29 Apr 2010

Touring the Upper East Side of New York City

Antiques, Architecture, Gerald Bland, Interior Design, Mirrors, New York City 11 Comments

I had the good fortune to meet New York City interior designer Tamara Matthews-Stephenson on Facebook.  Tamara, author of the blog Nest by Tamara, offered to meet for coffee at the Le Pain Quotidien (Daily Bread) on Madison Avenue and she’d give me the scoop on places I as a designer would want to see.  She even advised me to have my taxi driver take the route through Central Park, a touch I very much enjoyed.  I was pleasantly surprised by how many trees are in Central Park and all of them are covered with spring green leaves.

Central Park across from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum

Pain de Quotidien is a Belgian chain that feels like a neighborhood cafe/bakery, with a long central rustic wooden table where people eat together, surrounded by small tables for more intimate conversations.  There are a lot of them sprinkled in the city.

Le Pain Quotidien

Tamara discreetly pointed out Yoko Ono who was also dining, which was very cool.  I’d just referred to her Smiling Face Project in my post here and there I was looking at her smiling face.  She looked peaceful and content.  Over good strong coffee and a savory Quiche Vegetarian, Tamara and I talked so much our meal took an hour and a half to eat.

A bowl of coffee

People make cracks about Facebook (like my husband, who likes to refer to my “hundreds of close intimate friends”) but the fact is that friendships begin somewhere, and Tamara and I realized that we have much in common besides our passion for interior design.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to New York!

Tamara & me, photographed by Tamara’s daughter Gabby

Tamara (accent on 2nd syllable) graciously gave me a tour of her neighborhood, the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  While I’d thought of the Upper East Side as a bastion of the incredibly wealthy, she explained that while there are indeed very rich and famous inhabitants, they live within a select area of the UES.  Not that residing anywhere in Manhattan is inexpensive.

I told Tamara I especially wanted to see the architecture and visit the shops (like any good woman) but the shops I wanted to see were for antiques and home decorating (like any good interior designer/decorator).  Tampa has many wonderful attractions, and we love it here, but good home decor shops are a bit scarce (although I will feature one of my faves in another post).  She took me first to Gerald Bland, at 1262 Madison Avenue, an antiques dealer with a charming welcome and an array of intriguing antiques like this Art Deco mirror:

Art Deco Mirror from Gerald Bland
Art Deco Mirror Gerald Bland New York

and this Adam Mahogany Oval Bench, circa 1780, that with its nailheads, tufting and pink/green color palette show that good design truly is timeless.

Adam Oval Bench from Gerald Bland NYC
Adam Oval Bench, Gerald Bland NY
Gerald Bland

If you are a fellow lover of Albert Hadley, stop in to see the collection of his sketches

Hadley’s iconic red lacquer & brass library
Probably the most photographed room on Park Avenue

Before exploring Gerald Bland, we first walked by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum on Museum Mile at the corner of 5th Avenue and East 91st Street, across from Central Park, in what is now the Carnegie Hill Historic District.  As the “only museum in the country devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design,” this is one reason I must return to NY.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

The Cooper-Hewitt museum includes the 64 room mansion built in 1899-1902 which began life in the mind of Andrew Carnegie (properly pronounced kar NAY gee) and his wife Louise, who was 22 years his junior, as “the most modern, plainest and roomiest house in New York.”  Designed by NY architects Babb, Cook & Willard, it was modeled on a Georgian country house and situated on a relatively large amount of property far north of his peers’ residences.  The reason for moving so far north was to have enough land for Louise to garden and so the mansion could be a light-filled home in which to raise their young daughter, Margaret, who was born when her mother was 40 and father was 62.  I am drawn to natural light filled rooms myself, so I think it was a wise decision <wink> Once Carnegie retired in 1901, the home also served as his place to oversee his numerous philanthropic projects, which included many donations to free public libraries across the US and cultural and educational facilities in the US and Scotland.

Carnegie Mansion

Click here for a fascinating look into their life together.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Carnegie’s favorite Scotch is also mine.  And their very special “alarm clock” was a novel way to greet the morning.  It certainly seems the Carnegies had a happy marriage.  Maybe it’s the romanticist in me, but if a couple has a happy marriage, I can’t help but believe them to be good people.  I found one of Louise’s traditions charming:  she had her dinner guests sign the linen tablecloth, which she then had embroidered and preserved as a souvenir of the evening.  Besides the honour of having one’s name embroidered onto a tablecloth, I’m sure the guests were even more careful not to spill their wine.  I think asking my dinner guests to sign their name on a linen napkin and having it embroidered for them as a gift would be fun.

Andrew Carnegie’s home was considered “modest”

Although the home was considered modest because it was clad in brick vs. limestone, it had many modern innovations such as a steel frame, central heating, a form of air conditioning, telephones, and a passenger elevator.  I adore Georgian architecture and think the mansion is beautiful; I actually prefer the juxtaposition of brick with stone.  What about you?

