85-Year-Old Gloria Vanderbilt Recreates Childhood Room

Quoth the jeans-meister, “There was never any question for me… Because how could you ever find another room like this?” Well, fair enough then. Who doesn’t want to be 16 forever?

Writes the New York Times,

Here is a reproduction – faithful in spirit, if not in every detail – of her living quarters in an aunt’s house near Washington Square Park in the 1940s…The room, which she created with the decorator Matthew Patrick Smyth, is lined with silver leaf wallpaper and furnished with an ornate bed, a painted chest of drawers and a baroquely curvy Swedish grandfather clock, circa 1857. There are period-appropriate moldings and wainscoting, and painted on boards behind the windows, a trompe l’oeil scene of snow falling on Washington Mews.

The books, obviously, are the same ones she remembers from childhood.

Explains Ms. Vanderbilt, somewhat ridiculously,

“You know, my aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, decorated it for me because I had gone to live with her. She had moved there from Fifth Avenue. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She started the Whitney Museum, which in those days was just around the corner from our house at 60 Washington Mews.”

Her decorator, who’s an admirer from way back (“She was doing glue guns before glue guns”) is so behind this regression fantasy. Quoth he of their motivation, “She’s 16. It’s debutante ball season. There’s anticipation, the anticipation of getting ready for a date.”

Narcissists, it seems, feel a compulsion to recreate pieces of their own history, as if to reaffirm its importance. (This is not to make a judgment on the much-memoir’d Ms. Vandy one way or the other, not having met her.) The Rich and Famous, as we know, have frequent penchants for self-portraits and, as any episode of Cribs will tell you, various iterations on the modern trophy room. My father tells the story of meeting the actor Peter Fonda; the two discovered they’d been born in the same progressive New York hospital. “I have the hospital doors in my house,” said Peter Fonda. While it’s human nature to surround oneself with memories of things you’ve loved or experienced, usually that’s not so intimately connected with…yourself.

Most of us (who, granted, don’t have major art world figures decorating for us) probably wouldn’t really want to live in the spaces we favored at 16. That would be, I believe, my Petra Van Kant phase, complete with mangy white rug and red light bulb? And Pavement posters really only age so well. It’s a transitional time, and aesthetic phases rarely last the year, let alone in perpetuity. Then too, it’s emotionally rocky – who wants to be reminded every morning of the drama of unrequited crushes, the Order of Operations and the period when dresses could only be worn with a pair of bell-bottoms poking out from beneath? It’s like the question Eleanor of Aquitane asks in A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver:if you could be any age forever (apparently in heaven, in that book, you do just this) what would it be? I’ll be pretty bummed, for one, if I die and find that 10th Grade was the high water mark. It’s Ms. Vanderbilt’s prerogative, naturally, to do whatever she wishes in her own home, and in turn to invite reporters and photographers in to admire it. The dramas and sadnesses of her life are well known, and who can fault anyone for wanting to return to a time of happiness? (Also, the room looks nice; who doesn’t like fan-pattern quilts?) We hope her very literal tribute to this time in her life brings her a measure of satisfaction, or at least a welcome trip down memory lane — the rest of us have got old report cards for that.

Little Gloria Was Happy Here
[NY Times]

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