CONDÉ NAST'S DREAM PAD

Condé Nast Archive

The publisher’s Park Avenue duplex made manifest the dream narratives his magazines spun. By Laird Borrelli-Persson

CONDÉ NAST
At the height of his success, Condé Montrose Nast, the crackerjack publisher, lived like a king. 

Not to the manor born, this hardworking Midwesterner achieved the American dream. Nast both enjoyed its highs and, after the Wall Street crash of 1929, grappled with its harsher realities.

Born in New York City in 1873 or 1874, Nast was raised in St. Louis. A paternal aunt paid his tuition to Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., where his many undergraduate activities included coediting the student-run Journal. Nast returned to St. Louis to finish his law degree at Washington University before being lured back to the city of his birth in 1900 by his college chum Robert Collier, who offered him a place at Collier’s Weekly. In 1904, while still at the magazine, Nast had established the Home Pattern Company, and soon after he started to look for a title upon which he could demonstrate the efficacy of his theory of “class publications.”


While most publishers believed in mass circulation, Nast aimed for engagement, valuing quality over quantity. The public, he wrote, “divides itself not only along the lines of wealth, education, and refinement, but classifies itself even more strongly along lines of interest.”

Vogue, founded in 1892 by Arthur Baldwin Turnure as “a dignified authentic journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life,” was from the start a special-interest publication — early on it was described as being “written by the smart set for the smart set.” In 1909 Vogue finally became Nast’s, and Nast started to become Vogue.

In 1934 the publisher would be voted one of the country’s best-dressed men, but the publisher really “arrived” when he purchased a deluxe penthouse at 1040 Park Avenue in 1924. As Vogue's Hamish Bowles suggested in a 2000 essay, Nast, who “was running the ultimate wish-fulfillment lifestyle magazines,” brought those fantasies to life at 1040.

1040 PARK AVENUE

In 1923 developer Joseph L. B. Mayer hired the architects Delano & Aldrich, to design 1040 Park Avenue, 24 blocks up from the exclusive Colony Club, which the firm had also designed. Before the plans were completed, Nast bought in, taking the two top floors, and revisions were made to accommodate his requirements for a 30-room penthouse duplex.

Nothing — not a mink coat, jewels, or a fancy ride — quite says one has arrived like prime real estate. As Eartha Kitt sings in the 1953 hit song “Santa Baby”: “Santa cutie…fill my stocking with a duplex and checks / Sign your ‘x’ on the line.”

Nast’s housewarming dance party, one of hundreds that would follow, was covered by The New York Times and was notable for its mix of society and culturati. “The parties…of Condé Nast,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “rivaled in their way the fabled balls of the Nineties.”

ELSIE DE WOLFE, DECORATOR
Nast asked Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl, a woman “widely known both socially and for the distinction of her work as an interior decorator,” as Vogue put it, to decorate his new digs. 

The like-minded pair were both perfectionists in search of beauty and pioneers in their fields. De Wolfe was the most public figure that her profession, interior decoration, had ever known. A Francophile, she popularized eighteenth-century French decorative style while adapting it for modern comforts. As Edna Woolman Chase, the longtime editor of Vogue, put it, de Wolfe “never sacrificed practicality to beauty.”

Elsie de Wolfe had many ties to Vogue. She made frequent appearances on the magazine’s pages, and “adopted” John McMullin, Vogue’s As Seen by Him columnist and Paris editor. Of Nast, she wrote: "He loved beauty and so did I."

THE DRAWING ROOM

The drawing room, which opened on to the chinoiserie ballroom, became the setting for many a Vogue shoot by Edward Steichen in the magazine’s boom-time Jazz Age years.

In the drawing room, actress Alice Joyce, known as "the Madonna of the Screen," wears an elaborate negligee "with floating sleeves and trailing train and gorgeous color" by Frances; Dreicer & Co. jewels. Joyce stands by a late 18th-century Georgian black and gold lacquer chinoiserie commode.

