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Sunday, December 17, 2017

A New Arrangement: A Design Team Makes a Stellar Collection Shine

In the entry, George Stubbs’ (1724–1806) A Dark Bay Thoroughbred in a Landscape takes center stage over a circa-1765 English Chippendale mahogany sofa. A circa-1800 Federal inlaid and figured mahogany tall-case clock leads the eye into the dining room.
In the entry, George Stubbs’ (1724–1806) A Dark Bay Thoroughbred in a Landscape takes center stage over a circa-1765 English Chippendale mahogany sofa. A circa-1800 Federal inlaid and figured mahogany tall-case clock leads the eye into the dining room.

Lifestyle: A New Arrangement

A Design Team Makes A Stellar Collection Shine by Nancy A. Ruhling; Photography by Durston Saylor

When the investment banker moved into one of Manhattan’s iconic Upper West Side prewar buildings, he was at the beginning of his collecting career. The three-bedroom co-op, which offered beautiful views of Central Park, was perfect for a recently divorced bachelor. But as he assembled one of the top collections of Hudson River School works, he wanted what every collector seeks: more space. So when the adjoining three-bedroom apartment became available, he jumped at the chance to buy it.

He called on interior designer Ellie Cullman and architect John B. Murray, the same team he had commissioned for the initial “gentle” move-in renovation in 1997, to create a unified 8,000-square-foot space to showcase his art and antiques.

Interior designer Ellie Cullman used mirrors like this circa-1740 English George II parcel and gilt example that’s over a circa-1765 English George III mahogany marble-top console to reflect the artwork. Martin Johnson Heade’s (1819–1904) Magnolias is on the left. Cullman’s comfortable conversational groupings in the living room, paired with couture details like embroidered cuffs on the drapes, create the perfect setting for Martin Johnson Heade’s Cherokee Roses in a Vase.
Interior designer Ellie Cullman used mirrors like this circa-1740 English George II parcel and gilt example that’s over a circa-1765 English George III mahogany marble-top console to reflect the artwork. Martin Johnson Heade’s (1819–1904) Magnolias is on the left.

Cullman’s comfortable conversational groupings in the living room, paired with couture details like embroidered cuffs on the drapes, create the perfect setting for Martin Johnson Heade’s Cherokee Roses in a Vase.

“Our task was to make the two spaces blend and to make the whole apartment a comfortable space for the collector and collection to live harmoniously,” says Cullman, whose Manhattan-based firm, Cullman & Kravis, specializes in working with clients and their collections, whether antique or contemporary. “We used period architectural details, a flexible lighting system to highlight the art, antique furnishings and comfortable seating arrangements to create what we call a ‘new traditional style.’”

“Our task was to make the two spaces blend and to make the whole apartment a comfortable space for the collector and collection to live harmoniously,” says Cullman, whose Manhattan-based firm, Cullman & Kravis, specializes in working with clients and their collections, whether antique or contemporary. “We used period architectural details, a flexible lighting system to highlight the art, antique furnishings and comfortable seating arrangements to create what we call a ‘new traditional style.’”

In the living room, Regency style architectural details and light-color Venetian stucco walls make the art, which includes Frederic Edwin Church’s (1826–1900) 1857 View of the Magdalena River over the fireplace, stand out. John F. Peto’s (1854–1907) 1886 Patch Painting is on the right.
In the living room, Regency style architectural details and light-color Venetian stucco walls make the art, which includes Frederic Edwin Church’s (1826–1900) 1857 View of the Magdalena River over the fireplace, stand out. John F. Peto’s (1854–1907) 1886 Patch Painting is on the right.

The two apartments were gutted. The footprint of the original living room and dining room remained intact, and a transverse hallway, complete with powder room and wine cellar, was used to link the two apartments. The rest of the original space became a guest suite for the collector’s son, daughter-in-law, and two young grandchildren who often come to visit from Europe. The new space was transformed into a master suite with his and her dressing rooms, a library/office, family room, and gym.

“We chose architectural details in the Regency style because it’s a refined, somewhat attenuated and classical style,” Murray says. “It’s not heavy like Georgian; it’s light and sophisticated. And we looked for opportunities, like niches, to create art locations.”

Cullman and Murray worked with the collector’s art advisor, Ray Waterhouse, to decide where to place each work, which includes thirty Hudson River School paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Martin Johnson Heade, Frederic Edwin Church, and Asher B. Durand, as well as works by George Stubbs, Andrew Wyeth, Severin Roesen, and Norman Rockwell.

A circa-1805 Regency calamander wood sofa table, based on a Sheraton design, sits by the living room window, which offers a view of Central Park West. Adelheid Dietrich’s (1827–1891) 1883 Still Life with Flowers offers an alternative view.
A circa-1805 Regency calamander wood sofa table, based on a Sheraton design, sits by the living room window, which offers a view of Central Park West. Adelheid Dietrich’s (1827–1891) 1883 Still Life with Flowers offers an alternative view.
A circa-1805 Regency calamander wood sofa table, based on a Sheraton design, sits by the living room window, which offers a view of Central Park West. Adelheid Dietrich’s (1827–1891) 1883 Still Life with Flowers offers an alternative view.

