Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas at Carlton Hobbs

Detail of a giltwood mirror made in Cairo, 1820.

Darlings, you might remember that Carolyne Roehm hosted her book party at Carlton Hobbs, the antiques dealer who is housed in a former Vanderbilt mansion on East 93rd Street. I decided that as a Christmas present to myself, I would return for a visit with Carlton himself to get a closer look at the house and his antiques.

The manse was built in 1930 by Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt. Here she is in a portrait by Boldini:

When she built the house she was already divorced from Mr. William Kissam Vanderbilt II:

Together they had a son William III who died in a car accident, and two daughters, Consuelo and Muriel Vanderbilt:

Mrs. Vanderbilt herself was independently wealthy, as her father, James Fair Graham, an Irish immigrant, made a fortune from one of the richest silver finds in history in Nevada. She and her sister Theresa Fair built several grand houses. For her Manhattan home she enlisted one of the most famous architects of the day, John Russell Pope, to construct a limestone neoclassical French style mansion which would be happily at home in Paris.

In 2002, London-based antiques dealer Carlton Hobbs bought the building and spent four years, with the help of his managing director Stefanie Rinza, perfectly restoring it.
Let's ring the bell.

Inside, Carlton and Stefanie give me a tour through the riches. Carlton is known for his unusual British and European antiques and art mainly from the 17th - 19th centuries. Here is the entrance hall, spotted with treasures.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's dining room was completely lined in marble and had big double doors for large crowds. It's now beautifully refurbished, and there one finds this carved wood table from Italy gilded in pure gold leaf. From around 1770, the fine carving evokes the glory of imperial Rome.

The second floor offers more galleries so up Mrs. Vanderbilt's staircase we go.

The view from the stairs:

Here is Carlton's current piece de resistance: it's an entire room from an 18th century French mansion, including paneling, bookcases and chimney piece. This library from the Hotel Gaulin in Dijon, France, was built in 1775. Can't you just picture Marie Antoinette wandering through?

It was most recently owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which divested of it. The handcarvings of lime wood and pear are poetic, and the white tinted glaze has faded to a dreamy beige.

The tops of the book shelves are decorated with free standing vases carved in three different designs.

Carlton says he has a number of suitors interested in the room. Price: $3,800.000.

In the adjoining room hangs this gold and silver gilt mirror from 1820. It was made for the palace in Cairo and bears the arms of Pasha Mohammad Ali, the creator of modern Egypt. Carlton, pictured in the mirror's reflection, likes how it incorporates both Middle Eastern and European design elements.

The opposite gallery is the largest room in the house, and Carlton reports that it was Mrs. Vanderbilt's ballroom. Here is the view out to 93rd Street.

The gallery includes this really unusual German object from 1790. It's cork facade is painted to evoke decay and rotting and the passage of time. But these cork doors swing back to reveal inside

the most luxurious mahogany and gilded bronze secretaire. The glossy richness hidden within the humble exterior was breathtaking. Price: $1,450,000.

I loved this bureau, one of a pair, made of ebony and decorated with gilt brass and tortoiseshell. Designed for Carlton House, the home of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, it's furniture as jewelry: sparkling, festive, and ornate.

In the center hall sat this couch of gold gilded over lime. It reminded me of the couch we sat on in Carolyne Roehm's living room.

This English couch from 1805 is finished with individual tassels swinging at the bottom like fringe on a dress.

Then Carlton took me up to the third floor of the house which was Mrs. Vanderbilt's living quarters. Though the public spaces are quite grand, her private quarters, including her sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom, were smaller and more intimate. The rooms are now filled with more of Carlton's treasures, and as dusk fell it was like wandering through the most enchanting forgotten rooms. It left me with visions of days gone by dancing in my head. The tour really was a holiday treat.

I hope you enjoyed it too, and I am wishing you the very best for this holiday season and the coming new year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gift of the Present

During the holiday season gift lists are compiled, but I am thinking about a wonderful gift I received this year. My very talented and creative friend Steven Brinlee sent me in the mail a big cardboard tube. I opened the tube to find inside a large poster, 18 inches by 24 inches, of creamy white paper on which was printed a paean to Spring written by Steven:
(Click on images to read)

The message is calming and relaxing, and the cotton stock paper is soft and plush – you could take a nap on it. I like the column of words floating on the luxury of the white space. The words are printed in a matte black ink which almost looks like dark grey, and the letters are actually pressed into the paper for a textural effect which you can see in this close up:

Though the hand-numbered poster is modern and contemporary, it feels like something from the nineteenth century, before the invention of the industrial printing press, so it has that charm that I love of looking both new and old at the same time. When I thanked Steven for it, he said he wanted to create something that was tactile and handmade because everything now is in the digital mode. The design of it, he said, is meant to look like a page out of an over-sized book.

To print his work he went to Couer Noir Specialty Printers, an art studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, co-owned by Alex Kasavin who explains to me that the letterpress process involves making a raised relief plate of the art work and running the paper with pressure over the inked plate so that the art work presses into the paper. It's the oldest, original way of printing, and reaches back to what Johannes Gutenberg invented in the fifteenth century. When Alex studied English literature in college he became inspired by how books of poetry had been produced. Here is a picture of his studio:

After Steven created his Spring print, he decided to write about the other seasons too. They are available for purchase in limited runs by request; contact him at for more information.
There is Summer,

Monsters, his ode to Halloween,

and Winter.

