The home I’m featuring today is not a museum that you can visit, rather it’s the private world of Michael and Margie Loeb who have taken a passion for the period and returned their 1882 New York townhouse to the original state all while making it a comfortable, livable home. And while personally the home is far from my aesthetic, this place is admittedly AMAZING and is nothing less than one of the most unusual and fantastic interiors I’ve ever seen.
In 1876, the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition introduced the American public to the Aesthetic Movement that was sweeping England. Drawing heavily on natural and Oriental themes for inspiration, the Aesthetic look is really the height of what we think of as Victorian taste: layering of fabrics and patterns; riots of contrasting colors; a rich use of materials, gilding and ornament to engage the eye.
Regular readers will know that this is not my style: where I seek clean lines and a refined color palette, this home is really the exact opposite. But what I do admire is the owners incredible passion and commitment to taking on the period that they obviously love and creating a space that is truly their own. How many times do you see a space and think first of the decorator and not of the client’s own tastes? Here you would be hard pressed to name the team that helped the owners to envision their dream. How many homeowners take the time to research and plan their spaces in such detail? If only all clients were as dedicated to the project! Let’s look closer:
First, let’s make this clear – like many grand townhouses in New York City, this one had fallen on hard times and had lost much of its original glamor, even as it retained some of its original woodwork. What you are seeing is a faithful reconstruction of the spaces and in all honesty, the house probably looks richer now than it did when it was first built! The Loebs played detectives and sourced paint colors and wallpapers for the 10,000 sq. ft., 17 room home, from period design books, but also from the house itself. The upholstery of the front parlor comes from fragments found in the house; the floor in the entry retains colors from the original tiles. Curtains in a parlor were designed after a swatch found under layers of later upholstery on a pouf bought for the house. The library wallpaper is copied from original samples discovered behind woodwork in the room. Over 100 wallpapers were made to fill the house with pattern and color. Many were taken from original design books, while others have been custom printed for the home.
It’s the little details that I admire most. Victorian townhouses are long and narrow, often with dark interior spaces. To alleviate this problem, the Loebs and their decorators carefully planned the lighting to blend seamlessly into the decorative papers that cover the ceilings. The lights are arranged to match the patterns of different ceilings so that the 21st century does not compete with the 19th. The chandeliers that line the hallway into the master suite were another challenge: where to find six that matched to fill the grand space with light? The solution was to have five copied to match one original.
While antique shops are often filled with poorly designed Victorian furniture that has long been out of favor in American homes, the Loebs focused on quality, buying the best names in the business. Their home is filled with furniture by Herter Brothers, glass by Tiffany and Mintons, and paintings from a variety of artists such as Edwin Lord Weeks, Albert Bierstadt and Edouard Manet. Always buy the very best you can afford and stick with originals rather than knock offs. Why buy something that your children will throw away because it has no value? Invest in something you love and that can be left as a legacy to your own children.
What can we take from this for our own homes? Do what you love! I don’t think the Loebs care that the modern trend is mid century. Their space speaks to them and I doubt they would change it for anything. And don’t worry, the couple’s three children do not go without modern conveniences: there is a TV cleverly hidden behind the mirror above a Herter Brothers console. Now that’s living the best of both worlds!