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01 October 2009

Looking for Valerian Rybar


Some of you may remember that while reading Empress Bianca, the alleged roman à clef about international socialite and philanthropist Lily Safra, I became obsessed with finding out who the real-life version of Bianca's decorator, Valerian Rybar, was. (Click here and here to revisit Safra style.)

Well, apparently Valerian Rybar was the real Valerian Rybar, and according to the NY Times, he was the world's most expensive decorator, boasting a roster that included Rothschilds and Greek shipping magnates.


My dreams of seeing veritable Rybar rooms were soon realized when I espied the 1980s tome Decorating for Celebrities by Paige Rense on a friend's bookshelf. Lo and behold, an in depth interview with Mr. Rybar in which he muses on his craft:


The difference between a decorator and a designer: "A decorator should have a taste for selection; a designer should have a talent for creation."

If you are decorating your own home but can't do everything at once, make a master plan and then execute it. "Don't buy something because you love the way it looks whenever you happen to see it. Be very sure it fits into your total concept."


Rybar has many wise words, although I would beg to differ with his statement that "today, for a room of quality, you have to spend at least thirty thousand dollars. And that does not, of course, include art and antiques." Instead, I would suggest, you could spend all the money in the world and still not achieve the results that a good eye and a spark of imagination can create.

Photos: top, #3 by Pascal Hinous; #4 by Nathaniel Lieberman

25 comments:

Blue said...

I remember seeing some of his last published work just before he died and now I am trawling through old magazines I come across his rooms occasionally. Rybar one of the generation that is being forgotten. Did not Geoffrey Bradfield work for/with him at the end of Rybar's life? There is a similarity of style, at least to my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Valerian Rybar is also featured in the first Tiffany Table Settings, and the featured settings are fantastic.

The Peak of Chic said...

What first drew me to him was his name- what a mysterious sounding moniker. But his work was so rich and decadent. I believe he also decorated Scaasi's showroom back in the 60s? Another AD book also features one of his projects. I'll go find the book and let you know.

home before dark said...

Of course I love the drama of the first photo and the last one. And I stand by you on your own view of what imagination+good eye can create. Yes, it would be quite wonderful not to have to consider budget, and simply create the haven of our heart's most curated desires. Excuse the noise, but heaven is sighing back there. We simply have to keep learning, keep doing our best to create a place that we love to live in. Today, I think dusting would probably be my best contribution to my home. I'm out to garden instead. Always love your great eye, your personal view and your warm heart.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Blue, I know that Bradfield worked/was partners with Jay Spector - maybe that's who you're thinking of?

Anonymous - I bet they were. Rybar makes several mentions that he had quite the reputation for table settings and party throwing. Instead of shelling out big bucks for the best caterer, etc, he advised paying attention to the smallest details - which will make the evening much more memorable - such as embroidering all the guests names on their napkins for them to take home with, or use abalone shells to serve salad in instead of as ashtrays (which apparently everyone was doing in 1980).

Peak, please do!

Home, Shucks! Your kind words are very appreciated.

Even though I do fantasize about what I could do and buy! if money were no object, I firmly believe that the challenges of having to work within a budget can make one have to think about things more and hence make the end results more interesting and personal than otherwise.

Anonymous said...

When I was about 25 years old Albert Hadley set me up on an a job interview with VR. I of course was very excited as I didn't have job. I had just moved to NYC and the months were ticking by as I was running out of money waiting to be offered the "perfect" job of my dreams... designing "butter yellow" interiors in the style of Colefax and Fowler.

So I put on my navy blue blazer with gold monogramed buttons. I was so sure this was going to be it and I would be a happy man with my first job! I had only fifty dollars left to my name on the day that I interviewed with RV and like all neophytes I had absolutely no idea who he was or what he did nor did I really know anything about the NY design world.

His office was sheathed in rough cedar vertical planks stained steel gray with black leather upholstery and stacked ball chromium lamps with black silk shades. It was cold harsh, mod and tuff..... I was petrified! Mr. Rybar was Yugoslavian with a thick accent, a very slick manner, polished and grand. I was a grossly polite, jockish, blonde preppy hanging on his every word and showing all the interest of a 25 year old who was taught to treat all my elders with extreme respect. He interviewed me for what seemed like hours as he showed me room after room done top to bottom in mirror, Louis XV French Boule furniture and very dramatic lighting.. "Mr. Rybar these are the most beautiful rooms I've ever seen!"

The next day he called me and offered me a job- I couldn't believe it! So, I simply said.... "Mr. Rybar, I think I've changed my mind" "WHAT??!", he said as he told me I was an ungrateful brat and how dare I refuse a job from Valerian Rybar. Then he hung up on me, slamming down his phone.

Now I wish had taken the job it probably would have been fascinating LOL

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Anon, THIS is one of the reasons I blog. Thank you for sharing your firsthand VR experience - made my day!

Mrs. Blandings said...

Anon. - this is the reason I READ blogs. An amazing story. And, Emily, that mirrored room is ... I have no words. Amazing.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Patricia, the mirrored room is just magic - although I would probably keep it very dim so I wouldn't be stalked by my own reflection!

Anonymous said...

