27.2.10

Have Boiserie Will Travel, Before, After, and After


The drawing room of a friend's apartment in the Pulitzer mansion, as decorated for him by Natalie Davenport of McMillen, Inc. in the 1960's
 I continue to rummage through my old clip files, revisiting favorite sites, remembering old friends.  Yesterday, I found one about a singular apartment in New York's Pulitzer mansion, created by a kind friend many years ago.

While at Yale, he had considered studying architecture, but felt he lacked the math--- he was passionate about houses and decoration---as well as music, but that is outside the scope of this post.   Throughout his lifetime, he made many contractors, real estate brokers, architects and decorators very happy.  I believe that there were over 30 houses and apartments over the years, usually two at a time.  The decorating firm of McMillen alone handled 17 commissions for him.  There were at least five by the brilliant modernist master Ben Baldwin.
 
Main Hall of the Hoyt cottage in Southampton
He had been brought up in grand surroundings.  In summer, his parents occupied the palatially scaled former  Hoyt estate in Southampton,  Winters vacations were spent in Palm Beach.  His father, to make work for the unemployed during the depression, had bought the Tiffany Mansion on Madison Avenue, and demolished it in favor of an elegant apartment building, the first built in New York since the crash of '29, and and also considered the last great  pre-war building.  The architects were Rosario Candela and Mott Schmidt, and the family occupied a 21 room duplex on the top floors.  It was during this process that his passion for his surroundings were formed.

After his parents died, he inherited a large collection of fine English portraits and Georgian furniture typical of the rich Anglophiliiac taste of the day.  The collection, even after division with two siblings, amply furnished his apartments in New York, including a handsome duplex on Fifth Avenue just downstairs from a young couple named Von Bulow.
His parent's Romney portrait, as seen in the dining room of his former wife's apartment on Park Avenue, also by McMillen
After a divorce, his parent's Gainsboroughs, Romneys and Raeburns went to his former wife's apartment on Park Avenue, and our friend, giving outlet  to his taste for something French, bought an apartment  formed from the former soundproofed bedroom suite of Joseph Pulitzer, on the second floor of the publisher's former mansion by McKim, Mead, & White on East 73rd St.  Measuring 26 x 36, the beautifully proportioned main room was what particularly caught our friend's eye, large enough for his Boesendorfer grand, and for entertaining for the various good causes he supported.
 The mezzanine bedroom in the Pulitzer house apartment, as done for our friend by McMillen (top), and for the next owner by Denning & Fourcade (bottom)
Finding the McKim, Mead and White interior not to his taste, he commissioned his decorator, Natalie Davenport of McMillen, to find an 18th century boiserie in France.  Once located, it was brought to this country, along with French craftsman to install it.  Then the fun of furnishing began.  These rooms were as far from the age of Aquarius, then dawning,  as the best upholsterers and painters in New York could make them. When finished, it was the ne plus ultra of the rich taste of the era, recalling the apartment, also by McMillen, for the Henry Fords, and the Wrightsman rooms at the Metropolitan Museum, which were then being decorated by Jansen of Paris, who also supplied many of the modern furnishing pieces used in this commission.
The lacquer bed (from McMillen Website)
 The octagon room, as decorated for our friend by McMillen, above,
and Denning and Fourcade's version for the new owner, below
The octagonal room was hung with silk of an indescribable shade of pale peach, and was centered on the most extraordinary lacquered bed imaginable, supposedly made for the Brighton Pavilion, an attribution shared with almost all Chinoiserie furniture of the early 19th century.
His parent's Romney, as seen two or three moves later in our friend's new apartment by Benjamin Baldwin
Needless to say, our friend grew architecturally restless, leaving the Pulitzer apartment for awhile, trying out two modern apartments on 5th Avenue, a summer house in Connecticut, another in Maine, a small chateau in France, then moved back to the Pulitzer House apartment which he'd kept through it all.  He then resolutely switched to modern, eventually winding up in a sublimely reductionist apartment nearby, with interiors not by McMillen, but by modernist master Benjamin Baldwin.  Here, after his former wife's death, his parent's English portraits also came to roost.
The library of the new apartment.  Two more moves later, the Cleve Gray was taken to a new summer house in Maine.
The story of the Louis XVI drawing room doesn't end here, however, nor does that of the bed.  The Pulitzer house apartment changed hands, and the new owner, also a philanthropist and arts patron, desiring something cosier, brought in Denning and Fourcade, who brought in  their signature mix of densely patterned rich fabrics, and, while keeping the McMillen curtains, refashioned it as an interior in Le Style Rothschild, redolent of the fin de siecle.  The former bedroom, now a dining room, was a particular horror.

