Peter Rogers

Featured image
Peter Rogers

This past Tuesday JH and I went up to Kent, Connecticut for the day to visit Peter Rogers who has his country house on the market since he’s decided to acquire a second home in New Orleans (he has an apartment just off Sutton Place). Peter is a boy from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and evidently they’ve all got New Orleans in their blood. As Peter once explained to me, “that is the city we went to when we were growing up, the way people around here go to New York.”

I’ve been visiting Peter at his property since before he built it. Several years ago we posted a Diary entry about visiting the site when they were laying the foundation. Having blasted through the rocky top, he’d decided he was going to call the place (17 acres) “On the Rocks.”

When he told me about his planned acquisition, I wanted to get a record of the place because it’s one of the few houses I’ve ever known where I’ve actually thought “I could live here very comfortably.” So could a lot of people, as you can see.

Peter Rogers gives us an enthusiastic tour of the site. October 2003.

Peter Rogers, for those of you who don’t know, is a legendary advertising genius who had a very successful career and agency branding and selling luxury goods to the world, much of which still remembers some of his slogans, even if they never heard of him. One of his most famous campaigns, now arguably the longest running ad campaign in history is the Blackgama fur “What Becomes A Legend Most.” Peter left that one behind many many years ago but it continues without him. Another famous slogan that every thirty-something and up remembers from childhood was “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good” Vidal Sassoon. I’d venture to say that those nine words made him rich.

His career made his life rich. Growing up in Hattiesburg, he had an afterschool job working in the local department store. And because he was creative, he was given the job of working on the window displays. The man who owned the business recognized talent in the kid and eventually decided to give Peter some advice. That advice was: go to New York where you can flourish with this talent. The rest, as they say, is history.

Peter sold his business in the early 90s and from the looks of it, he never regretted the departure. The message instead, seems to be: living well is the best revenge.

The house on the mountaintop articulates that for me. It’s a long private road up the hill, zig-zagging through meadows until the hilltop pavilion is revealed at the top of a large sloping lawn bordered by an enormous retaining wall made up of the rocks he blasted away to make the site.

Although there are houses nearby, this place nevertheless has a sense of privacy which looks out on serenely sleepy green mountain ranges for as far as the eye can see both east and west. It’s an aerie, a real one. An ideal one to this writer.

DPC and Peter Rogers plotting the land (and who knows what else).

I remember hearing about the plan since he designed the place himself. He wanted a pavilion with a feeling of space, adequate sleeping space for family and/or guests, high ceilings in the public rooms with tall windows to let in all the light, slate floors, a double fireplace (living room and dining room) and a small adjacent studio where he could (and now does) paint.

This is not his first country house. He’s one of those people who loves the process of creating spaces. For years he had a place on Fire Island, as well as a penthouse on Park Avenue. When he sold Fire Island he bought and restored a big house in Locust Valley. Locust Valley was a little sleepy for a very active single man who likes the sophisticated New York life. Friends in Litchfield County got his ear.

He told the broker he was looking for woods and a view. This had been farmland. It was overgrown and bare of trees which had been regularly harvested for years. When he saw the view, he knew this was it.

He loved the double view and envisioned a house you could see through. He knew the floors would be stone and the walls would be stucco inside and out. The central rooms are each 20 by 20 with 16 foot ceilings and14 foot windows. The two adjoining sections: den, bedroom, kitchen, and the master bedroom, guest bedroom and utility rooms, are also 20 by 20 with 12 foot ceilings. There is another guest room with bath on the lower level its own view of the eastern hills and dales.

The approach to the house. The stone building on the left is the studio.
The view from the top of the driveway looking west. It as a very hazy day. On a clearer day the view of mountain and hilltops extended for many miles.
Clockwise from top left: Bedroom and studio; the front central part of the house from behind the retaining wall built from rocks detonated in the development of the property; and the rock garden (and natural spring) out behind the studio.
The entrance.
A view of the back of the house overlooking the pool.
The view to the east, beyond the pool.

Perspective from the center of the kitchen looking into the dining room. Chandelier from the Antiques Center in Stamford. Painting by Olga Antonova, Galerie Henoch, New York; palms on either side of the fireplace are classic El Morocco palm lights. The Rug is by Stark. Table by Lyle Umbach, iron base with polished limestone top. The chairs are Frances Elkins-style, inspired by a design for Syrie Maugham, from Lou Marotta, New York.

L. to r.: Chest (pair) from Sentimento, New York which made the second to order. The bottles were gifts from Nancy Novogrod (orange, Volume 1) and Geoffrey Beene (the three). The Giacometti-style lamp (a pair) from Volume 1 in Warren, Connecticut.; The bronze fawn from Niall Smith, New York. Vases are Venetian Glass.
Looking from into the living room. Lamps on either side of the fireplace are French Carrousel poles re-fashioned, purchased at the Washington (CT) Library Antiques show. Upholstered armchairs by Trade France. Ottoman from Duane Antiques on Duane Street. Fireplace mirror from Ann Morris, New York. Rug: handmade to look like cowhide from Stark. Rogers designed it.
Photographs of Peter with two of his all time honeys, Liz Smith and the late Gov. Ann Richards (taken by JH). In the photo in front is, l. to r., Peter, Casey Ribicoff, Alex Hitz, Elizabeth Peabody, Adolfo DPC and Liz Smith.
L. to r.: Another view of the living room.; Painting: Torcello, outside Venice. Italian School; chandelier from the Newell Gallery; leather sofa, custom made; table by Billie Haines from the estate of Claudette Colbert; Beidermeir chairs from Niall Smith; end table lamps Venetian (from Venice).
Looking into a guest bedroom: Chest from Sentimento, New York; green vase, Bob Ellsworth (Chinese); duck candlesticks from a shop on Long Island; Leafback chair from Decor Francaise on Lexington Avenue; painting by Samuel Adoquei.
Chrome-based, glass topped tables from Lou Marotta; painting also by Samuel Adoquei. The mirrors are part of a three-part screen that was in Colbert’s dressing room at her house in Barbados.
L. to r.: Looking into the master bedroom. The desk is from an antique shop in Locust Valley. The chair is from R.T. Facts in Kent.; The oval portrait over the bust is of Peter’s father who was known as the handsomest man in Hattiesburg, and who drove the first car ever purchased in Hattiesburg. The car belonged to the local banker and Mr. Rogers was his driver. As a result Mr. Rogers opened the first auto repair shop in Hattiesburg.
The lamps are from the annual antiques show on the Chelsea Piers. Painting by Steven Kuzma. The end tables are from R. T. Facts. The camels, copies of a pair Chanel kept in her apartment in Paris. R.T. Facts made them into tables for Peter.

