Every great home starts with a great story, non? The tale of this gorgeous New York City apartment owned by the late gossip columnist Aileen Mehle, nom-de-plume Suzy, and designed to the nines by Mario Buatta has a fabulous past. Once upon a time, a wealthy Philadelphia scion by the name of John R. Drexel commissioned illustrious architect Horace Trumbauer to construct the four-story French mansion on a lot just off of 5th Avenue. Alice, Mr. Drexel’s wife, was in a particular circle of grande dames using Mr. Trumbauer to outdo one another with a bigger and more sumptuous palace. In 1903, she triumphed with the 40-room Gilded Age marvel.
We can’t go any further without giving Horace Trumbauer his due! He and his eponymous architectural firm created some of the Gilded Age’s most exquisite manors. He showed restraint where it counted and gave all his buildings a semblance of historical integrity. The first major undertaking for the Philadelphia-based Trumbauer was in the 1890s when he built Grey Towers, a stone castle in Pennsylvania for sugar-refinery baron William Welsh Harrison. Whitemarsh Hall, known as the “American Versailles” followed and did not disappoint in the square footage department with its 147 rooms. The film adaption of Annie used Trumbauer’s Shadow Lawn Mansion to portray Daddy Warbucks’ estate and it also served as the summer White House for President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Horace’s Manhattan projects, like the John R. Drexel mansion Aileen resided in, came about when his Northeastern patrons were ready to conquer New York City.
After the Depression, the John R. Drexel mansion was split into separate apartments which were inhabited by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Joan Rivers in the years following. Aileen Mehle’s particular pad had many a fancy resident but according to her, none left their mark on it more so than Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and heiress to the Fiat fortune, Susanna Agnelli.
Writes Mehle for Architectural Digest in 2011 “Susanna loved to entertain, and she had turned the two-bedroom apartment into a party place. She built a second kitchen, and she covered the 19-foot-high ballroom walls with a fabric that was a dizzying, eye-popping concoction of exotic flowers and figures in russet, blue, gray, beige, yellow, and more. Attached to one wall were two huge sofas, stepped back and one atop the other. Bleachers in a ballroom? I could imagine Alice Drexel whirling in her mausoleum.”
What is one to do with such an, ahem, eclectic decorating dilemma in a place you just leased? Well you call your close friend and aptly titled Price of Chintz, Mario Buatta. Mario and Aileen purchased every last yard of moonlight-hued Indian silk on the island and went to town tying a tassel onto anything that wasn’t moving. The Buatta magic is evident in every last detail of this sublime home, particularly the fantastical dining room.
In the bedroom, Mario and Aileen left the gorgeous fabric upholstered walls as is. The ornate floral covering was originally installed by Susanna Agnelli; she had also put a marble bathtub right in the middle of the room which Mario promptly moved into the bathroom. We end our apartment tour with this chic chambre but the eye candy continues below!
If a particular piece (or 10!) from this splendid slice of decorated heaven has caught your eye, it can be yours as Aileen’s estate is up for auction through Doyle starting May 24th. I thought about keeping this information to myself but I’m so grateful to have any readers at all that I absolutely must share! Here are some pieces I spotted in the above interiors for your perusal and consideration:
P.S. If you missed the post on Aileen Mehle, or “Suzy” as most everyone knew her, and her fascinating life and career, you can read it here.