Home Tour: A Legendary New York Townhouse
Interior designer Betsy Morgan’s historic townhouse in New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood is the kind of home you only see in magazines. And you probably have. It was the backdrop of Sarah Jessica Parker’s editorial for Vogue’s August 2011 issue, and has also housed celebrities like Jaclyn Smith, Julianne Moore, and Kelly Ripa for various editorials, commercials, and campaigns.
Morgan not only lives in the residence with her husband and two daughters, but she also rents it out to established publications. “I died and went to heaven when Vogue came with Mario Testino,” she says. “Meeting him and his crew was like something out of a movie. They were all gorgeous, and they were all in black — so stylish, so international.” Renting the home for photoshoots not only allows Morgan to meet her favourite fashion photographers, whom she admires greatly, but also to re-arrange and design her home constantly, a skill she clearly excels at.
The home is a meeting place of two very different design styles and time periods. The second and third floor feature original architecture from when the home was built, in 1855, and the ground floor is completely modern and renovated. And Morgan’s interior design brings the two together effortlessly. “I go for an eclectic look with clean-lined modern pieces with some antiques and more modern art,” she says. “I use that look throughout the house.”
“Everything on the gallery wall was given to me from family or artistic friends. One friend, Australian artist, David Ranken, did the ladder at the bottom. The baby picture is actually me; my parents got it done at a mall in Texas. The map is from France; I saw it discarded at Christie’s when I used to work there. It just shows: you don’t have to have a lot of money to have a nice art collection.”
When the couple purchased the townhouse, it had been two apartments. “When we combined them, the contractors were plastering over the front door. I said ‘No! No! We can use that space!’” says Morgan of enviable shoe closet. “I went to the hardware store and got dowels, painted them black, and then got these beautiful brass pieces to stick the ends in.” A mirror on the back and the inside of the door gives the illusion of space.
“I didn’t want to change the more period parts of the house,” says Morgan. In fact, she added back architectural details to restore the rooms to their original state. “We added back a lot of moldings, a chair rail to the guest room, and restored the original stairwell off the entry.”
Every corner you turn in the home is a chance to view a new piece of breathtaking art. Morgan formerly worked at Christie’s, and she has been amassing her collection for years. “As soon as I started working, and had two dollars to put together, I started buying art.”
Morgan firmly believes in buying quality items. “You can only have so many pieces of art, so you should buy pieces you really love,” she says. “You can buy the most beautiful dress, but you’ll only wear it once. You see the items in your home every day, so that’s where I wanted to put my money.”
As the New York editor for The Salonnierre, a website with the mission to celebrate the custom of hosting parties that encourage social networking, Morgan is no stranger to entertaining. “I’m better at setting the scene than cooking. My husband is from Australia and loves to grill. I’ll light a bunch of candles and create a really casual vibe.”
“In the living room I wanted a very serene vibe,” says Morgan. “I wanted to have the focal point be some piece of art that was an ocean and be the only colour in the room. I found this artist Alex Weinstein and commissioned the piece for the space. He had to do a diptych because his studio wasn’t big enough.”
Morgan has a few tricks up her sleeve to make a beautiful home also durable, including Bolon mats from Sweden. “They are genius!” she says. “They're made out of rubber and can be cut to any size. They are perfect for high traffic areas because they clean beautifully and are ideal for allergy sufferers because there are no fibres for allergens to get stuck in.”
"You’ve failed in decorating a house if people don’t feel comfortable," says Morgan. A true statement that makes this the most successfully designed home in all of New York City, and possibly the reason why it has been such a good host to media's elite. If it's good enough for Mario Testino, it's good enough for us all.