Hirsch

Tom Ford - and Rudolph's finest townhouse design in New York City

The great fashion designer Halston, enthroned in his living room—within the famous “101”, the townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan    Photo by Harry Benson, from a feature on Halston in Life Magazine

The great fashion designer Halston, enthroned in his living room—within the famous “101”, the townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan

Photo by Harry Benson, from a feature on Halston in Life Magazine

The elegantly restrained exterior elevation of the house, originally designed by Paul Rudolph in 1966-1967—purchased by Halston in 1974, and now a new home for Tom Ford. Photo: Homedsgn.com

The elegantly restrained exterior elevation of the house, originally designed by Paul Rudolph in 1966-1967—purchased by Halston in 1974, and now a new home for Tom Ford. Photo: Homedsgn.com

IT’S ALL OVER THE INTERNET…

It is all over the internet: a variety of news relating to one of the planet’s most celebrated designers - tho’ he’s much more than that - Tom Ford. It is has just been announced that he’s to be the next chair of an important fashion industry organization, the CFDA (the Council of Fashion Designers of America)

But in Rudolph-related news of Mr. Ford, there’s an even more exciting development. As written in Bridget Foley’s Diary:

                But who doesn’t love a tony real estate angle? Earlier in the day, WWD reported that Ford bought Halston’s famed house on East 63rd Street in New York in a deal that closed in January, but he’d managed to keep quiet until now. It would have been nifty news even had Halston not been a major influence on Ford’s career.

In that article, Mr. Ford was interviewed about the CFDA, his role, the house, and how it all fits into his life and plans. Here’s the section of the interview that is most focused on the house:

WWD: You are very cool with your stardom. Are you ever even a little bit impressed by the general-population interest in you? Someone can attribute a random, made-up quote to you and it sets the Twittersphere on fire?

T.F.: The number-two, most-trending tweet or whatever it is in America today. I just find it crazy. I mean, there are lots more important things to be concerned with today in the news than a quote from a fashion designer about the first lady, but anyway.

WWD: Does it awe you even a little that you have that power?

T.F.: I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as a dad who comes to the office and… Maybe it’s because I am grounded every day by [my husband] Richard Buckley, who is not going to let me feel like any sort of a star.

WWD: Point taken. Before we get to the house…

T.F.: Well, let’s just do the house so we can get to the CFDA, the important thing.

WWD: To the house.

T.F.: You did some homework. I felt like it was the Mueller report or something — the same LLC that bought the Betsy Bloomingdale house?

WWD: Old-fashioned reporting by a young reporter, Kathryn Hopkins. Is the purchase of the house at all tied to your CFDA chairmanship?

T.F.: Nooo, not at all. And yes, I did buy the house. I was in that house in 1979 or 1980, only once. I was not a friend of Halston’s, but I was introduced to him and I went by that house with a friend to pick someone up before we were going to Studio 54.

WWD: How old were you?

T.F.: I would’ve been 18. That house, it stunned me. It is and has always been one of the most inspirational houses that I was ever in, and one of the most inspirational interiors. I love [architect] Paul Rudolph. He designed [the Halston] house in 1966 for a pair of gentlemen and then redesigned it when Halston moved in — designed all the furniture. To me, it’s is just one of the great American interiors.

It’s a terrific house in New York. It’s got a garage that flips up. You drive in and the garage closes and it’s like a vault. Yet inside, it’s spectacular. I intend to basically put it back to the way it was the very first time I saw it when Halston lived in it. It’s very simple, very minimal, and there’s not a lot to do. I don’t have to knock down any walls. I basically have to just put in a lot of gray carpeting and the furniture.

I stayed in it when I was in New York the last time [for my fall 2019 ready-to-wear show]. I have sometimes said that New York is not my favorite place. But as [my son] Jack is living in Los Angeles, in the future I want him to know how to wear a pair of real shoes and a jacket and go to a restaurant and go to a play. So it’s a kind of house for the future and for the rest of my life.

WWD: It’s hard to find post-Halston pictures of the interior online. It wasn’t changed much?

T.F.: No there’s not a lot I have to do. It’s been very well-respected. Some very surface changes were made, which I think were a mistake, and so I intend to put it back. But it’s very contemporary, a very modern house. It could have easily been designed today. It’s timeless.

It’s a great piece of architecture and enormously pleasant to be in. I felt instantly at home when I stayed there even though it hasn’t been redone. Hugely comfortable and dead silent inside, yet full of light. You close the door and you forget that you’re right in the middle of New York. It’s wonderful.

WWD: But you’re definitely not moving to New York?

