See the High-Style 1970s Home of a Renowned New York Preservationist
by Glenn Gissler
Photography by Joshua McHugh
We offer the first public peek at a Joe D’Urso–designed Upper West Side apartment that hasn’t been touched in 40 years — and discover the many lessons both the space and its owners, Arlene and Bruce Simon, have to teach.
Joe D’Urso — a pioneer of forward-looking, minimalist modernism — designed the apartment of Bruce and Arlene Simon on New York’s Upper West Side more than 40 years ago. Thanks to the Simons’ careful upkeep — she’s a well-known preservation advocate — it remains a study in sleek black, white and gray. Top: For the dining room, D’Urso created a modular table system (one leaf hangs from the wall when not in use, looking like an Ad Reinhardt painting deployed as bulletin board), and he added chairs in the style of Marcel Breuer’s 1920s Cesca design.
Even in the analog days of the 1970s, word traveled fast about a certain emerging and remarkably talented interiors star. His name was Joe D’Urso, and he was shaking up the design world.
I still remember the first time I saw his work, just after I graduated from high school and 10 years before I would start a design practice of my own. It was in Architectural Digest’s November/December 1976 issue, which featured a New York City home D’Urso had reinvented as an exemplar of High Tech design, the extreme minimalist–modernindustrial style that had become his signature. The Upper West Side apartment was unlike anything I had ever seen or imagined.
The space, located at the top of a West 67th Street Gothic-revival
His design for the home’s soaring main space, a double-height living room overlooked by a balcony originally intended to accommodate musical performances, felt radically new.
He furnished the space sparsely, with a few blocky, rolling black-Formica coffee tables and a couple of low-slung woven chairs set on a high carpeted platform. That plinth was one of several he created to break up and define various sections of the room, using one as a sofa, another as a daybed, and one even as a table. To help balance out the cavernous volume, D’Urso suspended a large split-leaf philodendron on wires from the ceiling, and Arlene added black canvas pillows to the extended built-in sofa, with more on the daybed near the fireplace.
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NEW YORK METRO ASID
The Art Adventure:
Taking a Project from Good to Memorable
by Glenn Gissler
Photography by Gross & Daley
My personal adventure with art began decades ago in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In my local high school I was fortunate to take eight semesters of art with outstanding teachers. I learned about art history, experimented with many art-making techniques and became a member of a tribe of art freaks—it was the 1970s.
For us, Art was an adventure worth living! For me, this interest, passion, even affliction, has been a big part of my life ever since. Now, after many years of college study, countless experiences making, seeing and living with art, traveling across the US and Europe for art-centric travels I have found that Fine Art is the single most important ‘character lending’ element of interior design and can take a project from good, to memorable!
Some thoughts on Art
Fine Art can be MUCH more than just decoration. In addition to visual delight, Fine Art can bring cultural, historical intellectual and philosophical meaning to an environment and can impact the way we see and experience the world.
The primary reason to own and live with art is the immeasurable richness it can add to life, and while art can increase in value—enjoyment should be the primary goal. That said, many of my client’s acquisitions have increased in value, some substantially!
Context deeply informs the experience of Fine Art. For me the ubiquitous all white gallery walls is not a neutral environment to see and experience art, and I’m often delightfully surprised how much better art can look in a home.
“Many people have asked me how they can learn more about Art in New York City.”
The first thing is you need to put in the time. LOOK at and EXPERIENCE ART! Go to museums! New York City has some of the best museums in the world with remarkable collections and exhibitions—this is one of the reasons I moved here, and I try to integrate regular art viewing into my schedule—great for dates, fun with friends and can be a starting point for other activities for your days, or nights.
Go to art galleries!
There are literally hundreds of galleries in New York City whatever your interests are—while your budget may not allow for buying ‘blue chip’ looking is free and seeing the best to help educate your eye, and your taste.s
Go to auction previews!
New York City is home to some of the most important auction houses in the world and they have previews for nearly every auction; they are free and there are always experts on-hand to answer your questions. Sothebys, Christies, Bonhams and Philips regularly have auctions—learn what the categories mean to narrow your focus on what really interests you.