Clockwise from above, left: Painting of window washers also by Steven Kuzma; chair from Decor Francaise; close up of an end table.

Peter is one of those people who enjoys the process of shopping for the items to decorate and furnish the house. Although some of his most interesting decorating to me is the memorabilia — especially the photographs from the “What Becomes A Legend Most” ads. A lot of very famous, even legendary women about each of whom Peter has a story. Some of them became lifelong friends like Joan Crawford (whom he always refers to as Crawford) and Claudette Colbert (Claudette) and Ethel Merman. These are now assigned to the Smithsonian collection.
In his bedroom is a framed Blackgama Ad with Lillian Hellman relaxing with a cigarette. There is an inscription “To Claudette – I owe it all to you.”

I asked Peter what that was all about. It was another one of those stories. Ginger Rogers had agreed to do an ad but on the day she was scheduled, she didn’t show up. Peter had already booked Way Bandy the makeup master and Bill King the photographer. He called Rogers’ cousin Phyllis Cerf Wagner who didn’t know where she was. Then he called Claudette and told her of his dilemma. He wondered if he could find a substitute…immediately.

Clockwise from above: Lavatory, Peter calls the Belle Watley Powder Room, mirror from Volume 1. Photos on the left from Blackgama campaign, Bette Davis and Catherine Deneuve; a corner of the master bedroom; and another corner of the master with the Blackgama photo of Lillian Hellman inscribed to Claudette Colbert, “I owe it all to you.”

Claudette told him she was about to go to lunch with Lillian Hellman? Would she do? Peter loved the idea. “Do you think she’ll do it? This afternoon?” “I’ll ask,” said Claudette.

Less than an hour later the phone rang. It was Claudette. “There’s a legend here, and she’d like to speak with you.” Hellman got on the phone. “When?” she asked. “How about after lunch,” he answered. “I’ll be there.”

The picture rejuvenated the campaign. Lillian Hellman was a “serious” writer/intellectual although Peter soon realized that she was very vain and loved being a “Legend.” Meanwhile it got a lot of notice. Bill Buckley, one of Hellman’s arch-detractors/opposing opinionators, put the photographer on the cover of his magazine and called Hellman out on it. She loved it.

The agency and the client got a lot of letters on it. People loved it. One fan wrote in: “How wonderful you did Bert Lahr.”

A wall of the “Legends” with their magic making retouching that has become more exposed with age. These are going to the Smithsonian. The Roman bust (alabaster) is from Jewel & Company, Jackson, Mississippi.
L. to r.: Entry view of the northwest guest bedroom. Biedermeir tablesare from Niall Smith.; Bookcase corner with portrait from Chelsea Piers Antiques Show.

Northwest guest bedroom. Biedermeir mirror from Niall Smith. Boat painting and portrait, a gift of Claudette Colbert. Empire headboard bed from Black Swan Antiques in Washington Depot, CT. Over the bed, Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (French), self-portrait overlooking the Place Vendome.
The den. Illustration of Claudette Colbert by James Montgomery Flagg who’d met the actress on a transatlantic crossing, did her portrait and gave it to her. Acquired from the estate of a friend of both Peter and Colbert.
The den. Daybed, French Country from a shop in New Orleans. The paintings are by a man who sells them every night in San Marco in Venice. Peter bought them and took them to a family of framers — father, mother, son on the canal across from Palazzo Cini. The sconces are from Black Swan Antiques.
Clockwise from top left: In the den. The mirror is from Black Swan, metal table from Volume 1, leafback chair from Decor Francaise, needlepoint pillows of some of Peter’s famous slogans (lower right is “Wrap yourself in something special — Emba Mink”).
Looking into the studio, and the studio from its western side.
Peter’s portraits of Beverly Sills, Louise Grunwald and Elaine Stritch. Above are two photographs by Horst, a gift of the photographer.
Peter hired several great fashion photographers to do ads for Bill Blass. Among them was Horst who had not been working very much at that point in his life. They struck up a friendship as a result and Horst gave Peter these two portraits he’d taken – one of himself and Gertrude Stein and this iconic one of Chanel.
Portrait in process of Ann Richards for her daughter.
The white canine is a beloved longtime friend, idolized and adored by her owner, who has gone on to her rewards.
L. to r.: The lady in blue on red, daughter of Gil Shiva and Susan Stein.; Portrait in progress of Barbara Liberman (left) and the son and daughter of Nancy and John Novogrod.

The basement waiting to be turned into a combination gym and media room.
L. to r.: The trainer’s instructions in pictures.; The family garage. Peter got his classic Mercedes from Geoffrey Beene.
The downstairs guest bedroom. Beds from the estate of Claudette Colbert. Mirrors: one bought and one copied. Table next to the bed, Art Deco from Doyle Auction Galleries.

Recent Posts