Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's My Obsession




I'm a woman possessed. Or maybe that's obsessed. I absolutely can't get any work done because I'm still going through the Museum of the City of New York's online collection portal. This is becoming a problem, I can tell. But, I wouldn't say it's for naught because I did find photos of Billy Baldwin's former apartment at Sutton Place. I first saw photos of this apartment a few years ago while reading an old magazine from the 1930s. Then, Adam Lewis included additional photos in Billy Baldwin: The Great American Decorator. And now, the MCNY website has even more. I'm starting to feel like I like I know Baldwin's apartment better than I do my own. I guess that's what happens when you become design obsessed. Or maybe that's design possessed.




According to Lewis' book, the sofa and club chair were upholstered in pale blue leather. The curtains were white satin handpainted with dancing figures.




Have you noticed that in today's quest for perfection, we no longer see visible cords and electrical outlets in interior photos? This photo is a breath of fresh air. That, and it makes me feel better about the cords and outlets that are rather prominent looking in my own home.




I believe that this might be a bedroom.




Billy Baldwin's bathroom. Does that swag look like it's painted on the wall? A little odd, but kind of charming at the same time.



All photos: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., Residence of Wm. W. Baldwin, 2 Sutton Place. 1939. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

23 comments:

  1. What do you think is behind the screen on the right in the first photo?

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  2. Stephen, I wondered the very same thing, and for the life of me I can't figure it out. I have looked at the other photos, and they don't seem to offer up any clues. Here is another shot which includes said screen:
    http://collections.mcny.org/MCNY/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MNY_HomePage#/ViewBox_VPage&VBID=24UP1GPFVO4&IT=ZoomImageTemplate01_VForm&IID=2F3XC5U9I7UB&PN=3&CT=Search

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  3. i think that the swag was painted on! also, the dancers on the curtains hark back to Evergreen House in Baltimore, where the theatre has handpainted dancers by Leon Bakst.

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  4. Perhaps a bar behind the screen? Not sure why it would be hidden.
    Love that you said that about the cords/outlets!

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  5. Perhaps it's just me, but a Knole-style sofa upholstered in pale blue leather does not thrill me in any fashion. And don't you find the chair placement extremely odd? Styling was certainly odd back then. I've noticed this in masses of 1930s and 1940s photographs of rooms, ie chairs etc being moved into odd positions that bear no relationship to life.

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  6. I have always enjoyed studying the photos of Billy Baldwin projects to analyze the furniture plan, usually very interesting. I couldn't reach the link for another view with the folding screen, but my guess was that it was hiding a bar although I also could not understand why. I presume a kitchen/kitchenette is behind doors at that screen. And that is a (false?) fireplace opposite the tall, multi-functional cabinet. He was able to get two seating groups with what I presume would have a dining table (not that he ever ate there) in the foyer.

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  7. I agree with AAL, that while this is pretty fabulous, the pale blue leather seems a bit strange to me. I guess chalk it up to home experimentation?
    Now I have that song stuck in my head.....it's my obsession.

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  8. These photographs are so different than the one in Baldwin's autobiography (page 135) - so much so, when I saw them on the museum website I thought the attribution might be wrong. However, the painting above the fireplace is the same as the the one above the Knole sofa in the autobiography and the sconces with crystal drops are also the same except with shades.

    In his autobiography, Baldwin mentions redoing the apartment years later.

    As to the Aesthete's point about odd placement of furniture: couldn't it be simply the photographer's preference about how a room should look?

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  9. I share Aesthete's lament about the blue leather---but am fully trusting that in Baldwin's sure hands, it worked.

