How New York vulgarians live

Swimming-pools, gyms, boat tow-away zones? Nurse, help!

High Life

05 Nov 2015

I have finally moved into my new flat, a jewel of a place in a pre-first world war Park Avenue building. The finishing touches won’t be made until Christmas 2016, as work is only permitted during the two summer months.

That is the way it should be. The past three years have been agony for me. I’ve been living in an apartment that shook all day while Jeff Koons, a so-called artist, was putting up a behemoth in the shape of a house directly behind me. Worse, a Russian oligarch, who had hired dodgy construction workers to tear down and rebuild a monument to his thievery, had them ignore night-time regulations, which made sleep impossible. I had sold my brownstone when my children chose to live in Europe and my household staff announced the stairs were too many and too steep. It took three years to find a new home.

Now I sleep like the proverbial baby and have never been happier. My walls are so thick I had to have an expert come in and drill holes in them in order to use the internet. I no longer hear the fat lady upstairs fart at night, or Mister Goldfarb lament the cost of living every morning. Happiness is never hearing your neighbours. Manhattan luxury buildings of recent vintage are pretty horrible to behold. Roughly ten major buildings have come on to the market in Manhattan that advertise multiple swimming-pools and private lifts for the very, very rich and very, very vulgar. The ad says, ‘Just because summer is over doesn’t mean you have to give up your spot by the pool.’ Nor their wives their lifeguards, I imagine.

Most nouveaux riches buy ultra expensive dwellings downtown in Greenwich Village. Once upon a time it was a Bohemian paradise lined with red-brick houses and watering holes catering to poor artists. Now it is the new Kensington and Chelsea. Thankfully, strict zoning laws have retained the iconic Woolworth Building and Chelsea’s gilded Walker Tower, an art-deco jewel whose trophy penthouse is going for 70 million big ones. Converting the inside and turning them into opulent homes seems to be the way of the future. The downtown skyline is retained, grand vintage details remain, yet modern amenities are installed. High ceilings, big windows; you get the picture. Back in Athens, know-nothings tore down beautiful classical buildings and houses and put up some of the 1960s’ ugliest boxes. New York developers are as greedy as they come, but the zoning laws keep them innovative. It’s what makes New York New York. The Gilded and Jazz Age predecessors didn’t include swimming-pools or private elevators, but as long as the outside is preserved, let the nouveaux have some fun inside.

Decoration is something else, of course. New money doesn’t go for that worn look à la Eaton Terrace. No moth-eaten contrived shabbiness for our new arrivals. No sirree! Some go for the rugged look — weathered steel and exposed concrete. Others prefer sweeping curves and cubes. Monochromatic palettes are the sine qua non. They’re considered classy with a capital C. The latest craze is mixing primitive with industrial, ancient and contemporary. I find it all very ugly, but then I only go for the traditional understated look, with autumnal sepias and wintry greys, as sought after by the new rich as a cross is by vampires.

When I first began house-hunting in London and then in New York 40 or 50 years ago, it was a simple affair. One looked for a decent apartment in a nice building on the Upper East Side where one’s friends lived and presto. Expansive entertaining spaces, wraparound windows, high-end windowed chef’s kitchen with top-of-the line appliances were science fiction. Media rooms were not even science fiction; they were Hollywood wet dreams. Jumbo TVs were as unimaginable as life on Saturn. I can’t remember anyone who had a gym at home, except for Porfirio Rubirosa, who had a tiny boxing ring inside his house outside Paris, and when I say tiny, one crossed the ring with one left jab. Now gyms and screening rooms and pools are de rigueur, and no vulgarian will be caught without them.

They say that the very newly rich profess heroic bohemianism, but not at home. The latest advertisement is selling space for a large yacht in a non-tow-away place near the glass horror downtown. Boat tow-away zone? Nurse, help! I’ve always loathed indoor swimming-pools — is there anything more annoying than the suckling of a pool’s gutters, or less inviting than the smell of chlorine? — yet no new structure is complete without one. The rot has also spread to Gstaad, where chalets without swimming- pools are sold in the mid-market category. Actually, one agent told me that my chalet was like a beautiful woman with a club foot. No swimming-pool.

Still, things could be worse, and I’ll tell you why. The once beautiful model Stephanie Seymour has two sons, aged 21 and 19 respectively, from her marriage to the multimillionaire developer Peter Brant. The boys are ubiquitous around town and recently gave an interview to the New York Post about their make-up. They wear make-up and their mother advises them on how to apply it. That made me furious. Bloody hell, I thought — now they tell me. Only now that Lara and Olenka and Mary have told me to go to hell do I learn that I could have been wearing make-up all this time. Next time you see Taki, look for highlighter!


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