“I traveled around the world and assembled a world-class collection because I have the inside track,” says Waterhouse. “Sometimes collectors have the idea that art advisors are unapproachable and expensive. That’s not the case with me; three minutes of advice can be worth many thousands of dollars.”

The design also had to place the antique furniture in the spotlight. The collector’s rare Queen Anne carved walnut bonnet-top high chest-of-drawers, for example, was placed at the end of the transverse hallway, where it is visible from several vantage points.

“We strove to provide a harmonious background for everything in the collection,” Cullman says. “We removed the dark wood paneling in the living room, for instance, because it made the primarily mahogany furniture and artwork fade into the background. We did, however, panel the library because its focus was books, which we illuminated like artwork.”

The renovation also provided the opportunity to upgrade elements, including new bronze windows that shutter street noise, and add features, including mechanical window shades to screen the sun, and a humidification system to protect the collection.

Andrew Wyeth’s (1917–2009) 1955 tempera-on-panel South Cushing is the focal point of the wood-paneled library, which also includes a pair of circa-1830 English Regency rosewood occasional tables, a circa-1800 English Regency mahogany library armchair, and a new window seat.
Andrew Wyeth’s (1917–2009) 1955 tempera-on-panel South Cushing is the focal point of the wood-paneled library, which also includes a pair of circa-1830 English Regency rosewood occasional tables, a circa-1800 English Regency mahogany library armchair, and a new window seat.

The dining room has two tables: a circa-1800 English George III three-pedestal table with lion paws for large gatherings and a circa-1820 Regency satinwood breakfast table with rosewood crossbanding that the collector uses every day. Severin Roesen’s (1815–1872) 1850 Still Life With Flowers, one of two in the room, is illuminated by lights hidden in the spandrels of the ceiling moldings.
The dining room has two tables: a circa-1800 English George III three-pedestal table with lion paws for large gatherings and a circa-1820 Regency satinwood breakfast table with rosewood crossbanding that the collector uses every day. Severin Roesen’s (1815–1872) 1850 Still Life With Flowers, one of two in the room, is illuminated by lights hidden in the spandrels of the ceiling moldings.

The artful arrangement of the apartment starts at the entry foyer, whose intricate five-stone floor is punctuated with circular pieces of porthole-size onyx that give a sculptural quality to the space. To link the living room, dining room, and library, Cullman chose Persian rugs whose colors complement each other and set the palette for the whole project. “We all loved Chinese porcelain, so there’s a piece in every room as an accent,” she says. “It’s another visual link.”

She placed a priority on layered lighting to emphasize and accentuate the artwork as well as the gilded frames. In addition to a ceiling fixture, each room has lamps, art lights, sconces, and candelabra. She also added mirrors in gilded frames that are positioned to reflect daylight back into the room.

“Having things that sparkle is like a woman wearing jewelry,” she says. “At night, everything glows.”

The neutral colors, notably the butter/beige/yellow Venetian stucco walls in the living room, were chosen to bring out the best in the paintings. Details like hand-embroidered floral cuffs on the Persian blue silk drapes add richness that hint at antiquity, and comfortable conversational groupings of traditional-style seating furniture make the room inviting.

“Every little thing does matter,” Cullman says. “For instance, we chose tables that were the same height for each end of the couch so the lamps wouldn’t be off-kilter. I love to mix the old and the new because the contemporary pieces give fresh life to antiques, and antiques give a depth and soul to contemporary pieces. In these pairings, it’s a commonality or contrast in material, color, or form that makes the juxtaposition really interesting.”

The family room pairs a flat-screen TV and a circa-1800 English George III mahogany drum table with Norman Rockwell’s (1894–1978) 1945 oil-on-canvas Homecoming Marine (detail below).
The family room pairs a flat-screen TV and a circa-1800 English George III mahogany drum table with Norman Rockwell’s (1894–1978) 1945 oil-on-canvas Homecoming Marine (detail below).

Norman Rockwell’s (1894–1978) 1945 oil-on-canvas Homecoming Marine
Because the collector doubled his space, many furnishings had to be bought. Cullman, who is a presence at the major auction houses and antiques shows in New York City, also shops in Philadelphia, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Orleans, and San Francisco and does the European circuit. For this project, she sourced furnishings and art objects of various time periods from around the world.

She also is well versed in the museum world, having been a guest curator from 1977 to 1980 for the Museum of American Folk Art for two exhibits — Andy Warhol’s Folk ‘n’ Funk and Small Folk: A Celebration of Childhood in American Folk Art — and a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum in the 1990s. A member of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s visiting committee on objects conservation and of the Museum of Modern Art Contemporary Council, in September 2011, Cullman was the co-chairman of the design committee of AVENUE Antiques, Art & Design at The Armory.

