we will be spending more time inside, Covid-hibernating. As winter sets in, and the snow descends upon us, Here, for your reclining, or seated, pleasure: a selection of photographs culled from my archives.
Sofas appear to be the retreat of choice with a few settees and a chaise-lounge added to the mix.
And why, you might ask, not a couch among them?
Well, according to
House & Garden, home decorators have unanimously declared: “A couch is only used to lie on when one is in analysis.”
In her famous 1950’s guide to linguistic snobbery, aristocratic author
Nancy Mitford set out a list of words that were ‘U’ and ‘non-U.’ The word was deemed ‘non U’ — or non upper class. couch
So hunker down, stay warm and I hope there’s a comfy sofa somewhere in your life.
Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin. “Every afternoon I lie down and go to the movies for free. Naps are a great way to kill time. If I have nothing to do I’ll take one. My dreams are so worthwhile.”
Katherine Anne Porter perched on her velvet sofa with an ornate gold gilt back trim. Having made a boatload of money on Ship of Fools, Ms. Porter had acquired a beautiful apartment in College Park Maryland — filled with beautiful furniture and a very large crystal chandelier.
Anthony Powell in his country home in Somerset, a Regency mini-mansion called The Chantry near Bath. Often referred to as England’s eminent gentieman of letters, his library reflected the elegance portrayed in his twelve-volume novel series, A Dance to the Music of Time.
Truman Capote. “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”
Toni Morrison. “Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make contact, where they become the conduit or where they engage in the mysterious process. For me, light is the signal of transition. It’s being there ‘before’ it arrives. It enables me in some sense.”
Toni Morrison was fortunate to have two sofas, one for writing and a second one for rereading what she had written.
Robert Gottlieb working on a manuscript in his Knopf office. Among Bob’s authors: Doris Lessing, Joe Heller, Robert Caro, Lauren Bacall, and Toni Morrison. “Standing, sitting, or lying down — editing is the same job however you do it. Everything depends on how your back is holding up on any given day. But a good sofa is always a blessing!”
E.L Doctorow often coped with writer’s block by sitting in the glassed-in porch of his New Rochelle house. The large beige-shingled Victorian Colonial hybrid became the inspiration for Edgar’s 1975 novel Ragtime. I’m looking forward to Bruce Weber’s upcoming biography of Doctorow.
Actor James Kirkwood would often visit Tennesse Williams, his Key West neighbor, and they would watch the evening news together. This custom would be followed by Williams, as good a chef as he was a playwright, cooking up one of his dinners.
Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter, longtime residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Edmund Wilson in Naples, Florida where he and his wife Elena had rented an apartment for the winter. Mr. Wilson was not feeling very well when I arrived and was anxious to take a nap. As I was leaving he said, “I feel as though I’ve let you down terribly.” I told him that he hadn’t at all but perhaps when he was feeling better I could come up to Wellfleet (where he and Elena summered) and take a few pictures there as he had written so much about it. He said that I would be welcome — and his last words to me were,“But I don’t think I’m ever going to be feeling better.” The man of letters died three months later having returned to the 172-year-old stone house in Talcottville that served as the last setting of his book Upstate. He was 77 years old.
Edward Albee during the run of his play Seascape when he shared an office with Richard Barr and Charles Woodward, the co-producers of the play.
Joe Heller reading on a summer afternoon in Amagansett.
Playright Terrence McNally betwixt sofa and coffee table playing with Charlie his Cairn Terrier.
John Ashbery in his Chelsea apartment. On the wall over the modern sofa hangs an early Jane Freilicher still-life — a prized possession from his dear friend.
Nan Talese and Ian McEwan share a settee (in the style of Louis XVI) at the Taleses’ Manhatttan townhouse. Nan had edited Atonement and hosted a publication party in honor of her longtime author.
John Gardner in his London flat on what has to be the weirdest sofa I’ve ever seen. Even Nancy Mitford would be at a loss for words.
Bella Abzug in her Washington D.C. Congressional Office.
Amy Hempel writes with Juanita by her side.
Oliver Sacks, plagued with a bad back, took every opportunity to lie down.
Philip Hamburger was a staff writer at The New Yorker for 65 years where he worked with every editor in the magazine’s history starting with Harold Ross. An afternoon nap in his office when he returned from lunch was a daily ritual.
Carol Channing and Berry Berenson (with her son Elvis Perkins) join Halston in his townhouse for lunch in his all-white living room.
Victor Navasky, renowned for his “shoe-leather” reporting, at home on the Upper West Side.
Poet Rita Dove writing at a desk built for her by her father. She enjoyed candlelight and an occasional snooze when she wrote long into the night. “What I love about my cabin — what I always forget that I love until I open the door and step into it — is the absolute quiet. Oh, not the dead silence of a studio. A silence so physical that you gasp for air; and it’s not the allegorical silence of an empty apartment with its creaks and sniffles and traffic, a dull roar below and the neighbors’ muffled treading overhead. No, this is the silence of the world: birds shifting weights on the branches, the branches squeaking against other twigs, the deer hoosching through the woods …. It’s a silence where you can hear your blood in your chest, if you choose to listen.”
Gore Vidal, exhausted after a long day of TV appearances signing books and having a seminar for students, takes a breather in an office at Bantam. Gore often did four or five TV appearances in a day.
Senator Robert Dole and his wife Elizabeth relax in their Watergate apartment after a long day in Washington D.C.
Studs Terkel at the end of a day relaxing in his Chicago apartment. The oral historian resting his feet after a long day of conversations with mostly “ordinary” people discussing their lives.
George Harrison and Bob Dylan playing their guitars in Woodstock. Those are Bob’s paintings on the wall.
Ricky Jay in his New York apartment adorned with Ricky’s homage to his muse, Houdini. On the coffee table you can see several copies of Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. The master-showman magician, actor, scholar, special effects consultant and author was dubbed “the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive.”
Donna Tartt with her pugs, Pongo (nestled atop cushion) and Seisel, in her Manhattan apartment.
Novelist John Irving back in the days when he lived on Arcadia Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His breakthrough novel, The World According to Garp, had just been published.
Clyde Edgerton at home in Durham, North Carolina. It’s hard to know if this is a sofa or a striped closet with cushions.
P.G. Wodehouse (known as Plummy to his friends) and his wife Ethel enjoy afternoon tea at home in Remsenburg, NY.
E.B. White with his pal Susy in North Brooklin, Maine.
Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley were both professors at Oxford University where they lived. Comfy sofa notwithstanding, the English novelist was quite content to sit on the floor.
Irving Berlin stretched out on his office sofa reading a book called Dancing in the Dark by Howard Dietz, whom he had known since the early thirties.
Tom Wolfe, elegant as always, on his tufted settee in his Manhattan townhouse.
Anita Loos began writing screenplays for movie pioneer D.W. Griffith in 1912 and by the time she left Hollywood in 1942 she had turned out some 200 scenarios for such stars as Fairbanks, Gable, Crawford and Harlow. “When I wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1925 I didn’t know I was writing up the culture of the twenties. Years later I found out I had written about a certain lifestyle and I suppose you could call that history.” Asked why she continued to get up at four every morning and start writing, Ms. Loos replied: “My publisher gave me a big advance — that’s all. I write for money. Writing is the only racket I know.”