Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Draperies for Bunny Mellon's Dining Room: Design Banditry in an Historic NYC Townhouse

125 East 70th Street, NYC, photo courtesy Sotheby's
Ah, yes!  When I think of what it would be like to live in New York City, this is just EXACTLY what I picture. 

So, the Upper East Side townhouse that once belonged to Paul and Bunny Mellon has just come onto the market for a mere $46 million dollars (never mind that the current owners reportedly paid only half of that when they bought the property in 2006, and have not made any changes or improvements).  Baltimore design blogger Meg Fielding featured this property here on Pigtown Design a few days ago, and it immediately caught my fancy.

It's not that I wish I could purchase and live in this townhouse (although I'd graciously accept it if it were gifted to me!); I'd just like to do a little redecorating for the new owners.  This iconic French-inspired townhouse is 90% perfect for a modern family, but I'd like to inject a little more color and energy -- especially considering the home's connection to art collector and benefactor Paul Mellon and his father, former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who gifted the American people with the National Gallery of Art in 1937 -- donating his priceless art collection as well as personally funding the construction of the museum to house it.

I'm really smitten with the cobalt blue glazed walls in the dining room, but the painted floors, pale peach drapery panels and washed-out upholstery fabrics look tired and dreary to my eye.  Perhaps the colors have faded over time, perhaps they were deliberately subdued so the Mellons' art collection could take center stage, but in any case, it's ready for an update now that it's about to welcome a new family.

Thinking about the original occupants of this historic property and inspired by the blue walls, I immediately thought of one of my favorite Scalamandré screen print fabrics, "Stravagante."

Scalamandré Stravagante, $399 per yard
Listerine heiress Rachel Lambert Mellon, better known as Bunny, is an art lover as well with a fondness for Mark Rothko's vibrantly colorful abstract impressionistic paintings.  A horticulturalist as well, Bunny Mellon also redesigned the White House Rose Garden for her close friend Jackie Kennedy, so this vibrant floral pattern flanking windows that overlook Bunny's garden would be an especially fitting tribute to the home's original owners. 

The White House Rose Garden in 1988, designed by Bunny Mellon, photo courtesy The Reagan Library

My Virtual Do-Over: What a Change of Fabrics Can Do
If you click on the picture, you can see more of the room.  In addition to hanging ScalamandrĂ©s Stravagante fabric at the window, I've also virtually reupholstered the arm chair and small bench in a (discontinued) Lee Jofa linen/silk damask.
Lee Jofa Linen/Silk Arundel Damask, $290 per yard, discontinued Flame colorway

...Because there's nothing that makes a fabric more desirable than knowing it's discontinued with no available stock, n'est-ce pas?  With an unlimited budget, we could have this fabric recreated just for this project.

You know, good clients are to be treasured, but there's something wickedly gratifying about a fantasy design project like this one, unfettered by the constraints of budgetary concerns, clients' opinions, and other nuisances.  It's a bit like designing for a show house, except that designers have to beg, borrow, and foot much of the bill themselves for a show house, working under ridiculously stressful time constraints.  No, this was more like Design Banditry -- breaking into a stranger's home, redecorating without their permission (without having to pay for anything or deal with any paperwork or logistical nightmares), and then scampering away into the night.  Great concept for an HGTV series, if they could only overcome the legal hurdles...


Pigtown*Design said...

OMG! You have done a beautiful job in this transformation! I think that pattern's perfect for the room!

Toby Worthington said...

Rebecca, I see your point about the Scalamandre print as curtains in the virtually redecorated dining room, specially as that print has a distinctly French vibe which calls to mind the brilliant trompe l'oeil garden room of Mrs Mellon's house in Virginia. Yet on the other hand one would wish to respect the beautifully painted walls (done by Paul Leonard under John Fowler's supervision in the 1960s) and the wonderfully understated deliberately "tired" painted floors. So it would be interesting to know whether the present pale peach curtains are a replacement by the current owner or were there under Mrs Mellon's reign. They don't have a Fowler look at all, do they?
You are correct about the criss cross glazed walls by the way--they were made as background to canvases by Manet as well as Monet.
The house will be featured in the November 2013 issue of World of Interiors, which ought to answer some of these questions.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks for the additional info, Toby -- I'll definitely keep an eye out for that article.
Do you think the floors were always so faded, though? If they were originally painted in the 1960s and have been flooded with sunlight from the French doors for the past 50 years, wouldn't it stand to reason that they might have faded quite a bit?
I wish I knew which Monet and Manet paintings were originally hung in this space. As much as I love this drapery fabric, I'm sure the art was much more amazing! Thanks for stopping by.

Toby Worthington said...

The floors weren't so much "faded"as distressed--I base this observation on a recent photo sent by a friend of the house's owner. And to be perfectly honest, I was somewhat thrown by the contrast between the soft paint tones of the floor and the richness of the cobalt blue walls. If indeed the whole scheme is by Fowler (as conveyed to me) that cobalt blue comes as a shock! As to the harsh effects of sunlight over the course of time, bear in mind that the walls are very thick and thus the window reveals unusually deep, which might have a mitigating influence on fading. By the way, every floor in the house is painted in a different design!

Toby Worthington said...

Rebecca, this may be of interest:

Toby Worthington said...

About those curtains in the Blue Dining room of the Mellon House--they are indeed a replacement of the Mellon originals, which were a blue and white woven stripe for half the year, and plain white cotton for the warmer months. (This information came from a reliable source.)