New York City is full of some of the most remarkable buildings in the country. When I lived there, one of my favorite pastimes was walking around and taking in the diversity of architectural styles, from the town houses of the Upper East Side to the loft buildings in Soho. I would often stare longingly at a particular facade, wishing I could be invited in to see the interiors as well.
My wish has been granted with Wendy Moonan’s book New York Splendor: The City’s Most Memorable Rooms, which gives readers an armchair tour of some of the most interesting spaces in the city—those of the present day and those of the past.
Architect Robert A. M. Stern captures my sentiments in the foreword: “I often think of Manhattan apartments and town houses as secret gardens, hidden from view by building facades beyond which flower personal expressions of great taste and sophistication. As with any garden the plantings come and go, both seasonally and with changes of ownership. That’s why it’s so wonderful to have so many ‘secret gardens’ captured in this book.”
The question that struck me as I opened the 320-page oversize book: How did Moonan choose? She admits that her survey of 112 rooms is “completely subjective”; however, Moonan has been writing about design and antiques for decades, so she has a firm grasp on the material. “My main criterion was simply that each project have the ‘wow’ factor—rooms that elicited, from me, gasps of pleasure and admiration,” she writes in her introduction.
The diversity of styles here runs deep, and while not every room may resonate personally, there is something compelling in each choice, like the excavation required to install an underground swimming pool, gym, and half basket- ball court in a Beaux Arts building on the Upper East Side. The unity among the spaces springs from what Moonan calls “the passion of the talented people who choreographed them.”
I was particularly drawn to the rooms that left their mark on the design conscience—Billy Baldwin’s décor for Babe and Bill Paley’s library with its Moorish influences; Gloria Vanderbilt’s bedroom wrapped in her collection of American quilts; and Bill Blass’s masculine chic Sutton Place apartment. It’s also enjoyable to see the homes that decorators make for themselves, when their imaginations can roam freely. There’s Miles Redd’s glamorous mirrored bathroom salvaged from a mansion in Lake Bluff, Illinois; Tom Britt’s grand salon with its lacquered aubergine walls and black floors; or the fanciful striped tented foyer in Alex Papachristidis’s apartment. New York Splendor is educational and delightful, especially for us design voyeurs.
By Alice Welsh Doyle
Featured book: New York Splendor: The City’s Most Memorable Rooms by Wendy Moonan (Rizzoli New York, 2018)