Wasp Chic, Circa 1989

House and Garden profiled this Sutton Place aerie in 1989 whose owner - in true WASP fashion - wanted to remain anonymous. It featured an outstanding art collection (which merited Picasso biographer John Richardson writing the feature) and decoration by Sister Parish who had known the client for decades. My Design Deepthroat revealed the owner as Betsey Whitney, one of the famed Cushing sisters who all made spectacular marriages (if your idea of spectacular is a great fortune and gilded name).

Sisters Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney, and Minnie Astor Fosburgh,
from left to right, were the subject of this biography


After her husband Jock's death, Betsey downsized from a townhouse into this apartment leaving Mrs. Parish with a surfeit of delectable furnishings from which to choose. Richardson recounts how Sister would strike terror in the hearts of new clients when she would wheel a tea trolley through their home, piling on all the belongings she deemed eyesores - rest assured, Betsey was NEVER one of those.

Although Mrs. Parish was not averse to layering as attested to by these rooms in which every surface is covered with silver picture frames, fresh flowers (grown in her Long Island greenhouses, natch), and other bibelots, there is something about the full-blown clutter that epitomizes the excess of the '80s.

It is also interesting that the museum-quality art didn't dictate a conformingly sterile treatment, but instead enhanced the cozy and comfortable surroundings. Downplaying the importance of the collection goes hand-in-hand with the WASP abhorrence of flash and attention-seeking.

Over the black lacquer open shelves is Monet's Camille on the Beach, Trouville, a portrait of the artist's wife painted while on honeymoon, and which now hangs at the Yale University Art Gallery. Don't miss the interesting passementerie on the back of the side chairs....

Richardson recounts how Mrs. Whitney served the most incredible miniature vegetables - such as lima beans "the size of seed pearls", also grown on her country estate, and suggests this might have been the inspiration behind Truman Capote's declaration of "tiny vegetables [as] the acme of old-world luxe." Perhaps, but the feud between her sister Babe and Gloria Guinness over who could produce the tiniest vegetables was legendary.

I have to say I'm not loving how this napkin was folded in combination with the en suite placemat. However who can deny how gorgeous the embroidery (hand-done no doubt) of the linens. Perhaps it's by Marghab from Madeira, Portugal, reputed for its exquisite quality....

....and currently my favorite Ebay search term which uncovered this pristine set of 8 "Tropical Fish" cocktail napkins, an easy and affordable way to bring the genteel and civilized into one's home today.

Photos 1, 3-7 by William Waldron for House and Garden, in the October 1989 issue