Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Billy Baldwin and Ventry Ltd.




It looks like Ventry Ltd. has updated their website with new photos of Billy Baldwin designed furniture (some of the pieces may not have actually been designed by Baldwin; instead, he may have lent his name to the pieces). If you've always dreamed of owning Billy B's classic slipper chair, Turkish ottoman, or metal bookcases, then take a look at the Ventry website. And if the unadorned pieces of furniture look a little vanilla on the website, not to worry. Just look at how Billy used these designs in his projects.


The classic Billy Baldwin slipper chair. According to Mitchell Owen's article in the New York Times (Nov. 5, 2000), Baldwin's slipper chair was supposedly designed with Pauline de Rothschild's tall, lean frame in mind (thus making it easier for her to strike a pose and extend her long legs).


Small slipper chair and Porter etagere in the apartment of Baldwin.


Porter etagere from Ventry Ltd. According to Owens, the Porter etagere was originally fabricated by PE Guerin (and is still available through them as well).


Another view of Baldwin's apartment with the Porter etagere and what appears to be a Studio Loveseat


Studio Loveseat from Ventry


The Turkish Ottoman from Ventry...


and in this Baldwin designed living room (the home of Mollie Parniss)


The home of Woodson Taulbee with the larger (?) slipper chair and the Studio Sofa, both upholstered in that famous Tree of Life print.


Large Slipper Chair from Ventry


Studio Sofa from Ventry


These metal tables have been attributed to Billy Baldwin, but there is debate as to whether he actually designed these tables or not. It's possible that he simply lent his name to this design.

29 comments:

  1. Jennifer -- what a wonderful collection. I love how you've shown the pieces in context.

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  2. You're killing me! You know I am searching for the BB book at the BT. I love his metal bookcase! Perfection.

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  3. Pigtown- You need to look for both BB books! Good luck!

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  4. After reading Billy Baldwin's own books, I believe him when he expresses his admiration for books and reading. Two quotes of his are favorites of mine: "The best decoration in the world is a roomful of books." and "Books will grow in a house like a vine if you provide something to support them." Well his famous "Porter" bookshelves that are seen in his own New York apartment hold quite a bright library of books, and all neatly shelved, in good order and they look to me as though they are read.
    Billy Baldwin not only decorated, he enriched both his clients and readership with his intelligent delight. Delight is ageless.

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  5. On their own, in isolation and covered in plain twill,
    those upholstered pieces don't look like much, do they? Quite puritanical in fact.
    Yet in Billy's rooms they looked just wonderful.

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  6. Anonymous2:58 PM

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks so much for the press on Ventry!!! We got six requests just today. Hopefully you'll be in NYC next month to visit the showroom and we can meet in person vs cyberspace!!

    Anne Marie
    Ventry Ltd.

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  7. I love Mr. B! In fact I'm paintning my LR BB Brown as we speak, and having my old camel back sofa recovered in white leather! I just took down the pink linen drapes! Anyhoo,great news about his furniture line being re-issued.

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  8. David- Intelligent delight.. what a wonderful phrase. And so true too! I also am in complete agreement with BB's sentiments about books. Can you imagine life without them???

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  9. Toby- They do need to be seen in situ in order to get the full effect. They're chic and understated pieces that work well in bold surroundings (i.e.- glossy dark brown walls and brass bookshelves).

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  10. Hi Anne Marie- I hope I can too! That would be fun.

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  11. Vamp- I bet your LR will look stunning with those brown walls! Lucky you :)

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  12. Anthony Victoria4:21 PM

    Was pleased to see your posting on Billy Balwin, a very good client of my Father, Frederick Victoria. I do have to correct one or two statments. The Billy Baldwin/Cole Porter etagere was originally made in our workshops on 55th street in Manhattan. They were inspired by an English Regency shelf unit we owned--much smaller in scale--which my Father scaled up to fill Billy's vision for Porter's office. I still have a photo of that inspiring original as well as the drawings which were conserved in our Library of Design (as were the drawings for the slipper chair and other designs we made for him). When the craftsman who worked for us on this project retired, we gave the patterns to Arthur Ward, a good friend and the owner of P.E. Guerin, who continued to make them.
    Anthony Victoria

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    1. Anonymous4:47 PM

      Very interesting and I'm sure highly accurate. In the late 1970s/early 1980s I went into the shop that was then operated by Arthur Smith. The manager greeted me and mentioned that she had worked for Billy Baldwin since the age of 18. When I asked her about the bookshelves, she said they were currently being made by the Great Eastern Furniture Co. As for the slipper chair, there must be several versions. I have the one that was in Mollie Parnis' apartment and it is different from the one sold by Ventry. I also have the Turkish ottoman that was in the Parnis apartment. It is quite different from the model at Ventry. Billy Baldwin did not design the ottoman. It has the label of an upholsterer at the Place de l'Opera in Paris on the underside and there is a stamp that reads in French "Turkish model"..

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  13. Ooh I am loving his slipper chair

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  14. I am confused by Mr Victoria's statement. Baldwin's memoirs state that the bookcases were inspired by a Directoire antique (I believe an étagère) owned by Linda Porter. Fun fact: After Porter's death, his apartment's next resident was Frank Sinatra.