In contrast, this mansion, built in 1918 on the opposite corner of 5th and 91st was the “largest mansion ever built in Manhattan.”  After their marriage in 1896, Otto Kahn and Adelaide Wolff commissioned renowned architects C.P.H. Gilbert and J. Armstrong Stenhouse to build their private home.  Sparing no expense, Kahn, a German born investment banker, said that it was a sin to keep money idle, a sentiment that would certainly help today’s economy.  The Landmarks Commission designated the Otto and Addy Kahn House as the finest Italian Renaissance style mansion in New York.  Made from French limestone imported from St. Quentin, the house was modeled after the Papal Chancellery in Rome.

Otto & Addie Kahn House

Window detail of Kahn 2nd floor

The 2nd floor exterior pilasters and the alternating pediments illustrate the classic beauty of 16th century Italian architecture.  But a novel feature of the mansion is the deep winding courtyard that brings light and air to the interior.

Rear Courtyard of the Kahn Mansion

Considered the most influential patron of the arts known to America, especially of music, architecture, and painting, Otto Kahn often held concerts and exhibitions at his home for the public.  He had his 2nd floor music room designed with an Adam ceiling lit by a crystal chandelier but search as I might, I couldn’t find a photo of it.  The acoustics were excellent, and musicians George Gershwin and Enrico Caruso were among his guests, with Caruso once using the music room as a recital hall.  To read more about the fascinating Otto Kahn, click here.

After Kahn’s death in 1934, Addie sold the mansion to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the oldest Roman Catholic private all-girls school in Manhattan, as well as one of the most selective and expensive.

Sacred Heart Academy

In the 1940s the school expanded next door  into the James A and Florence Sloane Burden House next door.  Florence, great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, loved to entertain lavishly.  Designed in the Italianate Renaissance style by the architects of Grand Central Station, Warren & Westmore,  the 3rd floor ballroom, banquet hall and reception room were modeled after the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles, with 12 foot high doors paneled with oblong mirrors surrounding the ballrooms.  This suite of 3 rooms is cited as the finest Beaux Art townhouse rooms in the city and the home was designated a historic site in 1974.  Notable guests include Mark Twain and Giacomo Puccini.  It must have been convenient for Mark Twain since he was also a friend of  Andrew Carnegie just across 91st Street.  The home now houses Sacred Heart’s lower school.

James Burden, Jr. Beaux Arts Townhouse

Graduates of Convent of the Sacred Heart attend some of the most rigorous and highly respected colleges in the nation, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Stanford, University of Chicago, and many more.  Notable alumnae include many women from the Kennedy family including Caroline Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  Other notables include Gloria Vanderbilt, Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), and Paris and Nicky Hilton.  With annual tuition at 30,000+ for higher grades, it’s quite a commitment.

Margaret Carnegie attended another highly selective and expensive private school, The Spence School.  When the school needed a playground, the Carnegies donated their tennis court for that purpose.  Years later, the school added a building on the lot but put a  playground on the roof of the building to meet the gift’s stipulation.  The Spence School is one of the oldest private girls schools in Manhattan.  Founded in 1892 and located on East 91st St., it was ranked 6th most successful school in the country in placing its graduates in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.    You may recognize the names of some of its more notable alumnae:  Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Clay Frick, and Marjorie Lake Post.  This is a photo of the 93rd St. building which houses the lower grades K-4 while grades 5-12 are housed in a building on East 91st.

The Spence School on East 93rd

The Spence School on East 91st

The visit to the Upper East Side will continue with shopping and more!


11 Responses to “Touring the Upper East Side of New York City”

  1. Dion Cerny says:

    Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

    • Anne says:

      Hi Dion, which browsers did you use? I’ve checked it in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari and haven’t had a problem.

  2. Era Diak says:

    Very educating write up, saved the blog for interest to read more information!

  3. eloise says:

    i really enjoyed your photos in this post! i went to elementary school @ trevor day on 90th & 5th and seeing this area in pix (especially in springtime!) sends a wave of happy nostalgia over me 🙂 i never knew a lot of the neat stuff you shared about the carnegie mansion/cooper hewitt/spence/everything. such a great visit & thank you for sharing it 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Eloise, I’m so glad my tour sent a wave of happy nostalgia over you! I’ll be posting more about the UES and hope you’ll come back to visit. 🙂

  4. Lisa Porter says:

    What an interesting post and I cannot think of a more delightful tour guide. Looking forward to more of your historical walk with Tamara. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anne says:

      Lisa, after reading your beautifully written and photographed post on the Riding for Hope project, your comments mean a lot to me. Thank you for stopping by and touring NYC with me! oxo Anne

  5. Rissi Cherie says:

    The Carnegies wintered in Palatka, Florida, 14 miles from my town of Interlachen. There house still stands in the historic district. Carnegie’s friends, the Mellons, also spent their winters here and built a public library for the town. It is called the Larimer Building now and houses the Arts Council of Greater Palatka. You can see it at http://www.artsinputnam.org.

    • Anne says:

      Rissi, how interesting, I had no idea the Carnegies wintered near your town. Is there home open for tours?

  6. Anne says:

    Thanks, Dianne, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Anne

  7. Dianne Cadden says:

    Your trip was packed with gorgeous historical sights and your diary notes were entertaining! Makes me want to visit. Thanks, Dianne

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