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  10. I love your investigative instincts- I always thought I would love to have been a detective, if not a decorator! I am always noticing the cords etc too of the old photographs and even current photographs of European interiors show them. Somewhere I just saw a chandelier in a quite grand room with the wiring along the ceiling, and right down the wall to an outlet. Where there is a will.Did you notice the different colors of the shades on the crystal sconce. I am a big Baldwin fan, but this isn't his finest hour. pgt

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  11. There is a seating group with the sofa at the window and another with the four chairs at the (false?) fireplace. Perhaps there was a table that could be used for dining (not that he ever ate there). I think the screen us hiding the TV! __ John

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  12. Sorry for the seemingly (?) disconnect in commenting! But we forget that the early days of television with those unyielding cabinets must have been frustrating for those with such an aesthetic sensitivity. As a preschooler in the second half of the 50s, I remember a neighbor having a TV built-in shelving in the den, a unique feature at the time.

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  13. I totally understand your obsession with Billy Baldwin. Spaces that have been touched by distinctive hand just ooze with glamour, symmetry, and oh so much style. Thanks for this wonderful post!

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  14. What jumps out is the great height at which sconces
    are attached to the walls. Odd looking. And odder still when we consider how short Mr Baldwin was.

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  15. somewhere my original comment floats out there, my thought was along with other meandering ones I omit now- notice the 2 different shades on the very high crystal sconce, the cords don't offend me ever-in World of Interiors rooms cords abound, and lastly- I am a Baldwin fan like everyone here-though this is not his finest hour.

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  16. This is so chic!! I can't get enough!!

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  17. Jennifer,darling, what a great post! I have spent many hours being inspired by Lewis's book and, of course, Baldwin. The book shows the best that one of our interior design legends has to offer.

    DoC

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  18. I'm surprised that we haven't all been bumping into each other in the MCNY archives these last few days.

    A few years ago, I bought a portfolio of large-format Gottscho photos, and since the house was unidentfied, I checked out the museum's holdings to see if I could figure out whose house it was, but at that time, the Gottscho files hadn't yet been digitized & I didn't find out anything. Now maybe I'll get somewhere. More likely, though, I'll end up with no answers but even more questions to research than I have now. Thanks a lot, Jennifer. Good thing the holidays are coming.

    And I'm not that into the light-blue-black-&-olive thing any more than the rest of us, but I liked BB's use of unmatched dining chair seat colors--not shown in these particular shots--as soon as I saw them back in the 1960s, and I've been doing the same thing with my own chairs ever since. Just not in pale blue.

    As for the sconces, they are high, but maybe they came with the apartment. My building is the same period as this one & my sconces are in the same spot--too high to look right but too low to hang anything of a decent size below them--and my landlord has forbidden me to mess with them. Then again, that Hands-Off paragraph in my lease hasn't prevented me from painting the place...

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  19. Baldwin was a young man, so this apartment, to me, exhibits the charm of someone talented and finding his way. It's exuberance doesn't track with Baldwin's later work but it has great charm. As for an earlier comment re the placement of the furniture being the photographer's idea of how the room should look, I fully agree. Unfortunately such impractical moving around of furniture doesn't help one understand the space better. It can be maddening to see a chair, for instance, stranded in the middle of a carpet with no table near it, et cetera.

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  20. Anonymous1:52 PM

    I also love the visible electric cords. They show up in the grandest interiors, such as the gallery of the Paleys' Parrish-Hadley-designed 5th Avenue apartment.

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  21. The New York Public Library has a digital gallery with fantastic images as well--New York and otherwise. I found a stereoscopic view of the White House interior and an Elsie de Wolfe illustration. I'm a graduate student and worked all semester long on an online exhibit using their images.

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  22. Oh goodness, I am hooked on that site! I have been searching for pictures for hours now, and I found some incredible photos of Tuxedo Park estates.

    My favorite thing from all the Baldwin apartment photos is that beautiful and dramatic wall light fixture (3rd pic. from top). Isn't it wild? I love it!

    Happy holidays to you,

    Kevin

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  23. After browsing through the images apartments in the museum website (and thank you for that directive!)
    Billy Baldwin's Sutton Place flat doesn't seem all that
    extraordinary in the context of the time. Is it heresy
    to admit that? I suppose that seeing it all in colour might make a difference but in the black and white
    photos it seems to have a puritan restraint about it.

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