Monday, April 11, 2016

An Early Thirties Set Piece

Of skincare maven Helena Rubinstein's homes, much has been documented.  I've seen photos of her avant-garde Paris apartment as well as her Manhattan abode.  But what about the homes of Rubinstein's great rival, Elizabeth Arden?  Other than images of her Irish castle, which was decorated by Tony Duquette, I've seen nary a photo to indicate how she lived back home in New York City.  That is, until last week, when I found these 1933 photos of her Manhattan apartment.  My heart skipped a beat, because most, if not all, of the early-Thirties design tropes are here: satin fabrics, robust brush fringe, mirror galore, a liberal use of stylized decorative motifs (in this case, plumage,) and a whimsically-appointed bijou bar.

The apartment's decor is credited to Nicolai Remisoff, a Russian artist who fled the Bolsheviks, alighting in Paris and later New York, where he worked as an illustrator for various Condé Nast publications and owned a chic nightclub, Club Petrushka.  Remisoff also achieved acclaim as a stage designer, whose theatrical background might explain the dramatic flair of Arden's home.  (According to some, Remisoff was also responsible for designing Elizabeth Arden Salons throughout the country.)  After interludes in Chicago and San Francisco, Remisoff finally settled in Southern California, dividing his time between houses in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, where he worked as an art director and production designer on a slew of Hollywood movies.  In fact, his swan song in the film industry was art directing that 1960 Rat Pack classic, Ocean's 11.

I suspect that if the apartment had been shown in color photographs, I might be a little less enthusiastic about it.  I'd rather not see how the solarium furniture's red, white, and blue brush fringe really looked.  On the other hand, how striking the living room's pink, gray, and chartreuse color scheme must have been when not inhibited by black and white photography.  But color or no color, the home still makes quite an impression, even eighty-plus years after it was published.  It's dramatic, flamboyant, glamorous, and, yes, even over the top- basically, everything I hope to see in an early-Thirties interior.

Image at top: Along the stairway, the French gray walls were adorned with painted feathers in shades of white, black, and gunmetal.  The steps were made of black marble and were softened by an ivory carpet runner.

The living room had gray walls, a pink ceiling, and a polished steel fireplace flanked by gray glass pilasters.  The curtains were made of pale pink satin, while the draw curtains were chartreuse taffeta.  The furniture was covered in chartreuse satin.

The dining room featured antique Chinese wallpaper in tones of beige, gray, and green.  The rug was clipped goatskin.  The folding screen seems to have a middle panel painted with yet another plume of feathers.

The solarium, which offered views of Central Park and midtown.  The walls were painted glass which was meant to "represent a sky-scape."  The furniture was upholstered with white plush and trimmed in red, white, and blue fringe.

The bar.  The walls were clad in verre-églomisé panels that depicted dashing French officers on horseback.  I assume Remisoff was responsible for painting them.

A rather flamboyant powder room, which had painted feathers on the wall.  In keeping with the theme, a chair with a Prince of Wales feather shield back and a set of crystal feather curtain tiebacks.  The walls were painted to emulate orange draperies.  The blue taffeta curtains were designed by Elsie Cobb Wilson.

All images from House & Garden, March 1933.


  1. Fabulous. It's everything Art Deco should be. Very Hollywood. It doesn't surprise me that he worked on a few movies. It all holds up well, I think. Except perhaps for the satin, the rest of the design would not look out of place today, for a person stylish enough to pull it off.

  2. Love the bar! Thank you for this post.

  3. Color combinations really date a room so yes, seeing these photos in black and white fade the decades, but I still would love to see the pink, gray and chartreuse marriage. I just can't imagine pulling that off.

  4. So fun, as crazy as it may be, I would love to see photos of this in color. Have you seen the Casino Club in Chicago? Such a fabulous space that reminds me of this home.

  5. I would love to see this in color, as crazy as it may be. Have you seen the Casino Club in Chicago? Reminds me a bit of this.

  6. Yes, Art Deco makes me think of those Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. Fabulous!

  7. I can only imagine what a satin upholstered sofa looks like after a few dogs and children (especially boys) have sat in them..........I love the eglomise. Amazing. Thanks. Mary

  8. Anonymous7:32 PM

    The above photos are great Jennifer, especially since they are of Arden's home, and not a film set. However one of my favorite films is the 1945 production of "Blithe Spirit." Not the same era of Arden's home, but one of the sofas in the film is a navy mohair or velvet, with a burgundy-colored piping, it is incredible, but I don't know who designed the set. I think the 1945 film was shot in the UK. Thank you for the Arden shots!

  9. Everything you would hope for in the home of a cosmetic queen, but that bar is the icing on the Hollywood Deco cake!

  10. Anonymous1:11 PM

    Dear Anonymous - says Blithe Spirit set decoration was by Arthur Taksen. Cheers, Connie

  11. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Dear Anonymous: says Blithe Spirit's set decoration was by Arthur Taksen.

    1. Anonymous4:15 PM

      Thank you Connie for the reference. I appreciate it.

  12. This solarium it's great! i would love to have something like that with winter garden!

  13. Anonymous4:45 PM

    It's true that Nikolai Remisoff did the wall paintings at Elizabeth Arden's apartment high above New York's Fifth Avenue, but only because he was hired to do them by Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, whom Arden had originally put in charge of the decor. Sadly, she died in December 1931, before she had had a chance to ever see the place in print.

    That being said, Julie Jahn is correct in spotting the obvious similarity between Arden's apartment, and the décor of The Casino in Chicago, because that place was also done by the same talented duo. A fascinating post--(which I just happened to write as a guest blogger)--for Emily Evans Eerdmans' blog a few days after I dragged her over to see it when she was in town a while back tells the whole tale. A Google search for "Rue Winterbotham Carpenter" and "Magnaverde" should find it.

    Too bad that the place is just about impossible to get into these days, since it's always been a private club. I only managed to pull off our visit by mentioning that Emily was a "well-known author." If I had been by myself, I doubt if I would have passed the critical once-over. That's the kind of place it is.


  14. I am coming for a quick visit to Atlanta this weekend and viewing Swan House. Is there a place on your blog where you suggest design sights and shops for visitors? Thanks!