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Susan Gutfreund’s Elegant Apartment was Finally Sold

by habituallychic

04 . 20 . 20

There is nothing I find more vulgar that people who redecorate their home just so they can have it published again. If it’s done right the first time, you should never have to do it again. Such was the case with the Fifth Avenue apartment of Susan Gutfreund and her late husband John that was decorated by the legendary French decorator Henri Samual. He was introduced to Susan by Jayne Wrightsman and according to Emily Eerdman’s book Henri Samuel: Master of the French Interior, he also advised the Gutfreunds on the purchase of their 20-room duplex apartment in the Rosario Candela designed building at 843 Fifth Avenue in 1987.

I attended a book party at the apartment on 1 May 2018 and took some photos of the beautiful public rooms. I posted a few on Instagram but never felt comfortable posting them on the blog. I just found out that the apartment was sold last fall so it seems like the perfect time to put them together with a few of the real estate photos.

Susan told Emily for her book, “Henri would sit and stand in the room, observing the color from all angles in the bright morning light, as well as in the afternoon. He studied it with lamplight…He always came himself, never sending an assistant. He was like a couturier, always fine-tuning details.”

When we arrived the party, the sun was low across Central Park and filled the spaces with warm light. By the time we left, it was dark so we were able to see how the mood changed as the apartment was filled with lamp light.

The whole apartment was spectacular but I especially loved the green “winter garden” room inspired by the 18th-century painted canvas panels from a Belgian chateau that Susan purchased at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris before she even had a place for them.

I will never forget how elegant yet comfortable the apartment felt during the party and how lucky I felt to experience Henri Samuel’s work in person. I also thought about how many interior designers will never rise to this level since they will never take the time to study the the decorators of the past or historic homes. Both are invaluable teachers.

“I follow instinct and taste, never fashion. I abhor fashion.”

– Henri Samuel

The walls of the New York entrance hall of the duplex apartment were hand-grooved to resemble limestone.

The entry hall which opens up to a magnificent double height windowed gallery was decorated with Empire style furniture to complement the classicism of the architecture. The hand-painted doors were purchased by Henri Samuel.

David Patrick Columbia featured Susan and the apartment on New York Social Diary in 2008 and it looked just as good eleven years later when I attended the party.

“Susan tracked down the early 19th-century ironstone fireplace mantel from a photograph in a magazine” for the winter garden room.

“The chairs from a palace in Denmark were upholstered in exquisite detail by Gael de Brousse.”

Stacks of books sit under the Giacometti coffee table which makes me feel better about all the books stacked under my own coffee table.

The 12,000 square foot duplex apartment was purchased by billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller. If I were him, I would have negotiated the sale of the entire winter garden room and all its furnishings into the final price. The apartment would not be the same without it.

This room makes me want to reupholster my sofa in a pale green fabric after quarantine ends.

“The Russian Bessarabian rug is from a chateau in Belgium and was purchased from Axel Vervoordt at the Paris Biennale.”

The Italian sofas are from Vincent Fourcade and the 18th-century chinoiserie panels were framed by trellises which has been described as “reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion”.

Lovebirds look right at home in the winter garden room.

The winter garden room leads into the elegant dining room.

“The dining room was furnished with a suite of 18th-century white and blue painted Adam style furniture from Jayne Wrightsman. Continuing in the English neoclassical vein, Samuel based the rug’s design pattern on one at the Sir John Soane Museum in London.” I noticed that the same pattern rug was in the lobby of the building so Henri Samual must have had in decorating it as well.

Susan told David Patrick Columbia in 2008, “I’m a hausfrau. I think that’s why I feel that I’m good at what I do with my decorating. I care about running houses. I think there’s nothing better than being a housewife. I love my house. I love entertaining. I love the kitchen. I love to put flowers. I love the details of a house.”

In 2014, she talked to Veranda about entertaining. “She likes to serve things they don’t have in restaurants, like her barbecued meatloaf, her dishwasher-poached salmon (seriously), or her prized pigs in a blanket. Hers are made with pretzel dough, which she buys in the Amish markets in Pennsylvania, where she and her husband, John, have a house on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. Her credo is as straightforward as her food is satisfying: ‘What people—especially men—really want is a comfortable chair, a cold drink, and a warm meal. A pretty woman to look at doesn’t hurt, either.'”

Gutfreund crafts her guest lists with care, her goal more to mix than to match. She might plot an artist next to a CEO, next to an actor, next to a surgeon. Then, she continues, “Once I have my people, I work very hard to make it look effortless. When people arrive, I can mingle as a guest. I can relax, because I’ve done my homework. If a hostess is unsure, then her guests aren’t comfortable.” 

“That homework entails some or all of the cooking, the flowers, the lighting just so, the seating plan, and choosing from the enviable collections of linen, porcelain, and silver that she has organized and photographed in pleasing combinations, which are therefore easily executed when the time comes.”

“Henri Samuel created the design of the curtains from an 18th century document. The pink under-curtain fabric was a gift from Karl Lagerfeld.”

“In France you can still have a coffee with a friend in France, or a glass of wine at the end of the day without feeling guilty. In New York if you stay long enough after a lunch with friends to have a coffee, you should feel guilty because you’re supposed to be a board meeting … you’re supposed to be at a psychiatrist … you’re supposed to be getting a manicure, a pedicure. Everyone’s running somewhere else.”

“A pair of Rhodolite stone lamps and objects purchased from J. Kugel in Paris sit atop a hand painted French console in the dining room.”

The ideal number of guests is from four to eight, she said, “more than the Graces [three] and less than the Muses [nine]. I was told that by Liliane de Rothschild, and it actually is the ideal number. Everybody can be at one table and speak to everyone else.”

A look at the dining into the winter garden room from a real estate listing photo.

Stacks of books on art and design fill the upstairs landing. The bookcase is from Maurice Segoura in Paris.

The Upstairs landing opens to a tremendous and fabulous Living Room with five huge window bays, and again direct views towards Central Park.

Henri Samuel with the assistance of architect Thierry Despont, “knocked out walls to create a 50-foot foot long living room, laid the floors with parquet de Versailles.”

Since the party fell on the May Day, someone had sent Susan Lily of the Valley for good luck.

You can see on the floor plan below that there is a secret door on this side of the bookcases that leads to a little room.

A view of the living room from the real estate listing.

The skyline beyond Central Park twinkled at night.

The party was to celebrate Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent that had just been published.

A photo of the “handsome Baroque-style leather paneled Library” from the real estate listing. I read that the leather was from the 17th-century.

This hallways leads to the 1,600-square-foot master suite with a dressing room and sitting room.

A view of the entry hall in the evening.

A pair of 19th century Russian chairs purchased in Paris sit below a stunning 19th century mirror from Denmark in the entry hall.

I loved that Susan Gutfreund had a sense of humor to have this mat outside the elevator. I also can’t wait to see her new apartment after it’s decorated. To be continued.

Photos by Heather Clawson for Habitually Chic except where noted.