Of all my acquaintance, I know only one person who has houseplants. I'm not talking about white phalaenopsis – though perhaps I should be, given their omnipresence – rather about large plants like palms and figs used as decoration in interiors. They come and go, as it were, and last year, seemingly, the plant to have was the fiddle-leaved fig. Not, I think, as living sculpture as they might have been in 1960s modernist interiors, but more as an addition to the stylish bric-a-brac that today is dignified under the name of accessories. This isn't a rant against house plants for I don't care about them one way or the other – I like the occasional visit by a geranium but that's about it – but because I've been looking through 1970s magazines again I have noticed how they were used as foreground in photographs. Never seen nowadays, this peering through foliage (see the first photograph below and the lilies in the first photograph of the library) but so popular was this conceit in the 1970s it appeared even in the hand-drawn renderings of the time.
I don't want to overstate this but, to my eye, large plants and their location both in a room and in relationship to the camera lens help date a room – much as white phalaenopsis date rooms to the first decade and a half of this century and, perhaps, fiddle-leaved figs will date rooms to the second decade.
Not that these rooms at 740 Park Avenue, the erstwhile home of "international tastemaker Mrs Byron C Foy," decorated anew by Joseph Braswell for Mr and Mrs Homer Langdon, are dated; they all, including the library, have stood the test of time. The drawing room with its ivory, cream and yellow scheme, FFF (Fine French Furniture), could have been decorated recently, and the library, with its grey flannel and stainless steel, a superbly beautiful room, could well have been put together a decade later in France and only need refreshing today.
White marble floor, Louis XVI-style friezes, marble-topped console,
eighteenth-century Coromandel screen hidden behind potted palm.
Régence boiserie,18th-century Aubusson, yellow and cream striped sofas,
buttercup-yellow Louis XV chairs, Régence-style ivory moiré armless sofas. Régence marble mantel, parquet-de-Versailles floors.
"The walls were scraped and restored to the original woodwork, then finished with an eighteenth-century type water paint. Moreover, all the baseboards are the original marbleized wood."
Matching bibliothèques flank the door, and a Flemish chandelier hangs above gray flannel sofa. Separated by a table supporting a treasured collection of Italian marble obelisks, a matching sofa faces the color television hidden behind a bank of false book bindings.
In contrast with the oft-reiterated bronze and brass in the rest of the apartment, Joseph Braswell used stainless steel as the accent metal. The wall covering is a rusty-brown suede-cloth. The Italian marble fireplace is mounted on a sheet of stainless steel, stretching from floor to ceiling.
Walls of aubergine cotton twill, red and gold Brunschwig & Fils water-taffeta curtains,
silver and brass Louis XVI chandelier above 19th-century Directoire dining table
Lit à la Polonaise draped in Colefax and Fowler's Berkeley Sprig
Photographs by Norman McGrath to accompany unattributed text (whence quotations) for Architectural Digest, March/April 1974.
Two photographs illustrating my point about peering through foliage. Both are by Jeremiah O Bragstad and are from an article entitled In San Francisco: International Design Show in the same issue of Architectural Digest as above.
By Billy Gaylord
By Larry Peabody