In 1982 I knew just a few things about Gloria Vanderbilt. I knew that she designed a line of jeans that had been wildly popular at my grade school a year or two earlier. I knew that her name graced the lavender-colored packaging for Vanderbilt perfume, the fragrance I was wearing most often that year. I also knew, thanks to W magazine, that she owned a large and eclectically decorated house in some place called Southampton, New York.
I pored over that page in my mother’s copy of W for what must have been hours, taking in the details of each room, each vignette. I must have saved that page for a while, but I haven’t seen it since the 80s. Then, very recently, W reprinted a section of the article in a retrospective piece on its years of interior decoration features. I remember more about this spread than I would have thought possible, and even now, I’d move into this house in a heartbeat.
Here are a few close-ups…
“The ‘sort of divine’ third-floor Cloud Room.” I was impressed by the fact that there was a third floor in the house, but even more by the idea of a ceiling painted with clouds. I’ve recalled this photograph so many times over the years, and I still love this idea. It’s probably been done to death by now, especially for children’s rooms, but I bet Gloria was one of the first to think of it.
“The ecclesiastical second-floor landing. The floral, feminine library.” I remember stumbling over the word “ecclesiastical.” I’d never seen it before. I may have even looked it up. And I was intrigued by the suggestion that a room could be “feminine,” or any gender at all. Just like a person? Yes, apparently. And now that I’m looking at this library as an adult, I really envy it.
“The stately Rose Room, one of Vanderbilt’s favorite rooms.” Imagine having so many rooms that you could choose favorites among them! If I could travel back in time as a guest at the Southhampton house, I would hope to be placed in the Rose Room. As you can see in the smaller photo, it was liberally decorated with live roses. And that antique bed is so elegant.
I don’t know where this vanity stood—the caption isn’t visible in this reprint—but I like to think that it belonged to Gloria’s own dressing room. There seems to be a profusion of perfume bottles standing in front of the mirror. I wish I could view them clearly. Someday I’ll have to track down an archived copy of this issue, although the printing may not have been very sharp to begin with. Maybe there’s even a bottle of her namesake Vanderbilt in that arrangement.
Here’s a vintage postcard view of the house’s exterior, which I just found in a book called The Southampton Cottages of Gin Lane. It was constructed in 1893. (I didn’t know until just now what the outside of the house looked like, but the fact that it’s Shingle Style makes complete sense. I’m obsessed with Shingle Style houses.)
From what I can gather, Gloria Vanderbilt was compelled to sell this house in 1995, during a period of financial trouble. That thought makes me unaccountably sad. At least the interior is preserved in these photos, so that I can “revisit” it from time to time.
All interior photos scanned from W Magazine, originally published on September 10-17. 1982. Postcard of Fleur-de-Lys via The Southampton Cottages of Gin Lane.