s black.

ball1He says it’s the ideal backdrop for his collection of Swarovski crystal and glass ornaments, and garlands, that sparkle and gleam against the deep background, illuminated by hundreds of tiny white lights.

Some of the crystal ornaments are so heavy that Warren has carefully wired them to the branches. The tree did not come pre-lighted, so Warren still spends hours untangling and threading miles of white lights in and out of the branches of his black tree.

The collector, who moved from Washington, D.C., to Sarasota with his wife, Mary, in 2004, brought the tree with him.

“I have a personal history with this tree that is sentimental,” he said. “Years ago, I was involved with the Washington Community Theater as a volunteer set designer. One season we did a production of the musical ‘Annie,’ and this tree was on stage.

“At the end of the run, we didn’t have storage space for the tree, so I said I’d take it. We never used it again in a production and I just ended up with it.

“It was green at the time, but when I decided to use it to display crystal and glass, I saw that the crystal didn’t really show up all that well against medium green. When I spray-painted the tree matte black, I knew I was on to something. Now, it’s pretty dazzling, although I had to use a lot of lights to make it right.”

The tree is so heavy with ornaments that it’s attached to the wall with two unseen cables so it can’t tip.

Warren shops all year for the tree.

“If I see something in crystal or glass that catches my eye, I don’t hesitate,” he said.

ball3Crystal butterflies, dolphins, stars, icicles and glass snowflake garlands that look like fine jewelry all find their way to Warren’s black tree. He generally puts up the tree before Thanksgiving and takes it down when he feels like it, often long after the Christmas season.

Holiday vignettes

The centerpiece of Warren’s home is the tree, but there are plenty of other creative and original holiday vignettes placed throughout the 3,000-square-foot home. They evoke Warren’s love of Asian antiques, modern paintings and sculpture, and Santa figures.

“At one time, my collection of Santa figures topped 600,” he admitted. “But, when we moved from Washington, I downsized quite a bit. I could probably stand to do it again, but I’m still enjoying them — especially the ones that were handmade for me by friends.”

Warren and his wife first lived in Bay Plaza in downtown Sarasota, joining two apartments to make one large one. When Mary passed away five years ago, Warren moved to a house.

“This place is big enough to store and display all the furniture, antique books and artifacts that I’ve acquired over the years, especially the things I found in China,” he said. “I started going to Asia in 1983 on architectural projects, and have since returned to visit friends and to scout wonderful objects.

“In this house, I’ve painted walls dramatic colors, put paintings on the ceilings, and I’ve made sure there isn’t a single room that has white trim. In the Chinese Red Room, the walls are red and the doors and trim are gold.”

In that room, he has dressed out a large Santa figure in Chinese costume.

“I call him my Imperial Santa,” said its owner, “and I found him in the Gump’s catalogue.”

On another wall, an imposing, gold-leaf bust of King Tut is worked into a holiday vignette using gold objects, gold poinsettias and a pillar candle. In another part of the house, a golden Renaissance angel heralds the season against a background of a 15th-century vellum manuscript.

It wasn’t the house itself that attracted Warren to his present home, it was the back yard. “There wasn’t a tree or a bush or anything else back there, and that’s what I was looking for,” he said. “My passion is garden design, and I was looking for a blank canvas. This was it. My specialty is Chinese gardens, and this is not the climate for what I could grow, so the result is a merging of styles.

“I got rid of all the grass and, over time, designed what is an Asian-tropical space with stones, succulents and cactus, along with palms and a water feature. It’s still evolving.”

The garden is sculptural and restrained — a serene and meditative space for a collector who sometimes wants to contemplate nature instead of art. There are no holiday decorations in the garden, and it’s quite a contrast to the black crystal Yule tree in the foyer.


Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: December 20, 2014
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