For those who have read the story in Hanging Out of my fun decorating splurge in my apartment in Manhattan and for those of you who might be curious, I’ve taken some recent photos of the place as I get ready to sell it.
In about 1998 I got a big advance to write a new book, and though I’ve always tried to be careful with my money (because I never knew when it would stop showing up), I decided to lavish some on my poor old wreck of an apartment. It was always big by Manhattan standards and now it’s considered premium, but back in the mid ’70’s when I first moved in, it was in a bad neighborhood, had lots of cockroaches but was cheap enough for a single working mother with two small kids and no added support from anywhere.
Over time, I had gone from renter to owner, and I knew I wanted something special, something that would delight me. Instead of hiring an interior decorator, I enlisted the help of a couple of talented friends, one a playwright and set designer, the other a stylist (someone who sets up the ambiance in movie scenes and TV commercials). We scouted out flea markets on 6th Avenue on Sundays, did a little shopping at Macy’s and the Bombay Company and turned it into something gorgeous. There was no real restoration, but a lot of redecorating — with paint, and imagination.
When it was done, I invited my friends over for dinner, a tour and a very special surprise. After everyone had arrived and said our hellos, I led through the kitchen and then behind it to a carefully replicated Greek cottage (originally a maid’s room). with wonderful roughed-up walls and old furniture. They saw the cute pink cupboards, green tiles and Paisley wallpapered kitchen and then the luscious, rosy living room (with the fake vintage fireplace mantle against the wall). Then down the hall to my wonderfully romantic bedroom with the four-poster bed and into the unforgettably charming bathroom (perfect for setting up secret assignations) — with its peach-silk shower curtains and delicate peach-colored wallpaper. Then out of my room into the one-of-a-kind hall bathroom, also known as The Dante Toilet, with angels hanging from the Heavenly ceiling, grumbling garden gargoyles on the Inferno floor and an Elvis Presley clock in which the hips moved back and forth just on the sink level, as Purgatorio.
And then I got them ready for the big surprise. I led them down the hall to the back bedroom which I had turned into The Turkish Room, and I knocked on the door. They all waited, wondering what on earth was in store for them, and heard exotic music begin to flow out of the room. I opened the door and their eyes fell on the lovely room, shiny apple-green walls, buried in kilims and pillows for seating, and in the middle, my wonderful assistant Andrea, whose secret passion was belly-dancing, in her beautiful costume, dancing to the music. Oh what a hit that was!
I went on to enjoy every room in that house, everything that my eyes fell upon, for many years. The surprise was how practical and usable the place had become. It wasn’t a movie set, good only for one event. It was a place of many special places, filled with lovely things to see, cozy places to sit and read or draw, and an affectionate warmth I’d never felt in an apartment before. I know the picture I’ve described might seem radical to some—certainly my few visitors said things that made me wonder, like, “You’re so brave!” But every detail turned out to be a wise, livable decorating decision. It never got boring.
But it did get cluttered. And as I’ve cleaned it out (my thanks to all of you who purchased CD sets in my clearance sale—you helped!), in preparation for selling it, it’s begun to feel incredible again. I’ve been asked to show these photos for a long time, and I’ve wanted to share them with you too, so here they are. I hope you enjoy them.