Friday, April 18, 2014

Carrie Donovan's Fashionable Lair

I long admired the style of fashion editor Carrie Donovan, whose Gobstopper-sized pearls, exaggerated eyeglasses, and Old Navy commercials helped to elevate the fashion maven to legend-status. So I was especially excited when I found these photos of Donovan's Manhattan apartment, circa 1975. Yes, her apartment might look a little wild and wacky today, but these photographs were published in the mid-1970s, a time when flamboyance and colorful personalities were the norm rather than the exception in fashionable society. And remember, this was also the era when Donovan wore modish turbans, and anyone who wears a turban must have a flair-filled home to match.

What is most notable about this apartment is Donovan's highly-enthusiastic use of one fabric throughout her apartment: a tulip-print cotton by Gloria Vanderbilt.  The fabric covered most of Donovan's living room furniture, including banquettes, slipper chairs, and tables.  In fact, Donovan was so enamored of this tulip print that she is shown wearing it in her portrait by artist Ben Morris.  (You can see the portrait in the photo directly below the text.)  The splashy red fabric must have served as a snappy backdrop for some very fashionable entertaining.

And then, in a design move reminiscent of Donovan's mentor, Diana Vreeland, Donovan chose the same tulip-print cotton  for her bedroom, although there, the fabric's vivid red coloration gave way to a white background.  (If you'll recall, Vreeland also used a single fabric, a floral chintz, in both her "Garden in Hell" living room and her bedroom, although in her boudoir, she chose the blue colorway rather than the red version used in her living room.) The effect is much sweeter and more soothing than the living room's zesty shade of red.

Did Donovan borrow this design idea from Vreeland?  I'm not certain.  But what I do know is that Donovan lived in an apartment whose style was almost as big as her persona- and those ubiquitous eyeglasses and pearls, of course.

All photos from Home Decorating by House Beautiful, Spring 1975.


  1. FYI Carrie lived in a circa-1970 brutalist concrete high-rise like your own, at 160 East 65 Street, or "Bloomingdale's Country," as it was known then.

    1. Stephen- Now knowing this, I have an even greater affinity for this apartment. The beauty of living in a concrete box is that the architecture doesn't dictate the style in which one decorates. It's like starting with a clean slate.

  2. It is move-in ready, as far as I am concerned. I particularly like decorating with one fabric and this flat is one of the best examples ever. I love it.

  3. I love the power and joy of these early70's rooms--created by women who knew and liked themselves. Beige and greige are so bland and fearful in comparison.
    Super post.

  4. The tulip fabric and especially in the red is stunning. I cannot get over her portrait by Morris!

    Feature: Decorate Fearlessly

  5. Jennifer,
    What fun to see these images again! Thanks to my Parish Hadley mentor, Tice Alexander, I was introduced to Carrie Donovan, and had an interview with her to see if she liked my sketches well enough to use in the old NYT Style section.... I recall she had an atomizer on her desk and loved to spray perfume over her shoulders as she reviewed my portfolio of drawings! I agree with Blue, her place was so fresh and charming- it probably smelled like Rigaud candles too! What a fabulous woman!

  6. wow, she did like that tulip fabric + Carrie Donovan was superior +

  7. just a quick note to thank you for posting this. i put the white bkgd paper/fabric in my daughter's bedroom back then. four walls in a small room of a tudor-revival house. wow. and it was (i brag...) faaabulous. i've been looking for pictures of that wallpaper ever since. if i could find the paper, i'd do a top to bottom room all over again today. only this time, with the red! fabulous post. thank you. footnote: today, my daughter is a successful fabric designer. :)