New York Apartments: Private Views, by Jamee Gregory. Rizzoli, 208 pages, $50.
“The very rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald insisted, and if Hemingway had been a New Yorker, he would have replied, “Yes, they have nicer apartments.” Not just nicer, to judge from Jamee Gregory’s sumptuous coffee-table book, but exponentially nicer-so much nicer that it’s really not nice at all to think about it.
Envy is desire torn in two directions, admiration and malice tugging against each other. The malice makes envy bitter, and the whole tussle makes it ugly. But even if you’re envy-free, you’re bound to have mixed feelings about the 27 gorgeous apartments gorgeously photographed in the pages of this book: They’re sublime, grotesque, appalling, irresistible. Who needs a Park Avenue penthouse triplex with wraparound terraces? And who wouldn’t want it? Would you playfully tuck a pair of Claes Oldenburg sneakers under the inlaid 18th-century library table in the front hall of your 7,500-square-foot Fifth Avenue apartment? Why not? And that chrome Jeff Koons train set on your mirrored dining table-should it be headed straight for a silver model of Barbara Hutton’s Mexican hideaway? All aboard!
The text of New York Apartments: Private Views is a catalog of extravagance studded with swank words like alabaster, ormolu and damask-and the equally rich absurdities uttered by the apartments’ owners, more than half of whom wisely chose to remain anonymous. Two “European-born philanthropists,” happily ensconced in their Fifth Avenue duplex, boast with one breath, “We brought six men here for six weeks to French-polish the library!”; and in the next, “Everything in this apartment has a meaning. Nothing is for show. That’s our style!” Another anonymous owner houses “an astonishing collection of ancient sculpture” in a deliberately “understated and subtle” apartment: “We were among the first to see the beauty of beige.”
Georgette Mosbacher has nothing to hide; she takes us right into her “dressing room/beauty salon”: “My exercise machine came recommended by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He demonstrated it to me at Camp David.” Carroll Petrie’s newly decorated dining room is “glazed a pale pink”-“Most flattering to the skin, don’t you agree?” Designer David Netto drapes a cow-skin rug over a jute carpet in his Washington Square flat and smugly surveys the result: “Very Halston, don’t you think?”
There’s a random array of boldface names, each one attached to remarkable real estate: Joan Rivers (23-foot ceilings, lots and lots of gilt); Charles Gwathmey (an impeccably beautiful 2,500-square-foot loft); Beth Rudin DeWoody (cheerful art clutter, dazzling East River views); Marty Richards (a master bath that’s “an exact copy of Napoleon’s tent, painted on glass,” though Napoleon, who wasn’t a famously garrulous Broadway producer, probably wouldn’t have needed the wall phone by the Jacuzzi); Lisa Perry (a hilariously mod pad: “Austin Powers meets Barbarella”); Robert Wilson (an insane museum: Marlene Dietrich’s shoes, Neolithic Chinese ceramics, a brass chair by Donald Judd-all crammed into a Tribeca loft).
The book’s a hodgepodge, like most of the apartments (“Russian ivory pagodas and an Irish Georgian sideboard complete the room”). And yet the common denominator is a kind of unshakable conviction: These rooms, however eclectic the constituent parts, look exactly the way the owners want them to-an effect only money can buy. Lots and lots of money.
It’s enough to make you think that Proudhon missed the mark: Property isn’t theft, it’s grand larceny.
Adam Begley is the books editor of The Observer.