Category Archives: BOOKS

Home Study: Our Favorite American Landmarked Residences and Historic House Museums, Part II

Last week, Scott BromleyJerry Caldari, and Tim Button shared their favorite American historic house museums and landmarked residences. Here are Laura Bohn, Barry Goralnick, and Bruce Bierman‘s picks.

LAURA BOHN: I fell in love with The Mount, novelist Edith Wharton’s summer residence in Lenox, Massachusetts, right at the front door. It’s simple and unassuming, as is the grotto-like entry hall, which lacks a grand staircase—an indispensable prop for most great lady hostesses of the time, who’d sweep down it in Gilded Age magnificence to greet arriving guests. Instead, visitors were taken to a side hall and led up a graceful but unpretentious staircase to the second floor—the piano nobile, as in an Italian palazzo—where Wharton would receive them in a long, light-filled gallery. But it was only when they were ushered into the adjoining drawing room with its gobsmacking views of the Mount’s fabulous gardens that the full glory of the house revealed itself.

The Mount, Lennox, MA Edith Wharton's summer home

The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts, Edith Wharton’s summer residence, which she co-designed and built in 1902 and occupied until she moved to Europe in 1911. Photograph: Kevin Sprague

Wharton designed the 1902 house in collaboration with architect Ogden Codman, Jr., her co-author on The Decoration of Housesa pioneering 1897 book aimed at showing the taste-deficient American nouveau riche how to create classically restrained, timelessly elegant homes. (It’s still in print and could be consulted with profit by some of today’s 1 percent.) Wharton and Codman followed their own principles at the Mount, producing a house of such self-possessed distinction—grand but not grandiose—that it was landmarked in 1971.

Wharton designed most of the grounds herself: ”I am amazed by the success of my efforts,” she wrote with justifiable pride. “Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth.” Looking at the beautifully maintained estate today, it’s doesn’t seem such an off-base claim.

The Mount, Lenox, MA, second floor gallery

The light-filled second floor reception gallery at the Mount. Photograph: Janet Knott

The Mount, Edith Wharton's summer house, Lenox, MA, the drawing room

The drawing room’s French doors open onto an expansive raised stone terrace overlooking the landscaped grounds, which Wharton designed expertly herself. Photograph: Kevin Sprague

Edith Wharton's boudoir at the Mount, her summer house in Lenox, MA , photograph by John Seakwood

Edith Wharton’s boudoir on the third floor. Photograph: John Seakwood

The staircase from the main terrace to the garden at the Mount, Edith Wharton's summer house in Lenox, MA, photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Vogue

In a Vogue fashion spread, model Natalia Vodianova plays Edith Wharton descending the double staircase from the main terrace to the garden. Photograph: Annie Leibowitz

BARRY GORALNICK: Fallingwater, the weekend retreat at Mill Run, Pennsylvania, that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Kaufmann family in 1937, became super-famous almost immediately. In 1938 it made the cover of Time magazine, was featured in Life, got star billing in an issue of Architectural Forum devoted entirely to Wright, and appeared in countless newspapers and periodicals worldwide. It has never since lost its position as a preeminent icon of 20th-century architecture. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, Kaufmann Residence, 1937

Probably the most famous 20th-century house in the world, Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1937 weekend retreat for the Kaufmann family, cantilevers out over Bear Run creek in rural Pennsylvania. 

Given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, Fallingwater is now the only Wright house open to the public with all its original elements in place. Although its location is somewhat remote, Fallingwater is an essential destination for anyone interested in architecture. Smithsonian magazine included it in a list of “28 places to see before you die,” right up there with the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Wall.

The way Wright perfectly integrated his dynamic composition of concrete horizontals and stone verticals into the wild romantic landscape has to be seen to be believed. In the end, no photography, video, or description can do more than dimly evoke the extraordinary imaginative achievement the house embodies—you just have to experience it for yourself. It’s a wonder of the modern world that absolutely lives up to its billing.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, Kaufmann Residence, 1937,

To help integrate the house into the natural landscape, Wright limited its paint palette to ochre for the concrete and his signature Cherokee red for the steel elements.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, 1937, Mr. Kaufmann's terrace, as viewed from the driveway above the house.

The massive vertical core of the house, around which the horizontal concrete elements are arranged, is made of native Pottsville sandstone, quarried on site and stacked like layers of sedimentary rock.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, Kaufmann Residence, 1937, interior

The seating in the living area, upholstered in Jack Lenor Larsen fabrics, is among the 169 pieces of preserved custom furniture Wright designed for the house—a trove far bigger than that at any other of his residences.

