Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meet James Amster

James Amster is one of those cult figures in the history of American interior design. He unfortunately doesn't have the name recognition today of, say, Van Day Truex, but during much of the twentieth century, he was very much a prominent figure in American design. He was an antiques dealer as well as an interior designer, having started the decorating department at Bergdorf's in the late 1920s. Some of you might recognize his name from Amster Yard, an enclave of apartments and offices with central courtyard located on East 49th St. It was James Amster who bought the townhouses and restored them in the 1940s in order to create an artistic community. Amster Yard counted Billy Baldwin, Norman Norell, and Isamu Noguchi as tenants. Talk about some high wattage tenants. (The buildings were unfortunately razed a few years back.)
Amster was very much a traditionalist as you can see in the photos above which show his Amster Yard living room in 1971. Antiques and gilt seemed to have played important roles. What struck me most, though, was that truly luscious shade of glossy blue on the walls. The ultramarine color was achieved by custom mixing peacock blue, black, green, then more blue and more black. The painted walls were lacquered as well. Stunning.

This apartment reminded me of Todd Romano's that was recently featured in Architectural Digest. That too has glossy deep blue walls as well as a smattering of traditional antiques. Romano's home, though, is a great example of "the mix." Amongst the more traditional pieces you'll find modern art and contemporary furnishings. Perhaps Romano is the James Amster of the 21st century?

Amster photos from House Beautiful, September 1971; Romano photos from Architectural Digest, February 2011, Thomas Loof photographer.


  1. James Amster would have been happy to know his interiors were still providing inspiration today.

  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    The Amster Yard buildings were raised but rebuilt, I think, almost exactly. House & Garden had a story about Amster ages ago, too.

  3. I love both Romano's and Amster's design focus. Amster is truly the epitome of perfection of the second half of the 20th c. Thanks for making the connection. Mary

  4. Kathleen Luckard12:19 PM

    Something about Amster's style speaks to me - it is probably the blue, but also the mix.

    There should be some sort of retrospective of Norman Norell's work - much of it had the simplicity of Givenchy in the Audrey Hepburn era.

  5. I like these rooms as much as I did when I first saw them forty years ago. Chic and timeless indeed.

  6. His eclecticism and sense of luxury was phenomenal. I love the mirrored walls and the high gloss paints.

  7. Anonymous1:39 PM

    I don't know what it is about so many of the magazine photos lately -- the rooms just don't seem lived in. There's something lacking. Of course, the old photos were just as staged as the current ones, but there's something ineffable about the old photos -- maybe the aura of inhabitants? Maybe the type of film used? Maybe the rooms we see today are photographed pre-usage? I don't know, can't put my finger on it. They leave me cold, and the oldies leave me feeling like I've seen a home, rather than a set piece.

  8. Oh, i fell in love with this last apartment, I posted a little while ago, so chic!
    Thanks for the intro to James Amster Lovely!

  9. I guess I'm one of the few who wasn't familiar with his beautiful work! But I was drooling over Todd Romano's feature in AD - those walls!!