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  15. I will check Baldwin's memoirs with Michael Gardine again when I get home; hopefully that will shed some light. Peak, Mr Victoria should send the sketch so we can see it! What a treat that would be.

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  16. Aesthete- I'll try to get clarification and a copy of the sketch!

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  17. What's especially nice about the Baldwin slipper chair are the two integral clips that attach the cushion to the recess. Otherwise the cushions would slide off. It's a very nice touch.

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  18. According to a 1 March 1967 article published in The New York Times ("Cole Porters' Bookshelves; They're So Nice to Come Home To" by Rita Reif), Cole Porter's brass bookcases were indeed made by Frederick P. Victoria.

    The newspaper states that Baldwin gave FPV the order in February 1955, and the seven units (including one that framed a door) cost $6,000. FPV said, "The shelving derives from an 18th-century design of a serviteur muet, a dumbwaiter, used for additional plates that stood near a dining table. The original had four shelves and tall wheels. I sold it to Henry Ford 2d for his stamp collection—but not before I had made a copy". FPV went on to say that he made similar brass bookcases for Bunny Mellon and that he stopped making them in 1966 because they had become cost-prohibitive as well as too much work.

    Porter's seven bookcases (each measured 9 feet and 4 inches tall) ended up being willed to a handsome young actor named John Cronin, a Parsons School graduate, whom Porter met in 1963, a year before his death; Cronin also was left 42 other furnishings from the Waldorf Towers apartment (unit 33-A, if anyone is interested in that bit of trivia). Cronin had the cases cut down to 8 feet 6 inches tall because the ceiling of his living room on West 55th Street was lower than Porter's.

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  19. The plot thickens: The Bronx-born Cronin, who died in 1987 at age 54, became an interior decorator whose clients included Richard Nixon. His firm was called Cronin-Stempler Designs Inc.

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  20. Aesthete- I think this solves the mystery (well, not exactly a mystery, but it clears it up). Interesting tidbit about Cronin. I don't recall seeing any of his work in my old magazines.

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  21. your site is an oasis of good taste in a sea of the hum drum...and that sketch of BB is amazing.

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  22. Jennifer, I've been waiting anxiously for the Ventry website to be updated, and was planning to do a post myself. Glad I didn't, because unfortunately I don't have a copy of that marvelous looking book yet. You've done a great job of showing each piece in situ. I love them all. I think I really need to get a copy of that book ASAP!

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  23. Designerman- I would love to own that sketch of BB. I wonder who does???

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  24. Suzy- You must get that book! I think you'll really love it.

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  25. susan dempsey2:08 PM

    Your showcasing of Ventry is much appreciated and we were contacted by many yesterday -- both designers and connoisseurs alike. I thank you for the attention!

    We did update our website -- but, it is always a project in motion. We are also opening a showroom on East 62nd Street in New York City in September. I like to say "Billy's Back"!

    I would like to give a little history of myself, Billy's products and Ventry Ltd. I used to work for a company named Luten Clarey Stern. The three men - Mr. Luten, Mr. Clarey and Mr. Stern - were friends of Billy. After Billy basically retired from decorating, he designed his first - and his only - line of furniture for manufacturing; as opposed to designing specifically a piece for a client. In 1972, with exception of the Cole Porter Étagère, Billy designed every Baldwin piece currently on Ventry's website. Again, these pieces were originally designed for Luten Clarey Stern. Unfortunately, Luten Clarey Stern went out of business and all of their collections, including the Baldwin Collection, went through the bankruptcy court. I am unsure of the outcome on some of the collections, but I know who now exclusively owns and manufactures the Billy Baldwin Collection -- Ventry Ltd.

    Susan Dempsey
    President
    Ventry Ltd.

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  26. Anonymous2:42 AM

    Ventry's furniture is not as attractive as anything you see in Balwdin's apartment. Ventry's work is hard, bulky and made with foam - the lines are inelegant. The slipper chair & sofa in Baldwin's apartment are much more refined - almost slight by comparison - and obviously down-filled. What a pity they didn't copy they Master's own pieces line for line.

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  27. Anonymous8:27 PM

    Years ago, I visited the antiques shop/decorating showroom of Arthur Smith Inc., the successor to the Billy Baldwin design business. The woman in the shop told me that she had worked for Billy Baldwin since she was 18 years old...so maybe twenty-twenty five years at that point. I asked her who made the Cole Porter bookcases and she said they ordered them from the Great Eastern Furniture Company. Looks like they eventually changed vendors. I think Mr. Victoria is absolutely correct about the originals. They had wonderful things at his father's shop and terrific craftsmen.
    On another matter I purchased the pouf and slipper chair that had been in Mollie Paris' apartment at the sale of her things at Sotheby's. The proportions of both look different than the versions at Ventry Ltd. I think the previous post is quite accurate. The Ventry pieces look cheap in comparison to the originals. They should have made them in horsehair and down. They don't look very good even in photographs.

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