The Drawing Room, McMillen version
New owner, same old curtains--the Pulitzer House drawing room in its Denning & Fourcade drag.
After a few years, the new owner wearied of this heavy opulence (I myself would last about 3.2 seconds in a Denning & Fourcade interior before I'd have to be taken, screaming,  to a monastic retreat to sooth my shattered nerves).  In 1986, Patrick Naggar was called in, degilded the boisierie, hung new  curtains, and gave the room a luxe French Moderne touch.
 
 
The drawing room, in its post Denning and Fourcade mode. The chandelier remains the same
As for the Prince Regent's lacquer bed, it followed our friend, sans canopy due to lower ceilings, to  a country house in Connecticut, and another apartment on Fifth Avenue, before being sold to another royal, Mario Buatta, the Prince of Chintz, who I believe sleeps in it to this day.

 Mario Buatta, at work in the lacquer bed, de-accessioned by our friend.

Illustrations:  
All McMillen photos, from 'The Finest Rooms by America's Great Decorators'
Denning & Fourcade and Patrick Naggar Drawing room photos, Edgar De Eviva & Lizzie Himmel, New York Times Magazine, January 31st, 1988
Denning & Fourcade Bedroom and Dining Room, New York Magazine, n.d.
Mario Buatta Bed Sketch, Konstantin Kakanias for the New York Times.
Baldwin decorated apartment, Architectural Digest by Peter Vitale, September 1979.
Hoyt Villa Hall, Architectural Review

19 comments:

Lord Cowell said...

The drawing room has such lovely proportions to play with. A lovely post - thank you for sharing. David.

JohnT said...

As a former resident of Manhattan, I often passed this house and always looked up to the drawing room whose long south-facing windows opened onto a balcony. Many times I saw someone looking back. Each time it was a different person, usually famous. Perhaps the apartment was often rented or loaned during the 80s and 90s.

Is this the same room arranged by Albert Hadley a few years ago for Candice Bergen?

The Down East Dilettante said...

I used to know who bought the apartment after our friend left it, indeed someone well known in artistic circles, as I remember. Our friend's particular interests were in music, and in the seventies, one might see such old timers as Alice Tully and the like at the apartment, along with a passel of important musicians. Other than the photos of the redecorations, I know little of the apartment after the late 70's.

This room was on the left hand side of the front, location of Pulitzer's old bedroom. Another grand apartment was made of the Pulitzer's music room, the left 2/3 of the second floor.

Candice Bergen in the Pulitzer house? I knew nothing of that. Interesting.

picture o felegance said...

Great post.

Karena said...

Fascinating post, The images, going through the design changes, absolutely beautiful.

Karena

ArchitectDesign™ said...

what a lovely room. You displayed some real detective chops here -should I call you Hercule Poirot? Like out of a Christie murder mystery!
It's so funny that some people start an education in architecture and drop out claiming bad math skills. I am not one to dwell on my faults -but I'm not the best mathemetician! I do well at the basics and geometry perhaps -but I FAILED calculus for engineers in college...yes -FAILED. It marred my academic career! But I didnt' let it deter me and now I'm an architect. Maybe I'm an exception to the rule? But for the most part - any architect I have met is not very 'mathy'. I think for the next generation we need to dispell these rumours of architects having to be good at math in case we scare away some potential talented architects!!

magnaverde said...

I always felt that the chapter on the Smiths in Sixty Years of Interior Design: the World of McMillen was one of the most interesting in the book, and my big gripe has always been that the book's crummy prduction values--dull, lifeless reproductions of the black-&-white photos & teensy, too-many-to-a-page color shots--made it difficult to follow the evolution of the Smith's various decors & residences. But if I ever saw the Denning & Fourcade revamp of the Fifth Avenue rooms, I never put two & two together before to realize that it was the same place. And to see an even later interpreation of the room is a real bonus. Nor did I know that that incredible bed was now Mario Buatta's. Thanks for connecting the dots for us slow learners.

BTW, Stefan, I think the real problem for math-challenged would-be architects is not always the actual classes themselves, but the fear of those classes. Well, that plus the kind of clueless high-school guidance counselors who used to tell people like me--I was already getting bad grades in trigonomertry & calculus--not not to waste my time even thinking about a career in architecture. Of course, that was in the day before calculators & computers. And, too, like you, I wanted to do houses & small stores & offices, not skyscrapers, so the math thing shouldn't have been a deal-killer, but it was, because, in my innocence--and ignorance--I allowed it to be.

