Friday, May 10, 2013

Harriette Rose Katz

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

There’s a warmth and exuberance to Harriette Rose Katz that must surely infuse the many, many parties and weddings she’s planned for decades now. Variously named the “Balanchine of the buffet table” [New York magazine] and the “Queen of Top-of-the-line Social” (The Wall Street Journal], she’s something of a New York fixture. We yakked and yakked—too much to include here. She also fed us, having laid on a kind of miniature banquet worthy of the palace of Versailles, only we were on the Upper East Side in a fairly small, but richly appointed, apartment. But it’s not been an easy ride for her. Harriette was widowed twice and was also left with a small baby to bring up alone. She set up the successful event planning business she has today pretty much on her own. She now runs the business with her daughter and her niece in an office above the apartment where the interview took place and says that she still wakes up every morning saying, “So what else is happening?”


I’m fascinated by your style—and I’ve been looking at your website—if those photographs were the only evidence left at the end of the world, the aliens would be left thinking that we still lived in some Baroque or Rococo era. And then there’s this banquet you’ve laid out for us. You just don’t seem to be scared of excess.

Me? We can also go the other way and really show very contemporary, very clean lines. You know we update the website every week after a party, so you’ll never see the same thing week after week.

How many parties do you every year?

Oh my God, I can’t even name them because we do weddings, bar mitzvahs, 40th birthday parties, 50th parties—we’re doing a 75th party!
In the foyer sumptuous flower arrangements burst with color atop a hall table from Bergdorf Goodman. Sconces from Leah Antiques flank a federal early 19th-century carved gilt wood mirror from Eli Wilner. An 18th-century Queen Anne chinoiserie secretary from Howard Kaplan antiques dominates a wall of the foyer.
The foyer's detailed floors were painted to resemble inlay and jewels by Artgroove after a design provided by Harriette's friend and decorator Harry Heissmann.
A view into the living/dining room from the foyer. The painting is "Les Mandarines" bought in Saint Paul de Vence last summer.
A close up of the foyer flower arrangement by Mark Rose.
A Swedish clock From Leah Antiques and a rare Willy Daro bronze floor lamp with shell blossoms from the 1970s dominate a corner of the living area.
French oval-back dining chairs surround a dining room table that expands to seat twelve guests.
Harriette offered us a feast of Turkish delicacies.
So I read a description in New York magazine of something you created for a party—the Tuscan Table: “a bowerlike structure that spirals towards the ceiling, fried calamari, baked stuffed clams, and eggplant rollatine buttressed by copious quantities of focaccia.” Are these sorts of things your ideas?

Yes. I’m the one who invented the Tuscan Table. Let me tell you what happened. We were in Capri. We used to go to Capri every year. And at [a restaurant] lunch, they would put out this amazing, room temperature, fork and finger food. We were doing the opening of a building for Taubman. As soon as I got off the plane, literally, I called the caterer and I said, “This is what I need you to do. And we did a round table, 72 inches, and on top of it we laid milk crates and put another table and then another milk crate and then another table[top]. And then I swathed it in grape vine. It meant people could go in here, here, here … no lines! No chef having to serve you. But I gave up the Tuscan Table because everybody started to do it. But everybody knows I started it. It makes me laugh. It’s so … excessive.

Where are you getting your ideas then?

From travel.

And then you take it to another dimension.

I do. But I hire designers. You have to trust the people that you’re working with.
Harriette's apartment is filled weekly with fresh flowers by Mark Rose Flowers & Events.  A well-stocked bar stands atop a Louis XVI marquetry ormolu commode.  Custom lampshades from Blanche Field complete a pair of stunning crystal sconces. A French Charles X porcelain vase circa 1870 from David Duncan Antiques holds magnolia branches.
The detailed Italian micro-mosaic above the sofa depicts the Doves of Pluny and is from Hadassa Antiques in the Manhattan Art and Antiques Center. 
 A 1970's gilt bronze sculpture by Italian artist Carmelo Cappello from Newel stands atop a coffee table by Karl Springer.
Vibrant roses fill a Lalique vase on the living room coffee table.
The living room sofa, which Harriette purchased in 1984, is now upholstered in a silk damask from Scalamandré and is filled with a variety of finely detailed down-filled pillows.
A sculpture of a mother and child by French artist Henri Pernot and one of a pair of Etruscan style horses from Newel both stand on the living room windowsill.
Adorable Zoe.
What spectacular thing would you like to do, or perhaps have recently done?

Let me tell you something, if you put New Yorkers in a room at a party, we’re not interested in all these groaning boards of food—we’re not. You pass beautiful hors d’oeuvres and then what happens, we do sushi, sometimes on matching trays. People love Peking duck and dim sum. And that’s it. I don’t like carving stations and things like that.

But that’s very dated.

It’s all coming back—it’s so retro.

So the best thing I read about you was that 2008 New York magazine piece about bar mitzvahs. I couldn’t get over the lengths parents went to at that time to throw the most lavish party. I can’t believe that still goes on, does it?

