The New York Times called Brooke Astor’s Park Avenue library designed by Albert Hadley, “one of the most admired interiors of the 20th century.” Today, I hope to surprise you by demonstrating that what made this library so memorable was not the red-lacquered shelves that everyone writes about, nor the Brunschwig & Fils La Portugaise fabric chosen by Sister Parish, but a fabulous Bessarabian rug that is never mentioned in any of the numerous articles on this famous room.
Brooke Astor was called the unofficial first lady of New York. Here she is seated in her famous library designed by Albert Hadley. Mrs. Astor spent millions of her vast fortune on philanthropic causes that included New York’s disadvantaged as well as its libraries and museums. In her heyday she entertained presidents, first ladies and literati in her 14 room Park Avenue duplex decorated by Parish Hadley. Image courtesy The New York Times.
The red, gold, green and black Bessarabian rug and Brunschwig & Fils La Portugaise sofa fabric was originally chosen by Sister Parish for the drawing room that Albert Hadley later transformed into this famous library. Albert Hadley kept the Bessarabian rug and the fabric because they were such a perfect complement to his red-lacquered shelves. Mysteriously, this beautiful Bessarabian rug was not part of Sotheby’s Brooke Astor estate sale last September. Perhaps the Bessarabian rug had been sold years ago along with other priceless art. Image courtesy The Devoted Classist.
Brooke Astor had an aristocratic upbringing and was considered the brightest star of New York society. “Those who knew her said she was sincere and unpretentious”, wrote the New York Times. The red-lacquered shelves, Bessarabian rug and Brunschwig & Fils La Portugaise fabric were the key to this room’s charm. Take out any one element and the room loses its distinctive personality and warmth as demonstrated below. Image courtesy The New York Times.
The Bessarabian rug and La Portugaise fabric were already in this drawing room designed by Sister Parish. When Mrs. Astor asked Albert Hadley to redesign it, he persuaded her to turn it into a real library to display her deceased husband’s impressive book collection. Hadley gutted the faux-French paneling and replaced it with the now famous red-lacquered shelves with brass trim. He kept the Bessarabian rug and the fabric. The library symbolized Astor’s generous support of New York’s public libraries. Image courtesy The Devoted Classist.
In this publicity image for Sotheby’s sale of Brooke Astor’s estate, the Bessarabian rug has been replaced by a cold Victorian needlepoint rug. With the Bessarabian rug gone, the cozy charm of the library has evaporated, even though the other two elements, the red lacquered walls and the fabric are still present. It brings to mind Edgar Alan Poe’s words, “The soul of the apartment is in the carpet.” Image courtesy The New York Times and Sotheby’s
There is a sad ending to this wonderful story. Mrs. Astor’s grandson filed a law suit against his own father and Mrs. Astor’s only son, Anthony Marshall, alleging that Anthony had grossly neglected Brooke Astor during the years she suffered from dementia. Anthony was also accused of stripping her apartment of millions of dollars of art. There are two sides to this painful story in the New York Times.
Mrs. Brooke Astor in happier times in her living room. The red, gold, and blue antique Axminster rug was handmade in England.
The Hermitage Bessarabian pile rug was inspired by an antique Bessarabian rug I saw in a Sotheby’s or Christies auction 8 or more years ago. It has a striking similarity to Brooke Astor’s Bessarabian rug, but at the time I was unaware of Brooke Astor’s famous library. I replaced half of the floral medallions in the antique Bessarabian rug with geometrical motifs to create a more balanced design. The Hermitage Bessarabian rug is also available as a needlepoint rug. Image © Asmara, Inc.
Brunschwig & Fils La Portugaise fabric with its fabulous details. Image courtesy Brunschwig & Fils.