Monday, October 11, 2010

A Snapshot in a Not Too Distant Time

I attended a party recently in New York for the book The Recessionistas (Grand Central Books). Written by author Alexandra Lebenthal and CEO of the wealthy management firm Alexandra & James, the story is the timely tale of hedgefunders and investment bankers whose lives on the Upper East Side start to unravel as the economy starts to implode. 

This reminded me of a similar tale some twenty three years ago with the publication of one of my all time favorite books Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe's bestseller about greed, social class, ambition and "Masters of the Universe." The book was made into a film in 1990 and while it did not do well at the box office, the sets were a snapshot of a classic period in time for interiors. 

The world of the Upper East Side was recreated on a soundstage in Queens by production designer Richard Sylbert who gave us the memorable designs of Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and The Graduate. (He even designed the bar room set where everybody knows your name for Cheers).

Production designer Richard Sylbert
Tom Hanks as a Wall Street titan and his "social X-ray" decorator wife Kim Cattrell play the McCoys. They are obsessed with "all things Anglophile" and the apartment needed to have an "instant old-money pedigree" to stay true to the book. Sylbert began by making a list of the design symbols of the decade for the English look -- oil paintings of dogs and ancestors, cabbage rose chintz upholstery, elaborate draperies dripping in passementerie and lacquered and faux painted walls. Chester Jones's book on Colefax and Fowler became his bible and the sets were completely apropo. He was also greatly influenced by the work of Mark Hampton.

Two story entrance hall above and below in all its faux finished glory

Ironically the kitchen was the most minimal of the rooms
These photos don't do the sets justice --if you can get your hands on a copy, check out House and Garden's piece on the film sets in l990.

Photo Credits: Richard Sylbert estate courtesy of Sharmagne Leland St. John, Grand Central Books, Warner Brothers, Farrar, Straus, Giroux

And for those visiting or living in New York, be sure to check out the Architecture and Design Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinema. The first of US film festival to celebrate architecture and design will feature films, documentaries, shorts and speakers and runs October 14th through the l7th.

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