Gotham Diary:
Vanished Way of Life
19 September 2011

As I was looking through the photographs that I took of the apartment last night, it hit me that I hadn’t seen anything like them in the style and design magazines and sites that I follow. Bearing in mind that they’re not, after all, very good photographs, I’m still struck by how they reflect “a vanished way of life.” All those lampshades, for instance. The utter absence of anything “modern” (the exception of a halogen reading light proves the rule). And then I consider how much of this stuff Kathleen and I actually bought in a store. Not very much! In the image above, the love seats that face each other to the left belonged to Kathleen’s grandmother. The love seat to the right was one of a pair that my mother and one of her aunts bought at an estate sale in the late Forties. The dining chairs were made for Kathleen’s parents during their years in Eaton Place. There’s a small “French” chair in the right-hand corner that you can’t really see, and I don’t know where it came from. I’m pretty sure that it was, once upon a time, somebody’s fanciest piece of furniture, lovingly polished and sat on but never in. Aside from the Louis XV armchair that I bought at Restoration Hardware last spring, there’s not a thing to sit down on that didn’t come from someone else in our family. That’s what I mean by “vanished.”

When Ray Soleil unfurled the tapestry on the right-hand wall, all I could think of was Sunset Boulevard. The textile belonged to my grandparents and dates from the Twenties at the latest. We sent it to Perry Process about ten years ago and tucked it away in a closet when it came back, wrapped in tissue and brown paper. When I began to meditate moving the secretary desk from the living room to the bedroom, the tapestry presented itself as a way of preserving the desk’s vertical impact on the space it left behind. It really is very old and very dark, though — almost macabre. I don’t know why my mother held on to it; she certainly never displayed it. But then I can’t tell you why I’m holding on to the glass-doored upper half of the breakfront cabinet. Who will ever want to restore it to the bottom half, currently very much in use as a sideboard, with the snappydoodle marble top that Ray found for it, way out below the Gowanus Expressway? It’s not for me to say.

Anyway, the latest phase of our vanished way of life is complete. Everything got put away yesterday, and not just anyhow. It one minor mitzvah, Kathleen needed some fabric-covered storage  boxes that were idling in the hall closet, holding nothing much of anything. Her taking them opened up just the space I needed for items from the dresser in the blue room. In the evening, while Kathleen finished up her complete reorganization of the bedroom, clearing off the once-daunting pile of stuff on the bed, I read the story about the O’Connor twins, Consuelo and Gloria, in an old Vanity Fair that surface in the cleanup. Bob Colacello was the very writer to clean and press this lacy bit of Condé Nast laundry, which is probably what put me in the frame of mind to regard my own way of life as vanishing. After all, the surviving sister, Gloria, is only twenty years older than I am. I wonder if it’s too late to buy, as Consuelo’s husband’s grandfather did, a title.