If one had to choose the most arresting image one had ever seen of someone’s living room, it would be hard to beat Diana Vreeland’s red ‘garden from hell.’ Steeped in red from top to toe, walls to furnishings, carpets to cushions, it serves as a window into the woman’s unique, bold and completely unapologetic approach to style. Photographed for Architectural Digest in 1975 in these images shown our in gallery here, her entire New York apartment was covered in artefacts, nick nacks, memorabilia and more that bore testament to her extraordinary life and singular style.
Vreeland and her husband Reed moved into their apartment at 550 Park Avenue in 1955, charging designer Billy Baldwin with the decoration. His brief for her famous sitting room? A garden – but not any old garden, Vreeland wanted a ‘garden in hell.’ Baldwin, luckily, was not daunted. “I knew what it meant: red. I searched for an eternity before I found exactly the right material- in John Fowler’s shop in London. It was scarlet chintz with brilliant Persian flowers. I raced home with yards and yards of it and we covered the whole room – walls, curtains, furniture, the works.” The result came with walls draped in that chintz and covered in books. Matching fabric used as huge swathes of curtains only served to intensify the look. Vreeland’s cushion covered sofas (some of which were made by the lady herself,) jostled for position with endless small chairs – one, covered in leopard print. In front of her bookshelves stood a painted screen – acquired, according to AD, by her parents on their European honeymoon. Round the corner of her L shaped living room was Vreeland’s dining room, featuring yet another wall full of her much treasured books and coming this time covered in stripes from the walls to the curtains to the banquettes.
In her bedroom (Reed and Diana had separate ones,) blue floral fabric similiar to that of the drawing room created an equally full on effect. Draped across her walls and her bed for a sort of English country look gone hypercolour and given a shot of glamour via a Louis XVI gilt mirror above a table adorned with family photographs and perfume bottles, it was no less of an event than the living room. It was said that, somewhere in it, a few spare square feet near a telephone was all that she dedicated to an office. The rest of the apartment was completely given over to her furnishings, her things she had collected, her personal photographs and her art, most of which came with a personal story. It was Vreeland herself who once said, “You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody.” Living here, she would never have been short of inspiration.
1. Vreeland photographed by Horst P Horst in her ‘Garden from hell’ 1979
2 – 7 Vreeland’s apartment photographed for Architectural Digest in 1975.