Tuesday, January 26th, 2021. Very cold in New York yesterday with temps below freezing, and the weatherman promising a winter storm today: snow, rain, sleet, depending on which part of the map we’re on.
Yesterday I went down to Christie’s on 49th Street at Rockefeller Center to see the exhibition of the collection of Susan and John Gutfreund’s furniture, paintings, silver, accessories which will to auctioned today and tomorrow, along with a collection of Susan’s jewels, many designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.
The Gutfreunds’ apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park was one of the most spectacular apartments in the city — with its 20 rooms, a grand staircase, a 50-foot long living room, and fantastic collection of Old World Elegance in a décor created by the legendary French interior designer Henri Samuel.
Susan herself is a collector as well as an authentic Francophile. Her knowledge is impressive and intriguing. For many years the Gutfreunds also had a beautiful (as well as elegant) apartment in a Hotel particulier on the Left Bank in Paris. I don’t know who the interior designer was but the residence was ample and naturally elegant (with a magnificent, only-in-Paris staircase that announced the residence). Hubert Givenchy and his longtime partner Philippe Venet occupied the central part of the mansion. As it was in New York, the Gutfreunds entertained a wide variety of an international elite.
With Henri Samuel and her own design interests, Susan was obviously inspired in furnishing 834. They created an ambience that was both grand and welcoming. There is a lot of “grand” in New York apartments and mansions. Hundreds probably; maybe thousands. But welcoming, visually speaking, is another eye, another talent. Susan’s was both. Guests visiting for the first time were knocked out by the beauty and the artistry and splendor factors, and seconds later they feel “right at home,” to use our American expression about the French influence.
John died after a long illness in 2016, naturally closing a chapter in Susan’s life. The Paris residence had ended some time before. In the past five years, she has continued to entertain at 834, including many receptions for various charities fund-raising that she’s involved with. It was a perfect apartment for entertaining not only the social set but also the “troops.”
Not being an interior designer, my interest in it is entirely how it “feels” to be in an inviting environment. When there is wealth there is naturally at least a hint of luxury, but without the physical and visual comforts, the feeling is indifference at best. The Gutfreund apartment, and one other apartment that belonged to parents of a college friend, are the two most memorable (grand) apartments I’ve seen and known in New York. They reflected their wealth of course, but also the arts, the international history, personality, and gracious luxury. This curious fellow whose own dwelling is simple and utilitarian 3 1/2 room flat was charmed by it all.
Click here to visit The Collection of Mr. & Mrs. John H. Gutfreund 834 Fifth Avenue at Christie’s.