Decorator City
Running through Central Park with El Dorado's twin towers behind. 1:30 PM.
Looking east from 51st Street and Madison Avenue towards 570 Lexington (the original General Electric Building). 8:25 PM.

Yesterday was a sunny chilly new Spring day in the City. Daffodils blooming around the trees on East End Avenue.

Last night over at the Rainbow Room
high above Rockefeller Center Dominique Browning and Lori Burgess, editor-in-chief and publisher, respectively, of House & Garden, hosted what they call “a seminal research project,” the magazine’s Best On the Best 2004 Awards.

Hundreds of interior designers from all over the country shared their knowledge of Who Is Who And What’s What in the business of interiors – from floor to ceiling, from carpet to chandelier, from doorknobs to ice buckets. There were ten different categories of fabrics, alone. And the result was the evening’s honoring the interior design community’s preferred brands and products.

And in the meantime, they broke out the Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne and passed the Cipriani canapes to celebrate. Mayer Rus, the magazine’s flamboyant design editor and “Testy Tastemaker” and Thom Filicia, the decorator now known to millions of the rest of us because of his appearances on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy were co-emcees. Everything else was serious business. For a party, that is.

All kinds of categories: Best Showroom (Holly Hunt), Best Furniture to the Trade (Holly Hunt), Best Furniture in Retail (Baker), Best Outdoor Furniture (Brown Jordan), Best Carpet (Stark, surprise, surprise); Best Floor Lamp, Best Chandelier, Best You-Name-It – they filled in all the blanks. It wasn’t exactly the Oscars, or the Golden Globes but if you wanna know about the Trims business (Best Accessories and Trim (Houle), this was the place to be).

Big crowd, covered the entire territory. And the design community is a good-looking, ready-for-fun, all-business bunch, so Hollywood has nothing on them. They clapped and oohed and ahhed, and wept and laughed (I’m getting a little carried away here, but you get the gist). This is Noo Yawk baby and nuthin’s no-kiddin’-around. (Best Laminates – Wood, Pergo; Best Dishwashers – Miele; Best Bathflooring – Waterworks, if you really need to know). Everything, including the Kitchen Sink got an Award last night.

JH was there with his Digital along with Patrick McMullan and his Army of Photogs, and everyone was camera-ready. The Perrier Jouet might have had a little hand in it too.

Thom Filicia, Mayer Rus, Holly Hunt, and Lori Burgess meet and greet
Arthur Dunnam, Robert Rufino, Nas Tesfit, and Tom Lampson
Charlotte Frieze with Scott and Leslie Kravet
Christopher and Jane Peacock with Tony Manning
Ashley Schiff and DPC
Brian, Cynthia, and James Frank
Dominique Browning, Eric Cohler, and Bernadette Murray
Kelly Graham and John Barman
Tom Cashin and Jay Johnson
L. to r.: Bernadette Murray in Carmen Marc Valvo; Mayer Rus; Charles Cohen, Clo Jacobs, Monica Cheslak, and Joe Kaplan.

The last word. Tonight’s event, for example, is prime New York social life at this stage in the game. That is not to say a perfect example, because there is great variety at all times out there. However, what it was was entirely a promo. A promo for the magazine, a promo for the advertisers, a promo for the decorators, for the industry. All disguised as a party. And not bad. No one left full of resentment about any of it. Done well, as well as most cocktail parties are done – great venue, excellent hors d’oeurves, decorated by Avi Adler with spring blossoms – I think they were cherry – and beautifully done. Rather fabulous, all-in-all. A young-ish, energetic audience; in fact lots of young people, hard-working New Yorkers, people who want to Go Somewhere. And here they were at the end of what for many was probably a long day, and looking rather glam and pulled together. And having a good time. They have a good time when they get together, these design industry people. Maybe it’s because a certain aspect of their lives is like kids at play. Something we all could use a little more of. I didn’t say Kids At Play, however; I said LIKE kids at play.

All of Which, Speaking of Parties and Decorating and Whence It Came

Over the weekend I read a little gem of a memoir by an Austrian baron named Hubert von Pantz.
The baron, who lived his long life entirely in the 20th Century, led a charmed life from the beginning. He came from an aristocratic family of little means which by the time of the Second World War diminished to almost zero.

However, the baron, well-connected and popular, was a real bon vivant with an optimism probably assisted by his well-bornness. From the sound of it, in his youth and then some, he had a very good time as well as every beautiful woman (and some maybe not so beautiful) who took his eye.

Elsie de Wolfe

Although he played hard, he was not one to feel demeaned by hard work. Before the War, in an effort to make a living, he created the Schloss Mittersill Club near Salzburg, a private resort that attracted the rich and the European aristos. He managed to get out of Austria before the Nazis marched in, and came to the US where he re-created the Mittersill Village (this time open to the public) in New Hampshire. Later he married a very rich widow named Terry whose previous late husband was the Avon Products heir. It was a very successful union and the couple remained together happily (and happily for their myriad friends) for the rest of his life.

In this book No Risk, No Fun, he recalls the now make-believe life of the privileged before the war, and the players who served to amuse with great parties, the likes of which are rare today if not virtually unknown.

His reminiscences of Lady Mendl a/k/a Elsie de Wolfe:

“One of the great Parisian hostesses of those days was Lady Mendl,
nee Elsie de Wolfe. She was a tiny, fragile looking person with a great personality and superb taste. She had started out in life as an actress with medium success. One day she realized that all her friends were asking for her advice when it came to furnishing their flats. She decided to give up a so-so acting career in favor of professional decorating and soon became one of the most famous interior decorators in New York. Among her clients were the richest and most powerful people in America: Conde Nast (owner of Vogue Publications), the Fricks, Morgans and Vanderbilts, to name just a few.

However Elsie was by no means cowed by her illustrious clients. She did not think much of their taste and detested it if they interfered in her work. To one client who insisted that a certain room be done his way, she replied, “Let us decide who is the decorator. If it is you, here is your fee; if it is me, kindly keep off the premises until I am finished.” The subdued client never said another word.

In Paris the Mendls had two homes: a beautiful apartment on the Place d’Ilena and a house, the Villa Trianon, in Versailles. The Villa Trianon was located on the Boulevard St. Antoine, with a huge park adjoining the gardens of Versailles. One reached the property through a big iron gate flanked by a gatehouse. A short driveway led to the main building, a rather unpretentious villa with a guest house across the court.

The villa had enormous closed-in terraces where Elsie served her buffet lunches. There was also a long gallery with lovely murals painted by Drian. This led to an enormous ballroom built especially for Elsie’s Circus Ball and which is still there today.

Elsie’s Circus Ball was one of the most fabulous events I have ever been to in Paris. Besides the specially built ballroom, a huge circular tent was raised in the middle of the lawn. It was decorated with waving banners, gay balloons, serpentines and garlands of live flowers. In the bowers several orchestras, shooting galleries and a merry-go-round were set up. Long wooden tables covered with white damask tablecloths were piled high with choice delicacies, from boeuf Stroganoff and pheasant pate to champagne and caviar. Mingling with the guests were real circus people: jugglers, knife throwers, clowns, flame swallowers, fortune tellers, and so on. At midnight, lackeys with flaming torches lined up to form a live pathway between the villa and the tent along which Lady Mendl, dressed in pink tights and a spangled tutu, her hair dyed a brilliant electric blue, made her triumphant entrance on the back of a white elephant.”

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March 30, 2004, Volume IV, Number 51
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/