Go to art fairs!
Art Fairs have become an increasingly important venue to see and purchase art; and New York City has a lot of art fairs. While it can be a fantastic “shopping opportunity” because you can see a lot of art from a lot of galleries all under one roof, they can be overwhelming experiences. Unfortunately, art fairs are really not great places to have a ‘high Art’ experience as the purpose is less about art and more about “art commerce,” and they can be incredibly crowded making viewing and access to the dealers themselves a challenge.
Sign up for mailing lists!
Museums, art galleries and auction houses all have mailing lists that will alert you whenever there is a new exhibition, openings and other special events.
Read the ARTS Section of the newspaper, purchase books, and magazines!
I always want to learn more when an experience or artist moves me. I often purchase museum catalogues, gallery exhibitions catalogues, or monographs.
The Friday ARTS Section of the New York Times is an excellent way to learn what is going on as well as the Sunday Art Section, and magazines such as Art Forum or Art News can alert you to exhibitions, or offer some in depth stories.
And for a comprehensive overview of what is on view right now, pick up a Gallery Guide or go to www.Galleriesnow.net.
Glenn Gissler, ASID is past president (2017-2018) of the ASID NY Metro Chapter and Principal of Glenn Gissler Design
ANTIQUES & FINE ART
Not-So-Basic Black & White
by Marianne Litty
Photos by Gross & Daley
There’s no denying that black and white interiors pack a visual punch. Strong contrasting elements, crisp definition in all forms, and the dramatic push-pull of light and shadow all create the basis for a dynamic experience. The look is timeless, harking back to classic black-and-white Roman mosaic floors, while also evoking modern minimalism. Black and white interiors require a deft hand with the pacing, to avoid monotony, and bold, brilliant choices for accessories, art, and textiles, with special attention to texture, which naturally becomes a marquee player in pared-down color palettes. Attention to balance is of paramount importance, because positive and negative space are defined with intense clarity. Striking or serene, layered or pristine, these rooms by leading interior designers are united by their chic appeal.
Glenn Gissler’s design for his friend and fashion world multibillionaire Michael Kors’ Greenwich Village penthouse apartment adheres to a cool and understated palette of chrome and stainless steel, black leather, white canvas and gray flannel, espousing the Kors aesthetic of “luxury without fuss.” A blackened steel fireplace surround stands out as an elegantly simple shape against the pure white walls of the living room. The classics never fail—Mies van Der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Chair and ottoman are paired with Warren Platner’s iconic 1966 silvery side table, topped with a sinuous sterling silver Elsa Peretti for Tiffany Bone candlestick. Above the fireplace is a photograph by Irving Penn. In the entry foyer, the Barcelona daybed is by Miles van Der Rohe, and, from his 1929 MR Collection, a side table of seamless tubular steel and glass. Melvin Sokolowsky’s photograph Magic Ball, 1963, from a fashion shoot for Harper’s Bazaar and a zebra hide rug complete the vignette.
THE GREATEST ROOMS OF THE CENTURY
If this apartment focuses on one thing, it is upholstery: acres of it. Swaddling the walls and the comfortable sofas and armchairs in luxe fabric, it gives the home a slightly corporate sense of comfort and has the added bonus of providing great soundproofing for a powerful sound system—the owners of this Upper West Side duplex are EMI Records CEO Jim Fifield and his wife, Betsy. This is no cozy city apartment, however: the living room alone is 26 x 26 feet (8 x 8m), and a staggering 20 feet (6m) high. Glenn Gissler, commissioned to remodel and decorate the home, said the room was so big it was almost public in scale. Gissler is well-known for blending contemporary styling with comfort and dashes of eclectic art. The massive curtain alone is spectacular: “The ambitious window treatment seemed appropriate for the scale and drama of the room,” Gissler explained. The sweeping fabric for the window is by Jack Lenor Larsen, while those upholstered walls are by F. Schumacher. The interiors had to be appropriate for the amount of entertaining the Fifields did with EMI associates. Colors are somber, muted and serious—and the whole thing means business.