simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Rhinelander's Dream
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Friday, 17 October 2008

Rhinelander's Dream

This is easily the most exquisite and elegant retail interior space in New York City. It's a must see for any visitor with a little extra time. Located at 867 Madison Avenue on the south east corner of 72nd Street, it has been occupied by Ralph Lauren/Polo since 1986.
I was shocked to learn that this huge neo-French Renaissance limestone palace was actually unoccupied in the first 23 years of its existence. It was designed by Kimball & Thompson and built in 1898 for Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, a wealthy socialite who dreamed of a French Loire Valley chateau. Rumored that she ran out of money before completion, the property was first occupied in 1921. Since that time it has had various tenants - the auction house Christie's of London, Zabar's, the Olivetti Brothers, and photographers Edgar de Evia and his partner Robert Denning. De Evia's mother, pianist Miirrha Alhambra also resided there. 
By the mid 1950s de Evia and Denning had formed Denvia Realty which held the net lease on the entire building. The top three floors were used as their studios and residence; offices were rented to the interior decorators Tate and Hall and on the street level shops were rented to various merchants including a corner pharmacy and Rhinelander Florists. 
It was purchased in the 1960s by a nearby church. In 1983, Ralph Lauren acquired the net lease. The building's ownership has changed hands numerous times also. TMW bought the building for $36 million in 1997 and in 2005, it was sold to an Irish investment group (Sloan Capital) for $80 million.
The gothic tile-covered mansard roof is spectacular with oriels, dormers and chimneys.
I know it is fashionable to bemoan the hegemony of large retailers on the American landscape, but one needs to give credit where it is due, and Ralph Lauren has done the Rhinelander mansion justice with a $14 million dollar renovation - absolutely everything in the interior is just perfectly appointed. Even members of the sales staff are impeccably dressed and groomed - I actually mistook one for a haute couture mannequin.
The interior is an architectural masterpiece complemented with superb interior design. Crackling fireplace, sculpted vaulted ceilings, a magnificent stairway graced with paintings, antiques, furniture upholstered in cashmere, Lalique paneling, Persian carpets and Baccarat chandeliers. To enter this place is to really leave the city behind and enter another time and place and one woman's dream ...


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