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The Peak of Chic
Jeffrey Podolsky | Photo: Ball & Albanese | October 29, 2012
Over the past 15 years designer Lorry Newhouse, a member of the eminent publishing family that owns Condé Nast, has been filling her bright Park Avenue duplex with an eclectic mix of exquisite 19th and 20th century furnishings, textured wallpapers, artwork and European flea-market finds. Here, a peek at the boho-chic splendor of her Upper East Side residence (and atelier).
It’s a Monday morning in October, and Lorry Newhouse has been polishing all weekend. With mop, dust cloth and “magic solution” in hand, she’s been spiffing up, in anticipation of my visit, the antiques and oak floors of her Park Avenue penthouse. “It’s like meditating for me,” says Newhouse. “It’s very calming. I suppose it’s something of an affliction.”
Surely Newhouse, a member of the New York publishing family that owns Condé Nast, among other interests, could easily have enlisted an entire crew to do the scrubbing for her, but she’s a hands-on type, preferring to be the curator of her domain.
An artist by training, Newhouse attended Yale’s School of Art and Architecture and has long been known as one of the city’s most knowledgeable arbiters and historians of fashion. She recently launched a couture-quality ready-to-wear line, to laudatory reviews. As she greets me she is wearing a slightly transparent black fil coupe blouse and purple brocade skirt of her own design, along with black sheer stockings and a gold Bulgari snake watch bracelet (her 2-year-old granddaughter Zoe’s favorite toy), and is traipsing around with no shoes. Clearly this is not your typical Park Avenue madam who favors grand entrance halls (“They look like hotels,” she says) or studied, preconceived looks.
We make our way into the living room of her cozy duplex, situated in one of the Upper East Side’s great 1920s Candela buildings. The sun streaming through the windows of wrought-iron French doors that open up to vast wraparound terraces lends a radiant warmth to her eclectic, individualistic (and yes, polished) décor done in collaboration with Rain Phillips. The five-bedroom apartment is a warren of intimate rooms, each in turn unveiling a colorful surprise: Every space is utterly different, from a cranberry-red smoking room to a Moroccan-themed petite boudoir. “I love the idea of a little love nest in the sky,” says the insouciant Newhouse. “There’s something sexy about being in a tent.”
Newhouse describes her home as “comfortable,” though “European Bohemian-chic with a twist” may be more apt. “I came in and here it was,” she says, describing the moment she first viewed the Rose Cumming-decorated space some 15 years ago. She and her husband, Mark, an executive with the family company, had raised their children at their home in Summit, N.J., and were ready for something a little more in the swim of things. “The apartment just happened in my life—it’s like, you meet somebody and there it is,” she says.
I am struck by a woven fabric on the walls that evokes the vines and leaves of Central Park. It is strongly reminiscent of the work of 19th century English textile designer William Morris—a Newhouse favorite whose touches inform her interior design. The living room’s customized wallpaper, which was digitally produced by Phillips in greens, cocoa browns and oranges, is nothing if not Morris-esque. “I love that era,” says Newhouse, whose choice of hues was inspired by the residences of British friends. “The English are exceptionally sensitive to colors, with that awful weather,” she notes. “Nor do they go out and buy a new sofa—they slipcover until it’s in tatters. I love that attitude.”
Although much of the wallpaper upstairs is classic 1960s Clarence House ranging from avocado to light mustard, the entry foyer’s standout ceiling is by Rose Cumming (another of Newhouse’s great loves). Pink with tiny gold stars, it showcases the massive early 19th century William IV sideboard.
Throughout the rooms, an unusual mix of elements gives a lived-in feel. Off the foyer are light-green Venetian-style wood doors; personal favorites such as the deep turquoise decoupage lamps with depictions of bulldogs, frogs, and parrots (topped off by light blue gingham shades) enliven the bedroom; placed throughout are remarkable European Arts and Crafts vases picked up at flea markets, includings collectibles from Austria, Germany and France, as well as some American Fulper-period pieces; and in the upstairs atelier, numerous colorful lamps from Vallauris, which Newhouse first espied at the home of Brooke Hayward and Peter Duchin, take the fanciful form of starfish, codshells and more.
The first-floor turquoise bedroom—with its Mario Buatta canopy bed, early-English Lee Jofa chintz coral canopy and complementary curtains—may well be the “sanctuary” where Newhouse unwinds and watches a young Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind (she’s a cinephile as well) or reruns of her personal indulgence, Law & Order: SVU, which she’s just as likely to wax lyrical about as, say, the Cindy Sherman she owns.
But this is a working space as well. An elderly seamstress cuts samples and patterns in the atelier, with its yellow-and-white-striped floor—painted, an effect Newhouse adores. Below, in the dining room, a Fortuny silk brocade tablecloth is littered with laptops employed by her extended family of trusted aides. Overhead hangs an encaustic piece by Newhouse depicting deep-red and gold-leafed flowers. Open the warmers in the vast old English serving tray at the center of the table and you’ll find a collection of scissors and colored pencils—Newhouse sketches her designs—rather than plates, all warming up for her next collection. “Once I didn’t tighten the water spigot, so there was a flood,” says Newhouse of the plate warmer. She has slipped on a pair of antique dark emerald wraparound Amish sunglasses. “I wear these to scare everyone,” she jokes. “I’ve tried to replicate them—maybe I’ll
In the living room opposite the early 20th century Paolo Buffa table stands a metal coat rack with samples from Newhouse’s spring/summer collection, ranging from long sea foam-green skirts to a pair of light-blue fil coupe pants sporting white swallows. She also collects Georges Lepape and Carl Erickson fashion illustrations, which line the staircase with its unique runner—a beige, black, red and blue 1920s antique hooked rug depicting schoolhouses, Scottish terriers, churches and cottages. McAdoo hand-hooked rugs are scattered throughout the apartment.
Commanding the kitchen is the Aga range. Newhouse first learned of an Aga some 15 years ago in the Cotswolds town of Burford. This one, however, serves as a fireplace, as she doesn’t cook and relies mostly on takeout. Her New Year’s resolution is to entertain at home again in addition to having over, naturally, her children (Jesse, a Condé Nast executive; Charlotte, a comedian with the Groundlings troupe in Los Angeles) and granddaughter Zoe. “I’d just like to have friends of mine who are writers and musicians—or even some I don’t even know,” she says. “Just the plain pursuit of intellectual curiosity.” Which, of course, is classic Newhouse: forever curious.