Category Archives: PERSONALITIES

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

The US has an abundance of landmarked residential buildings and historic house museums. Modest or grand, simple or complex, they embody some of the most characterful architecture and design of their respective eras. Here are Scott BromleyJerry Caldari, and Tim Button‘s favorite American historic houses; Bruce Bierman, Laura Bohn, and Barry Goralnick‘s picks follow next week.

SCOTT BROMLEY: For me, the ultimate New York City pied-à-terre is the landmarked jewel box on East 52nd Street that architect Philip Johnson completed in 1950 for philanthropist, collector, and future MoMA president, Blanchette Rockefeller. She needed a place to put up guests, to entertain, and to display a growing collection of contemporary art that her husband, John D. Rockefeller III, didn’t want in the couple’s Beekman Place apartment.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, exterior

The Rockefeller Guest House, 242 East 52nd Street, New York City, designed by Philip Johnson in 1949-1950 and landmarked in 2000.

Johnson tore down an existing carriage house, keeping only its brick side walls, which he painted white to best set off the art. The new two-story building’s facade is solid brick on the ground floor and steel and glass on the second floor. The large, open living-and-dining area downstairs (with a guest bedroom and bath above) is separated from the master bedroom in back by a courtyard and small reflecting pool. (A kitchenette, once located in the living area, is now in the basement.) A less-is-more composition of brick, glass, and steel, the house looks a lot like the abstract art it’s meant to display.

The house has had several owners over the years. Johnson himself rented it in the 1970s, and in 2000, the year it was landmarked, the art dealer Anthony d’Offay sold it at a Christie’s auction for $11.1 million to cosmetics tycoon Ronald S. Lauder, himself an important collector and chairman of MoMA.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, plan and street facade rendering

A rendering of the guest house’s brick, steel, and glass street facade, and the ground-floor plan, which is bisected by a courtyard and reflecting pool.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, interior

The living area in the 1950s, when Blanchette Rockefeller owned the house.

Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House (1949-1950), 242 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, courtyard

Looking from the master bedroom, across the courtyard with its reflecting pool and stepping stones, to the living area. 

JERRY CALDARI: In 1944, Henry Miller visited Big Sur, California, at the time a remote, inaccessible paradise, and was awed by its “grandeur and eloquent silence.” Miller wrote to his friend, the painter Emil White, that he had ”discovered a place better than Mexico” where he wanted to make his home. White also moved to Big Sur, and during the next two decades the duo are credited—or blamed—for generating the first wave of tourism there and popularizing the region. (In fact, the completion of the Pacific Coast Highway in 1937 created the influx of visitors.)

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, exterior

The Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, California

Miller left Big Sur in 1960, but White stayed on. In 1981, a year after the novelist’s death, White turned his own rustic cabin into a shrine to his friend, which he called the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Set in a grassy clearing surrounded by redwoods, today the compound not only houses a trove of Miller’s papers but also serves as a non-profit bookshop and cultural and educational center. In summer, an outdoor screen is raised across the backdrop of mountain and conifers so movies can be shown under the stars. Benefit concerts have featured artists such as Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, and Philip Glass.

If there’s a lovelier place to hear live music in California, I can’t imagine what it is. The slightly ramshackle cabin is a modest but excellent example of the region’s hand-built vernacular architecture—and an authentic player in the creation the Big Sur’s famously easy going bohemian lifestyle.

Henry Miller in Big Sur, CA, in the 1950s

Henry Miller (1891-1980) in his own Big Sur cabin in the 1950s.

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, bookshop interior

The Henry Miller Memorial Library bookshop

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA, outdoor movie screening

An outdoor screening, part of the Big Sur International Short Film Series, at the Henry Miller Memorial Library.

TIM BUTTON: In a previous post, I wrote about one of my favorite historic house museums, the Mills Mansion at Staatsburgh in New York’s Hudson River Valley. The 1896 remodel and enlargement of a house belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills—she was a Livingston, one of the region’s oldest and most distinguished families—it was designed by Stanford White of starchitects McKim, Mead & White, and is an outstanding example of the Gilded Age country estate. But the same year McKim, Mead & White were commissioned with what is in many ways an equally impressive specimen of the era’s chateau-on-the-Hudson style: the Vanderbilt Mansion in nearby Hyde Park.

The Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, eastern facade

The Vanderbilt Mansion at Hyde Park in New York’s Hudson River Valley, designed in 1896 by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White.

Faced in gleaming Indiana limestone rather than the Mills Mansion’s white stucco, the fifty-four-room Neoclassical Beaux-Arts house (the only one ever built in the Hudson River Valley) was designed by Charles Follen McKim; Stanford White assisted McKim by serving as an antiques buyer for the project, whose interiors were variously executed between 1896 and 1899 by Herter Brothers, A.H. Davenport, Georges Glaenzer, and Ogden Codman, Jr.

