Friday, December 30, 2011

The Office

The office of The Very Reverend James Parks Morton.
An office, especially an executive's, should say something about the individual.  All these examples come from that Golden Age when The New York Times Magazine was eagerly awaited, the first section to be viewed after picking up the Sunday edition at the newstand late Saturday evening.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this separate section of the newspaper, the only part with color photography, was at the forefront of styles and trends, truly a finger on the pulse of what America was thinking -- or about to think.  Editor Carrie Donovan, 1928-2001, had a knack for recognizing what would become popular.  Formerly fashion editor for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, she was an early supporter of Donna Karan, Perry Ellis, and Paloma Picasso.  In her later years, she became a widely-recognized celebrity as a spokesperson for Old Navy, appearing in 42 television ads.
Carrie Donovan.
Photo from Google Images.
The Cathedral House on the grounds of the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine was orginally built as the bishop's residence in 1911.  Designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram, the funds for construction were donated by J.P. Morgan.  In the 1950s, architect Frederic Rhinelander King, cousin of author and taste-maker Edith Wharton and partner in the New York office of noted Palm Beach architect Marion Sims Wyeth, converted the first floor into offices with the bishop's apartment on the second floor.  The office of the dean (the head of the Episcopal churches in New York City), the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, is pictured here in the first image.  Originally the library of the house, this office is blessed with remarkable architectural features: leaded glass windows with stone surrounds of gothic tracery, oak beams with carved stone corbels, tall bookcases, and a medieval style fireplace (not shown).  The office served as center of many diverse projects, from the completion of the cathedral and the attendant training programs (in stone cutting/carving, woodcraft, iron-working, etc.) to solar design to visual and performing arts programs.  Dean Morton's personal touches included his collection of rocks found in East Hampton, Long Island, and Colorado, and peacock feathers, shed from the four birds that roamed the grounds of the cathedral.  Further decoration was provided by cathedral drawings, charts and personal photographs.  And the contribution of the semi-antique Heriz rug is not to be under-rated.  This image shows the turn-of-the-century English Arts & Crafts desk set for an informal lunch with food from a local delicatessen.
The office of Mary Wells Lawrence.
Advertising legend Mary Wells Lawrence, board chairman of Wells, Rich, Greene knew how to close a business deal.  In addition to creative talent, she gave the client personalized service, whether it was entertaining at her summer home La Fiorentina, featured in previous posts of The Devoted Classicist here, here, and here, or her own office.  Her interior designer, Arthur E. Smith, protege of Billy Baldwin and later his business partner until Baldwin's 1971 retirement, furnished the office as a fresh-but-sophisticated Living Room.  Comfortable upholstery slipcovered in bright fabric of white fern fronds on yellow, matching Roman shades, a yellow and white geometric rug, rattan armchairs (a favorite of Baldwin), a Smith-designed work table for the desk, and a William & Mary lacquered chest give the space the intimacy and down-played luxury of an Upper East Side apartment.  Mrs. Lawrence began her workday at home at 6:30 am, according to the article, was in the office by 9:00 am and stayed until 9:00 pm, seldom leaving for lunch;  instead, she preferred to invite clients in.  The 1974 design has held remarkably well.
The office of Diane Von Furstenberg.
In interesting contrast, fashion and cosmetics executive Diane Von Furstenberg told the Switzer Group, designers for her corporate offices, that she wanted the interiors to look like a cross between an ocean liner and the set of an Esther Williams film.  The most striking feature is the plush bright pink carpeting covering the floor and the curving steps to the terrace.  The Art Nouveau desk was a gift from her father, and the pair of gray velvet Art Deco chairs were a gift from her close friend and associate Olivier Gelbsmann, the interior designer.
The office of Halston.