T.F.: No, not at all. I go to New York four or five times a year and for Jack’s school holidays, I’ll be going more. It’s a place to be when I’m in New York.

WWD: One more thing about it. Do you think people will read symbolism into it — Tom Ford buying Halston’s house?

T.F.: It’s fine if they do. I think Halston was one of the greatest American fashion designers. I have always said I was inspired by Halston, his simplicity, his modernity. But I didn’t buy the house because it was Halston’s. I bought the house because I loved the house.

Now, do I share certain design similarities and taste with what Halston liked, a certain streamlined minimalism, certainly with regards to architecture and interiors? Absolutely. So what would have appealed to Halston as a house appeals to me as a house as well. It’s a great house. Inside, it’s one thing. Outside it’s very — what is the word – private. While I was staying there, I had a couple of people come by. I would tell them the address and they’d walk right past it and call me — “where are you?” I’m like, “You just walked past it.” It recedes. It’s enormously private and that’s one of the great appeals.

It’s interesting that it was built for two gay men because, of course, in the mid-Sixties, they wanted to live their life without being observed. And, of course, it worked well for Halston and the things that were going on when he was there. So it’s really a kind of refuge in the middle of New York, which is amazing. And it is so dead quiet. You don’t even hear a horn honk.

By-the-way:   Mr. Ford refers to stopping by the house to pick-up a friend, before going off to the legendary club, Studio 54. This house plays a prominent background role in the glittering social life of late 1970’s New York, as it was the place that Halston, Bianca Jagger, Warhol, and their crew would assemble before proceeding to the world’s most famous disco - and all this is abundantly recorded in The Andy Warhol Diaries.

A GREAT HOUSE AND GREAT DESIGNERS

To celebrate Rudolph’s centenary (1918-2018), the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, recently mounted a centennial exhibit: ‘Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory’. In it, we included images of this house, using it as an example of how Rudolph would apply the lessons (that he’d derived from experimentations in his own homes) to projects for his clients.

About the house, we wrote: 

                This townhouse is in the heart of New York’s Upper-East Side: a neighborhood whose residents are, on average, among the wealthiest in the nation. Situated between a Federal style church and a traditional apartment house, this townhouse was initially designed and built for Alexander Hirsch and Lewis Turner - but it’s most famous resident & owner was the American fashion designer, Halston.

                It was exceptional in a number of ways: Firstly, townhouses of unabashedly Modern design were, in that era, rare in that neighborhood (indeed, anywhere in the city). Secondly, because Rudolph departed from the typical approach to designing the face of a NYC townhouse (which generally manifested as solid brick or masonry, with openings in a gridded pattern). Even Philip Johnson’s design for a townhouse, in the adjacent neighborhood, did not greatly depart from that formula.

                Steel beams, columns, and panels, infilled with glass, are the architectural signature of Mies van der Rohe—but that master hardly ever diverged from arranging them in a homogenous lattice. By contrast, Rudolph’s didn’t just lay-out this façade—he sculpted it, pushing the elements into different planes, and using subtle asymmetries, to give a serene aliveness to this otherwise understated “citizen of the street”. For Rudolph, this sculpting - merging Mies and Mondrian, but taking them to a more sophisticated level of visual complexity - would be further explored in the exteriors of the additions to his own residence at 23 Beekman - and would reach an ultimate rich expression, two decades after the Hirsch Residence, in the Modulightor Building.

                While this house’s exterior may be a precursor of Paul Rudolph’s future ventures, the interiors rely on the “lab results” from his previous residential experiments. This is particularly true when one compares Hirsch to Rudolph’s New Haven home: one can see the precedents for the cantilevered stairs, the dramatic double-height socializing space (with a matchingly large-scaled artwork), a cavalier attitude to railings, and a broad wall of glazing onto a private (and in both cases, Rudolph-designed) court.

As noted above, the house was originally designed and built for Alexander Hirsch—and then subsequently purchased by Halston. Halston wanted some changes, and brought Rudolph back to make them. This is refreshingly different from the practice of most buyers of a previously-owned home (who usually bring in a different architect) - but Halston, a designer of great sophistication, made the right decision to return to the house’s original architect: Rudolph. We note - with great joy - that Mr. Ford (a man of surpassing style) wants to return the house to the elegant state which Halston (and Rudolph!) created.

And now a selection of images from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation of this superb example of Rudolph’s work:

First Floor Plan

Mezzanine Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

Perspective Section Rendering

Same section from the construction drawing set

Furniture details - made of acrylic with space to allow room for floor-length chainmail curtains.

The above images are by Eduardo Alfonso, who photographed the complete construction drawing set at the Library of Congress for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.