The house belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Frederick William Vanderbilt, one of the lower-key branches of that formidable family of conspicuous consumers. But they were still not quite “established” enough for Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a representative of the old order of Hudson Valley families, characterized the Vanderbilt’s house as a “modern castle” lacking in historical significance compared with the neighboring Mills estate with its Livingston lineage. The former first lady was particularly critical of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s fussy, pretentious taste, writing in 1947 wrote that she “had a passion for bows and, with her own hands, used to decorate every bathroom with bows tied on everything in sight. . . . There are still on the tables some photographs of the kings and queens whom Mrs. Vanderbilt knew in Europe, for it was the era of kings and queens and knowing them made a few of us feel more important.”

Mrs. Roosevelt notwithstanding, the Vanderbilt Mansion’s potent combination of masterful architecture in an Arcadian landscape offers a compelling vision of how the American billionaire class spent it in the late 19th century.

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, northern facade

Perfectly positioned on the right bank of the Hudson River, the Indiana limestone mansion stands on the site of a Greek Revival house that was razed when it proved too structurally unsound to expand. 

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York, Mrs Vanderbilt's Bedroom

 Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom suite on the mansion’s second floor, was designed by Ogden Codman, Jr., co-author with Edith Wharton of The Decoration of Houses (1897), which became a classic of American interior design.

The view of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York

The peerless view of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion’s superbly landscaped 300-acre park.

 

TAG Research in Action Awards, 2013

 

TAG Research in Action Awards 2013

Treatment Action Group, an invaluable AIDS research and policy think tank fighting for a vaccine and a cure for the disease, is holding its annual Research in Action Awards event in the early evening of Sunday, December 15. Honorees this year are Anderson Cooper, Olympia Dukakis, and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend. I’ll be there in full support of this important and inspiring organization and I hope you’ll consider attending too. For full details, click here.

 

If You Can Make It There: 2013 Design Leadership Summit, New York City

2013 Design Leadership Summit, New York City

Each year, the Design Leadership Networka by-invitation association of outstanding interior designers, architects, landscape designers, construction managers, members of the media, and product company executives, holds the Design Leadership Summita conference that brings DLN members together for relationship building, learning, sharing ideas, and growing together as a community. This month, the Eighth Annual Summit was held in New York City, and five of us from Designers Collaborative–Laura Bohn, Barry Goralnick, Tim Button, Glenn Gissler, and new member Alison Spear–attended. (Glenn is an old hand, having attended previous summits in Charleston, New Orleans, Copenhagen, Berlin and, last year, Marrakech, which he blogged about here.) 

The conference was co-hosted by DLN’s founder, Peter Sallik, Managing Partner of Design Investors, CEO of Waterworks, and co-founder and CEO of Dering Hall; Kate Kelly Smith,  SVP Publishing Director of the Hearst Design Group; and John Edelman, President & CEO of Design Within Reach. “They did an amazing job to create a program of rich content, dynamic speakers, fantastic venues, and good food!” says Glenn Gissler.

Norman Forster interviewed by Paul Goldberger at the Design Leadership Summit, New York, 2013
Architect Norman Foster interviewd by critic Paul Goldberger at the 2013 Design Leadership Summit, New York

The three-day event explored the most powerful forces shaping the design market and  community today: technology, fashion, art and culture, media and marketing, and urban and hospitality development. Speakers included starchitect Norman Foster interviewed by architecture critic Paul Goldberger; Elle Decor editor-in-chief Michael Boodro; fashion designer Oscar de la Renta interviewed by interior designer Bunny Williams; real estate mogul Aby Rosen; Hearst Design Group editor-in-chief Newell Turner; and architect and designer David Rockwell interviewed by restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Oscar de la Renta interviewed by Bunny Williams at the 2013 Design Leadership Summit, New York
Oscar de la Renta in conversation with Bunny Williams

While our five attendees were dazzled and informed by the array of talent, expertise, and achievement involved, they were particularly impressed by Huffington Post founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington: “She was fabulous,” says Tim Button. “She spoke extensively on health and well being–in our industry stress and lack of sleep are constant worries! And she addressed multitasking, which she doesn’t believe in!” Laura Bohn adds: “It was interesting hearing a human dynamo like Arianna emphasizing the importance of getting adequate rest and taking time away from your cell phone.”

Arianna Huffington at the Design Leadership Summit, New York, 2013

Arianna Huffington urged designers to take time to take care of themselves, unplug from technology, and create a safe, relaxing, well-designed haven.

They also raved about Andy Spade, the co-founder of the advertising, marketing, and brand strategy firm Partners & Spade: “Since I’m focusing on product as well as design projects, I found what he had to say very interesting,” says Barry Goralnick. “I liked hearing how he evolved the Kate Spade and Jack Spade fashion and lifestyle brands, creating good products backed up by smart positioning and a real relationship to the end users. When he explained the strategy, you thought, ‘Of course, what other way would one conceive of that?’”

Andy Spade at the Design Leadership Summit, New York, 2013

Andy Spade Spade emphasized the importance of establishing the right partnerships and also knowing exactly what your brand stands for.