12 November 2010

The Wunderhaus of Carlton Hobbs


There is nothing I'd rather do all day than to peer into other people's homes.  Ever since I took a walking tour of New York's Carnegie Hill neighborhood, I have been angling to visit one house in particular: 60 East 93rd Street.

Virgina Fair Vanderbilt, of the Fairmont Fairs, commissioned architect John Russell Pope, best known for the Jefferson Memorial, to design what would be one of New York's last great houses.  It was completed in 1931 at the height of the Depression, and Birdie lived in the 50 room mansion for only four years until her death.

Thelma Foy in Schiaparelli in 1937, photo by Toni Frissell
 Its next resident was another lady of great style, Thelma Foy, nee Chrysler and daughter of Walter, who filled the house with Fine French Furniture from the blue chip firm (and aptly named) French and Co.

Decades later, after being inhabited by the Romanian Mission and the Lycee Francais, the house is again filled with treasures that would make even the discerning Thelma's jaw drop.  My dream of stepping behind the limestone facade of this Neoclassical grande dame came true recently, and its new owner, Carlton Hobbs, and his business partner Stefanie Rinza were kind enough to give me a tour from the entrance hall to the store rooms floors above.

While Carlton has the connoisseur's eye for the very rare, he also has a penchant for the unusual and - may I say - slightly eccentric which is EXACTLY my cup of tea.  Here are a just a few of the works that made me gasp:


One from a set of three Austrian maritime scenes incorporating swing-out panels carved in high relief, revealing laca povera decoration.

I immediately fell in love with this German table because of its incredible 17th century scagiola top which reminded me of verdure tapestries.

One of the gallery's most exciting recent acquistions is an 18th century Neoclassical paneled library from the Hotel Gaulin in Dijon which once belonged to J.P. Morgan, Jr.

Carlton and Stefanie were amazed to find that the paneled room fit almost perfectly into one of the house's rooms.  As Pope took French Neoclassical precedents as his model, this synchronicity was surely no accident.

I was captivated by this mad cabinet-secretaire which is also Neoclassical and captures the 1790s romantic mood for the picturesque.
 Its cork exterior is painted to resemble ancient stone walls covered with lichen....

 ...but inside is this perfectly polished mahogany secretaire abattant.  While this was hands down my favorite piece, there was one more whose provenance rattled my soul.  I have sworn not to talk about it until January when a very very exciting exhibition celebrating the English Regency style will take place.  To be continued!


Emily Thompson Flowers said...

The mad cabinet secretaire is the most wonderful contortion. It made my day.

A bit of a free association: I once bought a blank book made entirely of cork, including the pages (In Corsica, no less). It should be housed in such a piece of furniture to complete the cycle!

Thank you!

quintessence said...

OMG - this is incredible - the house itself and all its inanimate inhabitants! From the Austrian scene with the amazing swing out panels to the spectacular secret secretaire abattant. What a fabulous fine!! Not to mention can't wait til January to hear about the Regency piece.

Anonymous said...

any info on current owner of gertrude whitney studio by delano & aldrich in old westbury? what a gem...

Jane K. Schott said...

Is this not a wonderful way to live. If I had a dinner party I would put her right next to me....there is a real feeling to this space...

Karena said...

Emily, just fascinating beyond, the exquisite cabinet; and I adore the German table with the wonderful scene atop.


Art by Karena

Paul Byron Downs said...

I am most intrigued by the pie-shape table. Never seen before.


magnus said...

Yes Mr. Hobbs please charge and send the dining table with the pie shaped leaves. And do you offer an "Easy payment Plan"?

Those circular dining tables are indeed wonderful. A friend who has one has two sets of leaves. The table opens with a crank and when the largest leaves are inserted, it can seat 16 ppeople.

Anon 12:50- the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney studio in Old Westbury is still owned by her granddaughter and both the building and its magnificent garden are still maintained faultlessly.