June 04, 2011

The French Neo-Classicist: Michael Simon

A boudoir by Michael Simon at the Kip's Bay Showhouse

America's Dean of Decorating Billy Baldwin famously wrote about FFF and FFV: Fine French Furniture and the First Families of Virginia - both of which summed up the high style many aspired to in the 1950's and '60's. Whether it was Jansen for Jayne Wrightsman or McMillen for the Fords, a formal French salon was de rigueur for society's luminaries.

This Louis XVI room is from the Hotel Cabris and currently installed in the Metropolitan Museum's Wrightsman Galleries. The two armchairs against the wall are part of the same suite as the canape seen in the next photo.

Today, FFF and FFV have largely been supplanted by "eclectic" and hedge fund managers. However, there are those who still crave a correct boiseried room, and whether they are a Russian oligarch or a Saudi sheik, they know to turn to New York interior designer Michael Simon.

The canape was formerly owned by Enid Haupt whose legendary Park Avenue penthouse was decorated by Parish Hadley. Simon recovered it in this canary yellow Adam document silk that features ostriches. In the same room, he covered a chair in ostrich-skin - just one example of Simon's thoughtful relationships.

From a millimeter of a molding's profile to the gimp on a veilleuse, Simon is a master.

To properly appreciate Simon's keen eye and impeccable taste, click over to the June 7 Christie's New York 500 Years sale which features over 30 items from his collection. Just yesterday, Michael gave me a personal tour and, as with all lovers of objects, made each come alive for me with personal stories.

One of my favorites was about this canape a la turque which he purchased from the Antenor Patino sale. While bidding, he was sitting next to House and Garden editor Cynthia Frank and opined that he would have to have it hoisted up into his building. Frank called him up the next day to see if H&G could shoot this asap, and Simon said sure, but they would have to wait for it to be re-upholstered. Await they couldn't, and they had the sofa hoisted and hoisted down all in the same day for this iconic shot below:

Only in New York!

I asked why he had chosen the milk chocolate velvet for recovering, and he replied that the form of the piece was so expressive and sculptural, he wanted something quiet to let it speak. Michael pointed out that the original iron strap used to support the back, as seen above, was still intact.

Lot 227: A pair of 19th century French ormolu candlesticks mounted as lamps

Another quiet detail was the anthracite grey (Simon's signature color) silk velvet lampshades (lined in gold foil, natch) on a pair of ormolu candlesticks he converted into lamps. He had the finial made to complement the base.


I was drawn to this pair of quirky ormolu-mounted porcelain vases. While the craquelure and double-gourd shape would suggest Chinese manufacture, they were actually made in France to imitate Chinese wares. The mounts also are surprising - while the goats are more typical of le gout grec, they are in the rococo style.


I've never gotten that excited over chandeliers - until now! The centerpiece of Simon's collection is a magnificent Louis XVI rock-crystal chandelier, which you will have to go to Christie's to see for yourself. Instead, I'm showing you this little Russian jewel - I love the diamond-shaped ormolu chains cascading down haphazardly and the pendants' tiny amethyst cut glass beads alternating with clear ones.

All of these items are a pleasure to behold. Run to Christie's while you can and also catch the preview of the contents of a Mark Hampton Park Avenue project - it's pure '80s opulence.

And just in case Mr. EEE is reading... I'd be very happy with these tole cache-pots. Just think of all the money we'd save not having to replace real flowers!

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Saying Goodbye to one of the Finest Rooms in America

When asked to select my all-time favorite American interior, one room has always sprung to mind first and foremost: Mr. and Mrs. John Gutfreund’s “winter garden” sitting room at 834 Fifth Avenue. In this lush oasis of fresh lettuce greens and delicate pinks, the hustle bustle of New York’s concrete streets outside those silk -festooned windows melts away.