Her vast experience in the art and antiques world put the collector at ease. “He’s very busy with work, so I set up regular meetings, and I labeled all my choices as ‘good, better, best’ so he could more easily make a decision,” Cullman says. “This really is a collector’s home — he chose everything that was an A.”

This rare 1740–1750 Queen Anne carved-walnut bonnet-top high chest from Ipswich or Salem, Massachusetts, is one of the premier pieces in the collection and as such, it gets a place of high visibility at the end of the transverse hallway that connects the two apartments.
This rare 1740–1750 Queen Anne carved-walnut bonnet-top high chest from Ipswich or Salem, Massachusetts, is one of the premier pieces in the collection and as such, it gets a place of high visibility at the end of the transverse hallway that connects the two apartments.

Cullman emphasizes that this is no historic house; every inch is livable and was designed with guests in mind. The collector frequently hosts events for his four-generation family and charitable gatherings for large groups.

The dining room, which is appointed with an English George III three-pedestal table and chairs, is a good reflection of the merging of past and present. The enormous floor-to-ceiling George III satinwood cabinet from Scotland, which is decorated with three-leaf clovers and bellflower inlays, was selected because the mirrors in its upper section allow guests facing it to take in views of Central Park while dining. The lights that spotlight the pair of Roesen still lifes are hidden in the spandrels of the ceiling moldings.

The focal point of the master bedroom is a nineteenth-century English George III-style white marble fireplace mantel. A pair of  Scottish George III mahogany serpentine commodes, circa 1785, flank it and serve as visual pedestals for George Stubbs’ 1771 A Mare and a Foal with a Bay Horse, left, and on right, Albert Bierstadt’s (1830–1902) circa-1872 Inyo California.
The focal point of the master bedroom is a nineteenth-century English George III-style white marble fireplace mantel. A pair of Scottish George III mahogany serpentine commodes, circa 1785, flank it and serve as visual pedestals for George Stubbs’ 1771 A Mare and a Foal with a Bay Horse, left, and on right, Albert Bierstadt’s (1830–1902) circa-1872 Inyo California.

Albert Bierstadt’s (1830–1902) circa-1872 Inyo California
Cullman hung the collector’s framed eighteenth- and nineteenth-century samplers in the hallway to serve as a transition between the old and new spaces. In the master suite, a Martin Johnson Heade painting of flowers faces a flat-screen TV that’s encased in a gilded frame over the nineteenth-century white marble fireplace mantel, which in turn is flanked by a pair of eighteenth-century mahogany serpentine Scottish commodes. “We worked very hard to hide all the technology,” she says, pointing out the AC grill that has a classical motif.

Cullman says that displaying collections to their best advantage is to the collector’s advantage. “Designers can help collectors enhance how their collections look and work and give a greater value to them as a whole,” she says.

A pair of circa-1780 English George III pembroke tables with intricate inlay, a pair of mid-nineteenth-century Chinese vases mounted as lamps, and a 1930–1940 Max Kuehne (1880–1968) cocktail table create a comfortable grouping in the master suite.
A pair of circa-1780 English George III pembroke tables with intricate inlay, a pair of mid-nineteenth-century Chinese vases mounted as lamps, and a 1930–1940 Max Kuehne (1880–1968) cocktail table create a comfortable grouping in the master suite.

In the collector’s dressing room, a circa-1790 George III Sheraton satinwood bowfront chest with rosewood crossbanding and bellflower inlays is mated with a circa-1810 English Regency carved giltwood mirror that’s crowned by a stylized bird. Charles Towne’s (1781–1854) 1827 Hunter in a Landscape hangs over a circa-1770 George III mahogany footstool.
In the collector’s dressing room, a circa-1790 George III Sheraton satinwood bowfront chest with rosewood crossbanding and bellflower inlays is mated with a circa-1810 English Regency carved giltwood mirror that’s crowned by a stylized bird. Charles Towne’s (1781–1854) 1827 Hunter in a Landscape hangs over a circa-1770 George III mahogany footstool.
In the collector’s dressing room, a circa-1790 George III Sheraton satinwood bowfront chest with rosewood crossbanding and bellflower inlays is mated with a circa-1810 English Regency carved giltwood mirror that’s crowned by a stylized bird. Charles Towne’s (1781–1854) 1827 Hunter in a Landscape hangs over a circa-1770 George III mahogany footstool.

Having items arranged in a “harmonious installation,” Cullman says, “creates a better environment that allows the collector to enjoy it more and enhances not only the value of the collection but also of the property.” She says that collectors shouldn’t be hesitant to hire a design team. “We work with the finest craftsmen and materials,” she says. “And we adhere to a budget. We calculate an overall project cost and then figure out how to maximize the decoration.”

But most of all, she says, a good designer can bring out the personality of the collector and the collection. “Our firm doesn’t have a signature style; as this project shows, we design for the client.”

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