Heven't I seen some pictures of Slatkin (is it Harry?) being the decorator for Safra at La Leopolda ? I vaquely remember seeing in an article, on him, some pictures of them on the terrace.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Decadent doesn't begin to describe him. Remember, he used to call himself Valerian Stux-Rybar, though some spelled it Styx-Rybar (just to give it a dark twist). I recall hearing that his NYC apartment had a dungeon room that had to be ripped out before it could be shown by the Realtor. He also was married, once, surprisingly, to Irish beer heiress Aileen Guinness, whose marvelous estate was Luttrellstown, which was redecorated for her in the 1950s, I think, by the wonderful Felix Harbord.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Anon 3:32pm - Yes, I have also heard that Slatkin was Mrs. Safra's decorator. It is possible Valerian Rybar was never Mrs. Safra's designer - merely that he is Empress Bianca's designer in the book (allegedly based on La Safra). But if he was, perhaps Mrs. Safra has worked with Slatkin since Rybar's death in 1990?

And Aesthete has just cleared up something for me as well - in the novel, Rybar is married to a socialite, but in the AD book it clearly mentions he has a male partner so I became confused. But why shouldn't Rybar have done it all, and I guess he did.

Blue said...

Yes, you're right about who Bradfield worked with. I should have known that. Jay Spector - there was a talent. Very exciting at the time and some of his interiors have dated remarkably well.

Anonymous said...

Re Aesthete's comments about the dungon: I think that Rybar's NY apartment used to a maisonette on Sutton Place, and as a young man in NYC who lived in the neighborhood, and having heared the same story, I used to walk by the apartment at night trying to see past the Stainless Steel Vertical Blinds, and what was going on inside! Alas-----Nothing to report!

Susan Adler Sobol said...

Many years ago, I visited Montreal with a group that was affiliated with a major American museum. On our itinerary was the tour of an art collection at the corporate offices of a very prominent Canadian business man. The offices had been decorated by Valerian Rybar and his partner, Jean Francoise Daigre. The decor was so opulent and so over the top -- I have no recollection of the art!

Toby Worthington said...

Oh, everything he did just made my skin crawl!
Then one day I saw him at one of the showrooms in the D & D building. You know how people come to resemble their dogs? Well, he resembled his rooms.
All of them located a stone's throw from Transylvania, no doubt....

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

What a delicious conversation this turned out to be!

Anon 6:04, there is nothing better than walking the streets at around 7pm when it's just starting to get dark outside and you can really get a good look inside the Jones' abodes.

Reggie said...

Many years ago, shortly after VR died, I was visiting friends on Fire Island who were shopping for a house. I accompanied them and their realtor on their rounds of nondescript dwellings until we came across an overgrown property, hidden behind walls and a locked entry door where the realtor said, "you've got to see this!" Turns out it was VR's house and it was, to put it mildly, over the top in a deliciously creepy, inverted way. It had become rather unkempt as it had languished on the market for a year or more, unoccupied. I don't remember if it came with dungeon (wouldn't surprise me a whit if it did), but what I do recall most vividly was that the empty, leaf-filled pool was surrounded by half a dozen contemporary, white, fiber-glass, life-sized statues of naked adolescent boys. Jaw dropping! One of the great decadents of all time, I think.

little augury said...

Such an interesting discussion and so much new ,never known info. Emily- bravo for the investigative work, and so amazing to learn so muc right on our own little corners!I can't help but feel Anon at 25 made a wise decision. It seems decorator designer are not mutually exclusive-one must be both, when the work calls for it. I couldn't imagine buying things that just "fit" into the concept.Terrible.I totally agree with you EEE- give me the eye and the imagination- it appears that the VR got sort of carried away from lack of it in that last room photo. GT

Reggie said...

Speaking of, umm, decadents -- what's up with Peter Marino's fetishistic biker look? He's in full rig in every photo I see of him these days...

Errant Aesthete said...

Bravo, indeed, Emily for your sleuthing skills. Wonderful post. I am captivated by all of it. The opulence, the drama, the dungeon and the hinted at fiendishness of the man.
And the tale of the wonderfully descriptive encounter with Rybar and his outburst over being turned down by a snot-nosed preppy was, as they say, priceless.

This Rybar maxim:

"Don't buy something because you love the way it looks whenever you happen to see it. Be very sure it fits into your total concept."

had me laughing as I was reminded of last week's episode of Mad Men when Betty Draper, in a moment of pique and to the horror of her interior decorator, went out and purchased a pink Victorian fainting couch as part of her newly styled living room set.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Oh Reggie, that reminds me of Michael Jackson's life-sized mannequins of old people and little children that populated his private quarters of Neverland.

Errant - how funny! I totally forgot about Betty's crazy couch - I can only imagine Mr. Rybar's reaction. No doubt it would have been "fiendish"!

Laura Casey Interiors said...

This was all so interesting and I love reading all these comments. Love to read Anon's comment too.

J said...

Rybar's dramatic work was frequently seen in "Architectural Digest" in the 70s. His office was in the same building as Parish-Hadley at one time, so that might have been a factor in that job recommendation. (Let's say it was). I saw Rybar only once in the harsh light of day, and it was all I could do to keep from screaming like a little girl! (I'm a big boy). Very frightening!!

Jeffrey Hagedon said...

I also interviewed for a job with VR when I was 25 while still employed by the very well known and highly regarded John Saladino. Talk about a different aesthetic, it was like night and day! I was offered the position and actually accepted because of the exciting client and project roster he maintained. It was an experience I will never forget. He was intimidating and most of the rumors about him were true. I learned many things and gained a multitude of talented artisans, sources, and vendors. After working in his cold looking office a little more than a year, I leapt at the chance to leave and return to the offices of John Saladino.