Then again, in the old days, if one had the right connections, even a total lack of technical knowledege wasn't necessarily an immovable object. When the great David Adler was trying (for the--what--second? third? time) to pass the qualifying test for his architecture license, and came across a too-technical question that he was unable to answer, he filled in the space for the answer with a pragmatic "We have people people in our office who take care of this sort of thing."
Ah, the good old days...

The Down East Dilettante said...

Stefan, I wish I could take more credit as a detective (just don't call me Miss Marple!), but with a friend of many year's standing, the work was all done for me.

Magnaverde, agreed about the production values of McMillan book. Amusing anecdote: Another friend and I were staying with Gregory in East Hampton the day, it happened, that the McMillen book arrived. Somehow, the designer had chosen to place a couple of color pages of another house, in addition to Gregory's, in the color spread in the middle of the chapter devoted to him. It so annoyed him--he had ALWAYS been a modest guy,insisting his houses be published anonymously (which is why I referred to him anonymously), that to have someone else's house in the middle of a chapter where he for the first time allowed his name to be used---that there was some serious talk around the dining table of razor blading out the offending pages. (It didn't happen)

Anonymous said...

Please tell us more about Gregory Smith. Who was this man that had such an unending love affair with decorating and architecture?

And the Senior Smiths, the collectors of so many great paintings, please tell more about them.


By the way didnt Albert Hadley do most of the work at Mcmillen for all of the Smiths?

As for this post on the history of Mr. G.B. Smith's rooms...every word of it interesting, we blog readers are lucky to have you!!

La Petite Gallery said...

That was some post. Thank you for
that info and great photo's
Was that Sunny Von Bulow?

yvonne

The Down East Dilettante said...

Yvonne, No, although a previous apartment owned by our friend was below the Von Bulow's.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous: I know that Albert Hadley worked for McMillen at some point, and may well have been involved in our friend's commissions, and know that they were acquainted, but Nathalie Davenport was the decorator of record for these jobs.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Incidentally, you're all so nice to give me so much credit, but remember, I just saved the clippings, and listened carefully to our friend's tales of his moves, in addition to being lucky enough to enjoy some of the wonderful houses he caused to be created. The pictures are credited to their original sources, and I've linked to Carol Vogel's 1988 article in the New York Times, wherein was told the story of the Denning & Fourcade and Naggar redecorations of our friend's original McMillen scheme.

Anonymous said...

FYI: There's a very nice picture of that bed on the McMillen website.

home before dark said...

I do sense a mystery series cooking up. I keep thinking how wonderful that would be to have mysteries (like Poiret but) set into American historical rooms. Sigh... Loved the discussion of artist/math wiz in the duality of the architect. In the end, the artist comes out on top.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anon: Thanks--indeed a terrific pic.

Home Before: When I was a child, our local library was full of juvenile sections mysteries that took place in historic houses, with kids solving the crimes---a genre I think does not exist anymore. I plan a post sometime, because interestingly, I wound up living for awhile in the home of the writer of one of my favorites...it's a post coming up.

But yes, anytime you're ready, let's start writing those historic room mysteries. cheers.

Turner Pack Rats said...

oh, dilletante - give yourself some credit. if you weren't a hopeless pack rat like me, you wouldn't be able to entertain us by linking all of this stuff together and then perfectly embellishing it with your great experience.
one of these days when i have lots of time, i'll send you a photo collection of all my chairs.

security word def:"plaympe" - a make-believe childhood companion

magnaverde said...

I'm with Turner Pack Rats. Don't characterize your work as a mere cut-&-paste job. Putting a bunch of separate pieces together to form a greater whole is the very definition of Art, whether those pieces happen to be individual notes in a Bach fugue, or bits of painted metal & wire in a Calder mobile or, in this case, a bunch of clippings from old decorating magazines.

Pack rats get a bad rap these days, dismissed as weirdos in need of help from professional de-clutterers, but with their non-linear approaches to information storage & retrieval, pack rats can also serve as preservers & disseminators of culture & civilization, which informal function can only become more & more critical as public repositories of knowledge & information toss their 'outdated' records in order to make room for coffee bars & gaming lounges. Today, the Librarian at Alexandria would probably be dismissed as a 'hoarder'.

Here's to Pack Rats!

Janet said...

Ahhhh, THIS is exactly why we madly clip and dog-ear our books. 80% of the challenge is about making connections.

That bed is extraordinary ~ thank you for trailing it for us all!