BRUCE BIERMAN: Ever since it opened in 2001, the exquisite Neue Galerie New York has been my favorite house museum. Devoted to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design, it’s located at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street in the former William Starr Miller mansion, a superb six-story Louis XIII-style townhouse completed in 1914 by Beaux-Arts architects Carrère & Hastings. In 1994 it was purchased by art dealer and exhibition organizer Serge Sabarsky (1912–1996) and his friend cosmetics billionaire Ronald S. Lauder—both connoisseurs of German and Austrian Expressionism—who commissioned Seldorf Architects to renovate the building and convert it into a museum.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street

The Neue Galerie New York, a museum devoted to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design, is located at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street in the former William Starr Miller mansion, completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings. 

The Neue Galerie is particularly successful for the way in which it juxtaposes paintings and decorative arts to immerse viewers and transport them back in time. The second floor houses fine and decorative Viennese art, including paintings by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele and objects by the artisans of the Wiener Werkstätte. The third floor exhibits various German works from the same era, including Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and the Bauhaus.

The museum also regularly mounts acclaimed exhibitions—such as the current “Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bahaus, 1910–1925—chamber music concerts, film screenings, and even cabaret evenings. Plus there’s the terrific Café Sabarsky, with its reproductions of Josef Hoffmann sconces, Adolf Loos bentwood chairs, Otto Wagner fabrics,not to mention its excellent Viennese specialties like sausages, goulash, strudels, and chocolate tortes. 

Neue Galerie New York, entry and main staircase

The entry and main staircase at the Neue Gallerie New York, whose interiors were renovated and converted by Selldorf Architects.

Neue Galerie New York, a gallery on the second floor

A trio of paintings by Gustav Klimt dominates a second floor gallery where they were installed as part of the 2011 Neue Galerie exhibition “Vienna 1900: Style and Identity.” 

Josef Hoffmann's 1913 dining room for Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, at the Neue Galerie. Photo- John Gilliland:Courtesy of Neue Galerie

A dining room designed by Josef Hoffmann for Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, as installed in the 2006 Neue Galerie exhibition “Josef Hoffmann: Interiors, 1902-1913.” Photograph: John Gilliland.


Fire Island Pines Celebrates Its Diamond Jubilee

Fishermans Path corner of Ocean Walk in Fire Island Pines, mid-1950s
In the beginning: The intersection of Ocean Walk and Fisherman’s Path boardwalks in Fire Island Pines in the 1950s–before the full-on development of the enclave had really got going.

Six decades ago this summer, the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association was formed—and what had been been a desolate stretch of scrub and sand began its transformation into the fabled gay vacation Mecca. I’ve been spending my summers in the Pines since the early 1970s, both as a resident and an architect, so my partner, filmmaker Tony Impavido, and I  were able to contribute to the official Pines’ 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee on June 22. The event’s centerpiece was a pop-up museum featuring photos, artwork, and memorabilia from the community’s history, so we combed the community for material to include in the exhibit. Tony also put together a 31-minute video from the images we collected looking back at everything from dance parties to weddings and children as well as the gorgeous natural surroundings of the Pines. One item we dug up was this 1979 story by Suzanne Slesin from the New York Times about a beach party I co-chaired with my then business partner, the late interior designer Robin Jacobsen.

Suzanne Slesin's story in the New York Times, July 9, 1979, about Scott Bromley's Beach Fire Island '79, oceanside party at the PinesSuzanne Slesin's story in the New York Times, July 9, 1979, about Scott Bromley's Beach Fire Island '79 oceanside party at Fire Island PinesSuzanne Slesin's story in the New York Times, July 9, 1979, about Scott Bromley's Beach Fire Island '79 oceanside party at the Pines

Beach Fire Island 79 Party co-chaired by-Scott Bromley and Robin Jacobsen
Here’s a shot I took of the installation for the Beach Fire Island ’79 oceanside party. Jerry Caldari, with whom I would later establish Bromley Caldari Architectshelped design it. The entire construction took five days to build.

In addition to this summer’s anniversary celebrations, there are a couple of great books about the Pines published recently. The first is Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1983, by the photographer Tom Bianchi. Like me, Bianchi began spending time at Fire Island Pines in the early 1970s.

Tom Bianchi, Fire Island Pines, Polaroids 1975-1983

Bianchi used an SX-70 Polaroid camera to documented his friends’ lives in the Pines, amassing an image archive of people, parties, and private moments. This memoir collects those images for the first time, and for many of us, it conjures the sun-soaked magic of a bygone era. Here are a couple of my own memories:

The TV House, Fire Island Pines, 1970s

In the early 1970s, I lived in the “TV House,” so called because it looked like a giant television screen from the beach. 

Scott Bromley in Fire Island Pines early 1970s

Here’s a shot of me and a friend in the Pines from the same period.  