Absolutely not. There is such a change.
A gilt oval-back Louis XV-XVI style chair stands in front of a Louis XVI, marble top chiffonier. The rug is a 1950s Kerman from Symourgh International.
A lamp that Harriette inherited from her mother stands behind a favorite Art Nouveau bronze sculpture and a silver shell dish.
An ornately carved marble fireplace mantel was reduced in size to fit Harriette's fireplace. The 19th-century French ormolu and bronze andirons are from Hadassa Antiques.
Arranged upon the fireplace mantle is a pair of crystal urns from Nesle. In the center is a whimsical rhinoceros clock from Sutton Clock Shop. The oil painting belonged to Harriette's second husband.
In the breakfast alcove a chandelier from Marvin Alexander hangs above a Karl Springer table. English regency gilt sconces on the rear wall are from David Duncan antiques.  The painting 'Italian Village' is by American artist, Max Kuehne.
Zoe peeking out from under the breakfast table.
Fresh lemons and artichokes fill the kitchen countertop. The kitchen, which was fitted with olive wood cabinets, is by Manhattan Kitchen & Bath.
The descriptions of those parties … they were shocking actually.
[Sian] They sent out a crystal globe of the world as the invitation and they had wild animals from around the world at the bar mitzvah.

How about the kid being brought in on a mechanical tiger? But things are very different. I want to tell you what it’s like. Even at the kids’ parties, if it’s going to be excessive, that just means you’re going to have a few more games. People love to have parties during the day now. Here’s another big change. Instead of going to the temple, we have [someone] do the service with the kids. For instance let’s talk about my granddaughter. My granddaughter was bat mitzvah-ed a year ago at The Pierre and we did the service there. We created Central Synagogue. We made these stained glass windows out of lighting. And then we had this lovely lunch in the Cotillion Room and the whole buffet was under sukkahs. It was so beautiful!

That’s still not what I would consider low key.

It was low key. There was no music; we didn’t have dancing. It really was low key.

I don’t mean to keep harping on this article but the voices of reason were quite often those of the kids being bar mitzvah-ed. The boys didn’t think the girls looked any better after all the beauty treatments and expensive dresses; they didn’t want to dance. And the girls all sounded tired and overwhelmed.

That was when they did the nighttime parties. And there were too many of them all happening on the same weekend.
Art by Eduardo Terranova shimmers against the neutral tones of Harriette's study. A pullout sofa is upholstered in Pindler and Pindler fabric with Samuel & Sons trim selected by Harriette's decorator, Harry Heissmann.
In the study Russian Empire chairs from Laserow Antiques surround a French Directoire-style desk from Lerebours Antiques. Hanging on a wall behind a Russian Empire desk chair is a mid-century collage of a Roman statue on a gold background. Harriette purchased the work from Newel.
A photograph of Harriette and her daughter Melissa, and her niece, Claudia, stands behind a group of Lalique cats.
A handsome tortoiseshell desk set from Linda Horn Antiques is arranged next to a family photo.
A bronze sculpture of a lion from Laserow Antiques stands upon the windowsill in the study.
A flat screen TV hangs above a birdseye maple credenza from Harborview Antiques in Stamford.
A bouquet filled with anemones and roses brightens the study. The coffee table is from Niermann Weeks.
The walls and counter of the study bath are covered in cloud onyx from Puccio Marble and Onyx.
Gold plated sink and shower fixtures are topped with crystal starfish handles from Lalique.
You see all the underpinnings of everything. What you are more than anything, is practical.

If it doesn’t work in my head, it doesn’t work. We do a timing schedule and that timing schedule tells you exactly what’s happening.

Like a space launch.

That’s exactly right.

What sort of qualities do you need to have to organize parties?

First of all energy, lots of energy. And you have to love what you do. I still wake up every morning saying, “So what else is happening?”
In the bedroom hallway, the Lobmeyer chandelier from Austria circa 1960s is from High Style Deco. Harriette's bedroom. Sumptuous silk pillows and bedcover provide a soft landing after a hectic day. The bed from Avery Boardman.
A painting of harlequins by Russian artist Marina Grigoryan hangs in a niche above Harriette's bed.
The leopard- patterned carpet is from Stark.
High gloss lacquer built-ins provide ample storage in Harriette's bedroom. A crystal chandelier from Geneva Galleries hangs from the ceiling. This 17th century painting of Paris and Helen returning to Troy by Claude Vignon was Harriette's first major purchase of art.
Photos of family and friends are grouped atop Harriette's desk in a corner of her bedroom.
A ceiling fixture from David Duncan antiques illuminates the interior of Harriette's closet.
The bedroom closet is filled with gowns, shoes and purses that Harriette wears to the many events she plans.
Harriette's bath is outfitted with honey onyx walls and counter. The sink and fixtures are from Sherle Wagner.
How are you as a guest?

The only thing that ever annoys me is the volume [of the music]. I am so not into being critical. I’ll always find something to eat! I’m not working—I don’t care! And I love, love, love to entertain. I love to cook [gestures to a bowl of artichokes in the kitchen] I can’t wait to make those artichokes! Aren’t they the most gorgeous artichokes? We feed the office! We feed everybody!

What would be your final meal?

Sausage and peppers—I’d probably die of the indigestion.

Do you like going to parties?

No!