In all of the seasons, Steven is listening and looking. His approach encourages the reader to stop and appreciate the pure pleasures of the present moment. The greatest joys can come from the littlest things. There is a feeling of simplicity, wonder, and gratitude – themes to keep in mind during the holidays and all year 'round.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh, Christmas Tree

I made this ornament many years ago from a photo I took at a Geoffrey Beene exhibition uptown. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

This week TD and I got our Christmas tree up and decorated which is always a creative project. You know already that we have been getting our Christmas tree from Billy Romp on Jane Street for twenty-three years. Billy comes from Vermont and lives in his truck for a month selling Christmas trees, and he wrote a successful book about it, Christmas on Jane Street.
When we went to get our tree the moon was shining over the scene.

We caught up on events of the past year with Billy, shown here between us.

We picked out a frasier fir and Billy delivered it to our apartment himself. He said he only does that for a couple of customers. After sitting down for a glass of wine he was off into the night, and then it was on to a weightier business: decorating.
First the lights, which are a serious affair; lights must be properly placed.

Out from under the bed came the two big boxes in which we store ornaments – including antiques and ones we've made.

We put on the ornaments and adjusted them and spun the tree a little too to get it to the right position.

When the tree is done it's like a big jolly gift in the room.

People don't use colored light much but I love them and I like how they look with our colorful art work.

Bell approves too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Trip to the Fine and Dandy Pop-Up Shop

Draft beer is the perfect accessory when shopping for accessories.

Last weekend TD and I headed over the to East Village because our friends Matt Fox and Enrique Crame who run the online store were hosting their first ever pop-up shop. It was located in the back of the Blind Barber on East 10th Street across from Tompkins Square Park.

We weren't sure we were in the right place but walked through the barber shop and found the dandy boys in the back where they had set up their wares – "accessories for dapper guys." We were glad to be there early because it got more crowded later in the day.

On hand also was my friend artist and illustrator Richard Haines who was doing charcoal portraits. Here are Matt, Enrique, yours truly, and Richard.

I love textiles, and accessories are a fun way to add fabrics to an otherwise simple outfit, plus they're great gifts: one size fits all. There was a selection of ties and pocket squares in cottons, silks and wools.

plus socks, cuff links, tie pins, scarves and leather goods.

They even had some dove grey spats to slip on over shoes.

I told Matt I would love some dove grey gloves, which you never see but I think look very Edwardian.
TD had his portrait sketched by Richard which we will add to the two drawings by Richard we have at home.

TD also got a fantastic complementary shoe shine which I would have enjoyed as well but I was wearing my brown suede Adidas Sambas.
All of that activity required some refreshments. Luckily there was a bar adjacent equipped with draft beer. Here is our bartender:

I got some gifts, and for myself a lightweight plaid wool scarf which Enrique said was made from a men's suiting fabric. Tres chic.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Party Week at BBBT

B.B. with author Carolyne Roehm

and author John Carr.

We recently attended two book parties in one week here at Bart Boehlert's Beautiful Things. On Tuesday night TD and I headed downtown to Soho for a party for our friend John Carr who has just published a book called Great Expectations: Becoming a Dad: The First Three Years.

John Carr is married to my great friend Abigail Gouveneur Carr. Abby and I met through work in New York City in...wait for it...1983. Holy moly, friends for 27 years. When Abby and I met we were both single in the city, very Will and Grace. Well, Abigail now has three beautiful (and I mean it) children and is married to the good and kind John Carr.

John is a family clinical social worker and psychotherapist with a private practice in New York, and his book is a parenting guide for men. There are many books for mothers, so a book for fathers is a great idea. The book party was held at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe on Crosby Street. Abby and the kids were there, and lots of friends and family. John spoke to the crowd movingly about his changing relationship with his own father, who was standing next to me, and his desire to be a good father to his children. Guests lingered at the warm, casual event.

On Thursday night, we went in the opposite direction, uptown to East 93rd Street for Carolyne Roehm's book party. You remember that I did a video interview with Carolyne in her amazing apartment in October to discuss her new book A Passion for Interiors.

To celebrate the publication of the book, a party was held at Carlton Hobbs, the renowned antiques dealer who is housed in a former Vanderbilt mansion off Madison Avenue, and specializes in museum-quality 17th-19th century British and European antiques and art. Carolyne sat at a colossal antique desk and signed books.

There were huge, over-sized arrangements of red flowers, and a champagne bar lit by candelabras – very delicious, very Carolyne Roehm. After the party, TD and I toddled around the corner with our friend decorator Mario Buatta to a neighborhood Italian restaurant where we three tucked into some pasta. It was fun to see Mario who recently suffered a medical malady but is now on the mend.

Congratulations to both authors, especially in this economic climate when it is increasingly difficult to get a book published. As Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who worked as a book editor, said to one of her authors, "If you produce one book, you will have done something wonderful in your life."