Decorated in pale blue and green, the drawing room featured a marble mantel on one end. A huge mirror hung between the windows, reflecting the pastel hues of a Savonnerie rug. Much of the furniture was Louis XV; the needlepoint sofa, however, was Regency. The room’s pièce de résistance was a multi-panel black lacquer Chinese screen, similar to the coromandels that Coco Chanel made her signature.

In front of the mirror set between the windows in the drawing room, a model wears a rose moiré picture dress by Madeleine Vionnet; Black, Starr & Frost jewels; I. Miller shoes.

Marion Morehouse, Steichen's favorite model and the common-law wife of the poet E.E. Cummings, shimmers in a J. Suzanne Talbot model of cloth of gold, accessorized with gold and silver kid sandals from Delman.

In the drawing room, Brooklyn-born Ziegfeld Follies star Martha Lorber and model Marion Morehouse wear fashionable pajama ensembles. Lorber's, by Mary Nowitsy are of rose-painted blue silk; Morehouse wears Lucien Lelong. The women are seated on a carved Louis XV canapé with needlepoint upholstery.

Katharine Cornell, who starred in the stage adaptation of the best selling novel The Green Hat, was photographed in the drawing room in a lilac mood. The actress wears a purple crepella dress by Chanel; deep purple felt hat by Reboux.

THE DINING ROOM

"The grey dining room—its walls painted in grisaille—has a fine carved table with the top eleaboratly decorated in grisaille. The drawing appearing in the photograph is a van Huysum cartoon for a tapestry."

THE SECOND FLOOR HALL

"The hall on the second floor has marbelized walls and a black marble floor. The curtains at the window are of old flambé silk lined with salmon-pink organdie, over green tafetta under-curtains."

THE DRESSING ROOM

The mirrored walls are capped by a ceiling covered by “silver tea-box paper.”

The mirrored dressing room appears in a 1925 Steichen shoot featuring actress Doris Keane in costume.

THE BALLROOM

Actress Edwina St. Clair, dancing in the ballroom in a whit chiffon dress by Louise Boulanger; jewels from Black, Starr and Frost.

"The long windows of the ballroom give onto the terrace. The pink and blue motif of the Chinese wallpaper is accented by the salmon-pink moire curtains edged with bluish-green fringe. The silver gauze under-curtains are trimmed with Chinese-blue ribbon and silver banding."

In the ballroom, "a charming development of an original Vogue design, No. 8373."

THE LIBRARY

"In the library, the bookcases mount to the ceiling and the walls are painted to resemble wood. The black taffeta curtains have bindings of tiger-skin chintz, which also makes the valance and the under-curtains.The carved and gilded mirror has a dragon top." The 18th-century mahogany Chippendale chairs feature point d'Hongerie embroidery.

Mrs. Schuyler Knowlton Smith, née Elizabeth Larocque, was photographed in Condé Nast's library on the publication of her first book of poems, titled, ominously, Satan's Shadow.

"The library of Mr. Nast's apartment contains numerous fine pieces of needle-point, including a large silk panel depicting Orpheus charming the animals. This room adjoins the ballroom and also gives on the terrace."

Marion Morehouse, in the library, wears a "dull turquoise-blue moiré" dress from Paquin; jewels by Marcus. She perches on what de Wolfe describes as "the loveliest that ever emerged from the English of George II," featuring floral and checkerboard petit point.

THE TERRACE

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of Nast’s apartment was its light-filled terrace (to which he added a glass canopy in 1926). By living on the top of the world, Nast was, of course, signaling his success and, more important, his ascension of the social ladder.

As Dorothy Draper would write in Vogue in 1930 (as she was beginning to forge her career as one of the grandes dames of American interior design): “Penthouse owners are the new aristocracy.” Draper’s piece was, appropriately, illustrated with photos of Nast’s penthouse and Ping-Pong room. Nast has been credited by the architectural historian Andrew Alpern with making the top floor, previously reserved for servant’s rooms, “socially desirable.”

Elsie de Wolfe filled the terrace with greenery and a painted mirror by Robert Pichenot, a French artist profiled in a 1925 issue of the magazine, who had earlier been patronized by “the King of Fashion,” Paul Poiret.

1040 PARK TODAY
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