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Stanford White

Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities

Wayne Craven
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Stanford White
    Book Description:

    The designer of such landmarks as the Washington Square Arch, the New York Herald and Tiffany Buildings, and the homes of captains of American industry, Stanford White is a legendary figure in the history of American architecture. Yet while the exteriors and floor plans of his designs have been extensively studied and written about, no book has fully examined the other aspect of his career, which claimed at least half of his time and creativity. Wayne Craven's work offers the first study of Stanford White as an interior decorator and a dealer in antiques and the fine arts.

    Craven also offers a vivid portrait of the sweeping social and cultural changes taking place in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He places White's work as an interior decorator within the context of the lives and society of the nouveaux riches who built unprecedented fortunes during the Industrial Revolution. Rejecting the dominant middle-class tastes and values of the United States, the Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Astors, Paynes, Mackays, and other wealthy New York families saw themselves as the new aristocracy and desired the prestige and trappings accorded to Old World nobility. Stanford White fulfilled their hunger for aristocratic recognition by adorning their glamorous Fifth Avenue mansions and Long Island estates with the sculptures, stained-glass windows, coats of arms, and carved fireplaces of the European past. Interior decorators such as White did more than just buy single pieces for these families. They purchased entire rooms from palazzos, chateaux, villas, nunneries, and country houses; had them dismantled; and shipped -- both furnishings and architectural elements -- to their American clients. Through Stanford White's activities, Craven uncovers the mostly, but not always, legal business of dealing in antiquities, as American money entered and changed the European art market.

    Based on the archives of the Avery Architectural Library of Columbia University and the New-York Historical Society, this book recovers a neglected yet significant part of White's career, which lasted from the 1870s to his murder in 1906. White not only set the bar for twentieth-century architecture but also defined the newly emerging profession of interior design.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50824-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)


    We have bought a most wonderful Louis Seize room, complete, carving by [Jean Charles] de la Fosse, and as fine in its way as the Louis Quatorze Room you bought for Mr. Whitney[’s house]. We have also bought the contents of this room consisting of the finest tapestry chairs, tapestry curtains, and [Pierre] Gouthiere pieces of furniture. . . . Are you interested? . . . We want to get as many fine things together as possible for the season especially as you and a great many...

  7. One Stanford white as dealer in antiquities
    (pp. 19-53)

    DURING THE DECADES BETWEEN THE CIVIL WAR AND WORLD WAR I, American millionaires or their agents bought up Europe’s treasured antiquities in enormous quantities and shipped them back to the United States. Many noble families on the Continent and in England had little else to sell—other than their titles and themselves. One by one, they were becoming an impoverished caste and seemed helpless to stop the transfer of power to the parvenus, with their bushels of profits from shoe polish, celluloid shirt collars, a new process for manufacturing barbed wire, or a lucky strike at a gold field in...

  8. Two Dealers, agents, forgers, export laws, and stanford white
    (pp. 54-73)

    STANFORD WHITE’S CORRESPONDENCE REVEALS THE GREAT VARIETY of sources from which he could obtain the Old World antiquities with which to fill the rooms of the mansions placed in his charge. From 1900 to 1906, he was especially aggressive in his acquisitions, gladly assisted by his large network of agents and dealers, especially in Italy and France. White had a good working relationship with many of his correspondents, who often addressed him as “Dear Old Stan” or joked with him even while doing business. Charles Loeser, for example, wrote about a statue that he was about to ship to White...

  9. Three The william c. whitney and oliver hazard payne houses
    (pp. 74-114)

    LOUIS SULLIVAN’S CRY FOR A BRAVE NEW ART AND ARCHITECTURE THAT were ahistorical and expressive of new technologies and materials would have fallen on deaf ears among the Whitney–Payne crowd, or among the J. P. Morgan–Astor–Vanderbilt–Rockefeller circles, for that matter. Although many new-money people had blazed new trails in finance and industry, they turned instead to the art forms of the Old World aristocracy to help satisfy their need for social status. This was evident on a grand scale in the buildings that they erected for the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893) and in the redesigning...

  10. Four The payne whitney house
    (pp. 115-147)

    THE VOLUMINOUS DOCUMENTS CONNECTED WITH THE PAYNE WHITNEY house in the folders of the McKim, Mead & White Papers at the New-York Historical Society offer an exceptional opportunity to study the nuts-and-bolts business of creating a grand mansion in the Gilded Age. That is, once Stanford White had formed a concept of the house and its various rooms, and the firm’s draftsmen had applied his visions to paper, who actually executed those designs? The papers reveal a fascinating collaboration of decorator houses and furniture makers—such as Allard and Sons, A. H. Davenport of Boston, and T. D. Wadelton of...

  11. PLATES
    (pp. None)
  12. Five The mackays and harbor hill
    (pp. 148-180)

    ALTHOUGH BY 1938 THE GREAT AGE OF MANSION BUILDING WAS LONG past, the New York Times obituary for Clarence Mackay praised the beauty of Harbor Hill, as his Long Island estate was called, and the rare items it contained: “In its dignified and magnificent gray stone chateau, built in 1900, are treasures consisting of paintings by old masters, old armor, tapestries and banners. The Mackay collection of medieval armor is one of the greatest private collections in the world. Harbor Hill is considered one of the most beautiful, most spacious, most completely equipped country places in America.”¹ Mackay was the...

  13. Six From the poor house to the white house: GRAMERCY PARK, HENRY POOR, AND STANFORD WHITE
    (pp. 181-214)

    GRAMERCY PARK, WHERE LEXINGTON AVENUE BEGINS AT TWENTY-FIRST Street, is a delightful green square rimmed by brownstones. Its origins go back to 1831, when an enterprising landowner drained swampland and marked out sixty-six plots surrounding what then became and has remained a private park for the residents. By the 1840s, Alexander Jackson Davis had built a pair of row houses on the west side, while on the south side are the National Arts Club, once the home of Samuel J. Tilden, and the Players Club, which Stanford White redecorated in 1888 for the actor Edwin Booth. On the northeast corner...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 215-224)

    WHAT WAS SPECIAL ABOUT STANFORD WHITE, DURING THE PERIOD OF La Belle Epoque, insofar as interior architecture and furnishings were concerned? Richard Morris Hunt had certainly made use of decorator houses such as Allard and Sons, and Ogden Codman went to Paris regularly to obtain antiques or reproductions that were beautifully wrought by French craftsmen. Cass Gilbert used some of the same artisans that White did in decorating the interiors of buildings that he designed; at the Union Club in New York City, for example, Gilbert turned to T. D. Wadelton, whose firm supplied fourteen card tables and forty-six armchairs...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 225-242)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 243-244)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-250)
  18. Index
    (pp. 251-270)