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