|Nancy and Henry Kissinger (seated).|
Nancy Kissinger is a member of the Board of Directors of the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, located in a handsome, landmark, 1927 Federal Revival townhouse designed by McKim, Mead & White; it was donated by Margaret Rockefeller Strong de Larrain, Marquesa de Cuevas, in 1965. The article marks the ocassion of Mrs. Kissinger being that year's chairperson of the fund-raising gala that honors the Gold Medal award winners that have been recognized for their contributions to the betterment of relations between the United States and Spain. (Dr. Henry Kissinger was one of the honorees in 2005, and recently-in-the-news newlywed H.E. The Duchess of Alba in 2008). But before the photos of the Kissingers' apartment, some background on the famous building, River House.
|The courtyard entrance of River House.|
|A vintage view of the Reception Hall of River House.|
|Watercolor renderings of the river landing from the original sales prospectus.|
A river landing was another original feature, but it lasted only until the FDR Drive was constructed in 1934. The River Club, limited to 400 men and women from New York and 200 from other states, is an original amenity that still exists with an indoor swimming pool, two indoor championship tennis courts, ballroom, oyster bar, dining room, and 26 suites for out-of-town members and guests. In addition to the separate 52nd Street entrance, there was previously an entrance from the river landing, and there is an elevator entrance from the River House lobby.
|The Lounge at the Indoor Swimming Pool of the River Club.|
|A vintage view of an indoor tennis court at the River Club.|
The entire building, including the River Club, was designed by William Lawrence Bottomley, the principal of the architectural firm Bottomley, Wagner, & White, and built 1929-32. River views, privacy, and natural ventilation were all carefully considered for each of the 64 simplex (one story), duplex (two story), and triplex (three story) apartments, varying from 8 to 17 rooms.
|A typical floor plan of River House.|
A very unusual feature is the interlocking plans of the "E" and "F" duplex apartments which have the public rooms of the apartment on the lower floor on one side of the wind and the private rooms on the opposite side above, allowing for variations in exposure. Also, the ceiling heights vary, higher in the entertaining levels and lower in the bedroom levels.
|Floor Plans for the tower apartments and the "E" and "F" duplexes.|
Tower apartments with exposures on all four sides start on the 17th floor. The top of the building was originally a triplex with private terraces, but it was later divided to two apartments, a duplex and a simplex above. (That duplex was famously owned by Susan and John Gutfreund in the 1980s, with a number of so-called "bad neighbor" incidents reported in the tabloids including the hoisting of a 22 foot Christmas tree up the outside of the building via a wrench mounted on their upstairs neighbor's terrace).
|View from a penthouse terrace at River House.|
Those living outside the big urban areas often find the concept of a co-operative building difficult to understand. In the briefest of terms, a purchase involves shares in ownership and the right to occupy a specific apartment. It also means that a potential buyer has to be approved by the Board, and rejection requires no explanation. In a well-publicized lawsuit, Gloria Vanderbilt sued, claiming that she was not even allowed an interview. Others who reportedly were turned away were Richard Nixon and Diane Keaton.
Henry Kissinger has lived in River House for decades and is always mentioned whenever there is a list of residents, so The Devoted Classicist is not compromising any confidences here. It is a guess that this is an "E" duplex by interpreting the photos, but it is only a guess, and nothing is known about the decorator. Considering the owners' wealth, education and exposure, the Living Room is remarkably unfinished. Perhaps when it is filled with people, the flaws are less noticeable. The scraggly potted orchids, and bunches of dried hydrangeas, inexpensive decoration, would indicate that at-home entertaining is infrequent. The presence of at least four crystal ashtrays might contradict that, however.
Despite the over-use of green, this writer would have considered window treatments that were the same color as the walls, letting the Bessarabian rug be the major colorful pattern, and added throw pillows. Also, the room would be improved if art could play a bigger role. The lacquered and inlaid pieces do add a richness, however. The original 6-over-6 double hung windows have been replaced with single pane tilt-turn sash that unfortunately give big expanses of darkness at night.
This writer, influenced by former employer Sister Parish, favors black candles, too, but does not display them without first burning the wicks briefly. A manila clasp envelope on the left cabinet, presumed to be a late nineteenth century Boulle revival pair, appears in a previous shot.
Although the two-panel screen mounted on the wall above the canape is not objectionable, a stronger piece of art would help distract from the "legginess" of the furniture. Just guessing, it looks like there is seating for at least 21 in this room, which is good; a Living Room should seat, at the very least, the same number as the Dining Room.
Again, it is not that the furnishings themselves are objectionable; it is just an uncomfortable arrangement. It is hoped that this rare, un-styled look into a celebrity interior was appreciated from a socio-anthropological and decorative point of view. Do the readers have any suggestions for the Kissingers for a little home improvement?
The color vintage photos of River House are from THE WORK OF WILLIAM LAWRENCE BOTTOMLEY IN RICHMOND by William B. O'Neal and Christopher Weeks, University Press of Virginia, and the black & white photos are from THE ARCHITECTURE OF WILLIAM LAWRENCE BOTTOMLEY by Susan Hume Frazer, Acanthus Press, available here. The photos of the Kissingers in their River House apartment are from HOLA! magazine, available here.