Friday, March 20, 2015

The Sister Parish Connection

The first thing that one typically does after buying a home is to furnish and decorate it to one's liking.  That might mean a fresh coat of paint, discarding curtains, or ripping out carpet.  But what if Sister Parish had once decorated your new home or, even better, lived there?  Would you strip away all of those Sister Parish touches?  I wouldn't, because any Sister Parish leftovers would make me love my new home even more.  However, not everybody feels as I do.  Take the Manhattan apartment seen here.  Located at 960 Fifth Avenue, this is the maisonette in which Parish once lived.  By 1990, when these photographs were published, the apartment had a new owner, who hired Keith Irvine of Irvine & Fleming to decorate it.  Assisted by Richard Keith Langham, Irvine set out to take the apartment "in a different direction" from the one Parish had taken, which, according to Irvine, had made the home feel like "a Yankee vision of a London house."  The homeowner concurred, deeming Parish's décor "country and gardeny... It took me four months to get her presence out of the apartment."  Well, each to his own.  I would have been thrilled to have had Parish's presence in my home, but that's just me.

Nevertheless, Irvine's work on this apartment is worth discussing.  The dining room's Directoire wallpaper, which is one of my favorite Brunschwig & Fils papers, is quite handsome, as is the living room's yellow striped wallpaper from Clarence House.  Look closely at those curtains.  I realize that today's preference is for clean-lined window treatments, but we can learn a lot about craftsmanship and technique from the curtains seen here.  And take note of the mirror above the living room sofa.  This was one of the few remnants of the apartment's Sister Parish décor.  Installed by Parish, the mirror remained in the new design scheme, although Irvine added a Clarence House wallpaper border to the edges.

Of course, time marches on and so does this apartment's décor.  You'll recall that not too long ago, Mario Buatta decorated this maisonette for a later owner, Patricia Altschul, who sold the apartment about two years ago.  I haven't seen nor heard about the apartment's current décor.  Have you?

The Living Room

The Dining Room

All photos from House & Garden, September 1990; Michael Mundy photographer.


  1. When I look at the changes made to Sister Parish's, it seems there is still an essence of her.
    Jennifer I haven't heard about the Buatta designed homo that changed hand, it would be interesting to see though!

    The Arts by Karena
    A New Gallery in Town!

  2. A footnote: Mrs Parish's apartment was not even on the market for sale when she received "an offer she couldn't refuse." As she had been thinking it would be better to find another maisonette (because of her dog) with staff quarters within the apartment (because of her age), she made the move. Although her last apartment would have an arguably less-toney address, it was better.

  3. Anonymous11:50 AM

    This apartment was featured on television. What struck me was the painted kitchen cabinets. I have been unable to locate any published photographs. If you come across any, would you please include them if you do a follow-up with Mr. Buatta's work.

  4. I have to say I'm not a fan of those bright yellow walls, with the bright yellow curtains. Yes, a Yankee version of the English country house look. Sister Parish sometimes got a bit carried away and didn't stop when she should have. Both versions just miss on the understated comfort level found in English homes, even those in stately houses and filled with museum-quality treasures.

  5. Anonymous1:05 PM

    "a Yankee vision of a London house."

    But wasn't Irvine's re-do an attempt to recreate Nancy Lancaster's buttah-yellow drawing room? Anyway, there was no love lost between those two.

    Honestly, all the versions of this apartment comes across as really overdone mock-ups of an English country house, inappropriate for a couple of New York rooms at sidewalk level. Let in some air!

  6. I am with you about Sister Parish + would not want to change a thing.

  7. Anonymous2:35 PM

    I always wondered what people strolling down 5th Avenue thought when they saw Mrs. Altschul sitting there in her bathtub!

  8. I always enjoy seeing how people decorate their homes because decorations reflect so much about a person's personality and taste. I wouldn't change anything about these decorations.

  9. In my opinion, the living room is too colorful and I must admit I never saw a such bold yellow-colored walls before.