Fashion designer Halston had a 100 by 26 space on the 22nd floor of Olympic Tower fronting Fifth Avenue to service as an office, workable studio, and showroom.  Designed in collaboration with architects Gruzen & Partners, the space had large mirrored doors that would divide it into as many as four separate rooms or open as one, creating an elegant setting for fashion shows as well as luncheons, dinner dances, and charity benefits.  Furnishings, stored in a warehouse when not used, included banquettes, tables, more than three hundred chairs and two dance floors.  Halston chose the red carpet to anchor the space.  "Living high up in New York, everything is gray," he said, "I needed something that would stabilize the space so the room wouldn't float."
The office of Beverly Sills.
Although it also had red carpet, the office of director of operations for the New York Opera Beverly Sills had no windows.  "I work best surrounded by things I need and love," said Miss Sills.  Memorablia and furnishings from her family homes decorated the space.

All the photos, except as noted, come from LIVING WELL, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF HOME DESIGN AND DECORATION, edited by Carrie Donovan, published by Times Books, 1981.  As the virtues of the book have often been lauded by design blogs such as The Peak of Chic, copies are seldom found for sale.  However, scarce vintage copies may be found here.


  1. I remember Sill's office at the former State Theater at Lincoln Center. She, more than anyone, engendered a feeling a family within the company. That her legacy is in doubt is a sad reality.

  2. DJS, I never met Beverly Sills, but I know she was much-loved by her opera fans.

  3. New door getting installed on Monday. Happy New Year and thanks for all the wonderful posts!


  4. The thing about an office is not just that it should be functional, spacious enough for meetings and have great storage. Importantly, I would not want my office to look like I was taking it over, lock stock and barrel, from the last person who held the job.

    Of course The Cathedral House office has those very special architectural features you described: leaded glass windows with stone surrounds of gothic tracery, oak beams with carved stone corbels, tall bookcases and a medieval style fireplace. An office design here is bound to look wonderful.

  5. What an enjoyable post dahhling! I particularly liked the cathedral house office (although in a space like that you would have to deliberately do something to make anything placed there not look amazing), the Mary Wells Lawrence office & the Halston office particularly as you described it, its flexibility to become many FAB!

  6. The pink carpet was least expected and most delightful for December 31. When you throw in the geese, it's the hardest of acts to follow. I hope somebody will recreate it in some way.

  7. L, best wishes!

    H, speaking in terms of decoration, the office of the corporate head is interesting because it is not the typical work station. These days there might be a laptop computer or a keyboard wirelessly linked to an enormous LED screen, but transmittals, reports, etc., are still produced elsewhere. The executive office is still a space for personal phone calls, one-on-one meetings, and perhaps some personal reflection. Thanks for your comment.

    HRH and all readers, best wishes for the new year.

    T, I'm thinking this is best as a One-Off, a product of the times, never to be duplicated. But that's just me.

  8. Hmmm. Wonderful all. It may be time for an office re-do here.

  9. I am always interested in seeing attractive, handsomely furnished offices. I recently watched "The September Issue" and thought Ms. Wintour's office was marvelously attractive. Not surprisingly, I suppose!

    One was mad for Carrie Donovan, of course.

  10. D.E.D., I am due for a change, too.

    R.D., thank you for commenting.

  11. I was rushing through the other day, so was not as verbose as usual---I came back to add that I so miss the Times Magazine of old---they just do not cover design the way they used to---not close. Sic transit etc.

  12. D.E.D., I suppose it could be a colossal effort, rounding up the talent, etc., but the NYTimes is really missing the opportunity to rebuild their advertising/subscriber base by not having a better Magazine to showcase architecture and interior design. Today, blogs fill that gap to a certain extent, on a smaller scale, but in some ways a wider audience. NEW YORK SOCIAL DIARY comes to mind, for example. Thank you for commenting.

  13. The harmony of colors, feelings, natural colors, natural, I have my house decorated with your ideas I think are wonderful and charming with you needed help I got it.

  14. What a fabulous post! We recently did a clean sweep of our office and will certainly use this as inspiration. We love DVF's pink palace of an office and Halston's is so chic as well. That photo of Carrie Donovan is gorgeous. Wouldn't she just be the most amazing guest for a dinner party?
    Thanks for all the inspiration.
    xo E + J

  15. TSP, thank you for commenting. I am glad you enjoyed this post.

    E, I am due an office re-do myself, so that was part of the inspiration behind this post.


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