The other book, Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, by Christopher Rawlins, is an overdue monograph about a little-known architect who was crucial to the development of what we think of as Fire Island beach house style: “Houses of naturally weathering cedar, redwood pavilions set back from the boardwalk, their broad windows serving as prosceniums across which backlighted players in Speedos, or else nothing, played out a specific variant of the theater of late 20th century gay life,” as Guy Trebay put it in the New York Times.

Fire Island Modernist-Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, by Christopher Rawlins

In the ’60s and ’70s , Horace Gifford (1932-92) built around 40 small, innovative Modernist houses on Fire Island. Although an average Gifford house was only 1,000 square feet, it expanded upward with high ceilings and outward with oversized windows, decks, sun courts, and walkways. It was often seductive, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, sunken living rooms and conversation pits, and exposed outdoor showers. Gifford was a huge talent and, although I didn’t know him well, a big design hero of mine. Whenever I got the chance, I’d study his architectural drawings closely. Here are some  classic Gifford Fire Island houses:

Fishman House, Horace Gifford, Fire Island Pines,  1965

Fishman Residence, 1965. The house rises above the trees, framing views of the ocean and the bay while screening out the neighbors on Fire Island’s narrow lots. Photograph by Bill Maris.

The Wittstein-Miller Residence, Horace Gifford, 1963, renovated by Scott Bromley, 1983

Wittstein-Miller Residence, 1963. The house was originally presented as a sketch in the sand for its delighted clients, the famed set designer Edwin Wittstein and his partner Robert Miller. Tony Impavido and I now own the house, and my firm Bromley Caldari Architects restored it and added a teahouse and a bedroom suite in 1983. (Here’s a link to a post about another house we designed in the Pines.) Photograph by John Hall.

Crawford House, Horace Gifford, 1968, Fire Island Pines
Crawford Residence, interior, Horace Gifford, 1968, Fire Island Pines

Crawford Residence, 1968. This is the Gifford house I covet the most. It was designed for Jay Hyde Crawford,  a fascinating man who worked as an illustrator for Bonwit Teller, doing a famous redesign of the store’s violet-bouquet graphic before founding Quadrille Fabrics, a high-end textiles and wallpaper company, in the 1960s. Click here to read a great interview with Jay, who died in May this year at the age of 82. 

Sloan House, exterior, Horace Gifford, Fire Island Pines, NY, 1972

Sloan Residence, Horace Gifford, 1972, Fire Island Pines, interior

Around 1980, Calvin Klein bought the Sloan Residence,  Fire Island Pines, NY 1972

Sloan Residence, 1972. This oceanfront home for a family with four young children was one of Gifford’s last significant commissions in the Pines. Around 1980, he expanded for its next owner, Calvin Klein, whose security concerns after the kidnapping of his daughter, Marci, meant a huge privacy fence. (Photograph by Barbra Walz.) The house was also owned by entertainment mogul David Geffen in the 1990s.


If the images of Horace Gifford’s wonderful beach houses has whetted your appetite for more, Christopher Rawlins, the author of the Gifford book, has organized Modern Masterpieces, a series of day-long, guided tours of mid-century homes that exemplify the best of Pines modernism. The tours will be conducted on Saturday, August 24th; Sunday, August 25; Saturday, August 31; and Sunday, September 1; plus an abbreviated, free tour on Monday, September 2 (Labor Day).  Click here for more information.


Barry Goralnick’s Summer So Far

All at Sea: My partner, the composer-lyricist Keith Gordon, and I spent part of August in Truro and Provincetown on Cape Cod. Some of the time we were sailing on a yacht with one of my Harvard Architecture School friends, Marlene Newman, her husband Bill, and our friends Jim Bennette and David Cowan who own ACME Fine Art and Design in Boston.

Yachting off Cape Cod

Barry Goralnick spent part of August with friends sailing off Cape Cod.

On the Cape: Back on land, we had great dinners at three Provincetown restaurants: Victor’s, a fairly new addition to the P-town dining scene that features local and organic ingredients; Devon’s, which serves modern American cuisine and is housed in a one time fish market; and Front Street, an old favorite in the basement of a Victorian building.

Victor's Restaurant Provincetown

Victor’s is a relatively new addition to the Provincetown dining scene.

Devon's Provincetown

Located in a former fish market, Devon’s is full of Cape Cod charm.

Picture Perfect: We saw a terrific exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and MuseumRobert Motherwell: Beside the Sea, which presented rare work created by the artist in his Provincetown studio during the summer of 1962 until his death in 1991.

Robert Motherwell Beside the Sea at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum

PAAM presented an exhibition of work by Robert Motherwell created in his Provincetown studio between 1962 and his death in 1991.

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