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Betty Sherrill’s Manhattan Duplex Goes Up For Grabs

SELLERS: Heirs of Betty Sherrill
LOCATION: New York City, NY
PRICE: $12,000,000
SIZE: 5,000-ish square feet (by our estimates), 4 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms

YOUR MAMA’S NOTES: We can all thank Eamonn Eagleyes for his thoughtful digital missive that let Your Mama know the rigorously upper crust and absolutely correct New York City co-operative duplex of recently deceased high-society decorator Betty Sherrill quietly popped up for sale on the open market with a $12,000,000 price tag and maintenance charges of $10,910 per month.

Just because some of the younger pups amongst the children don’t recognize Miz Betty Sherrill’s name does not mean she is not a epic figure at the highest of the high-browed end of the decorative arts in New York. When the fine people from New York Social Diary visited with and photographed Miz Sherrill at her One Sutton South duplex back in 2007 they declared she “should be some kind of national treasure” and, after she passed in May (2014) at 91, a glowing obituary in The New York Times alliteratively described her as a decorative “doyenne” to the “White-Shoed and Wealthy” and “an important arbiter of ‘Wasp chic.’”

Born into a privileged New Orleans family — her antecedents were plantation owners and, presumably, slave owners — Miz Sherrill was married for more than half a century to H. Virgil Sherrill, an investment banker and heir to a great Louisiana lumber fortune. First as an apprentice and later as the principal owner and senior decorator of McMillen Inc. — the oldest interior design firm in Manhattan, according to The New York Times — Miz Sherrill did up the day-core for scads of private residences, boats and airplanes owned by card carrying heirs to some New York’s richest and most influential families, including Dukes, du Ponts, Winthrops and Rockefellers. Make no mistake, butter beans, Miz Sherrill was an undisputed big deal within her extravagantly moneyed milieu and her decorative deal will indubitably remain inspirational and emulated for generations to come by the stiff-lipped elites who appreciate, cotton to and/or can afford to do up their various homes in a right-proper “Wasp chic” fashion. Anyhoodles, poodles…

Midtown Manhattan’s Sutton Place nabe runs from East 53rd to East 59th Streets between First Avenue and the East River and though it may no longer be half as fashionable as in its heyday from the 1940s into the late 1970s, the out of the way enclave — some city dwellers might scoff it’s downright remote — still has a couple of swanky co-operative apartment houses that cling tightly to the snobbish, Old School elegance and high-nosed exclusivity of their impeccably mannered if unapologetically haughty and sometimes imperious origins.

Designed by much lauded architect Rosario Candela — he’s considered by many people Your Mama knows as a master of well-placed and properly ventilated poopers — One Sutton Place South was built in 1927 for the illustrious Phipps family. Miz Sherrill headed up the building’s notoriously choosy and all-powerful board from 1972 to 1999 and, in the real estate page turner “The Sky’s The Limit” (Steven Gaines, 2007), claimed she never rejected an applicant at One Sutton Place South but rather made it clear to undesirable and wishful thinking wannabe residents that meeting with the board to plead their case and expose the nitty-gritty details of their finances would be a pointless and — even worse — embarrassing endeavor. Those who do pass muster are obliged pay for their apartments with cash and strictly enforced co-op rules require all renovation work be undertaken only during summer months when many of the pampered residents travel and/or spend considerable time at their summer residences in the Hamptons and around the world.

Despite and, indeed, because of its stringent bylaws, One Sutton Place South has always attracted a slew understated industrialists and influential businessman most regular people have never heard of before as well as a whole bunch of stinking rich philanthropists, financial industry power players and even the occasional Tinseltowner. Until a few years ago three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver owned a small spread in the building and shoe tycoon Kenneth Cole and wife Maria Cuomo paid $14.5 million for their low-floor duplex digs in 2008. As far as this property gossip knows, octogenarian publisher John Fairchild, who lives primarily in Gstaad, Switzerland, according to a fairly recent Vanity Fair profile, still owns a posh pad in the building and Hollywood/Political sophisticates Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy Lawford owned a duplex at One Sutton Place South last sold in 2009  for $9.5 million by one George Soros protogé, Scott Bessent, to another George Soros protogé, Joshua Gregg Berkowitz. (According to good ol’ Eamonn Eagleyes — now looks like this.)

The penthouse at One Sutton Place South was originally a tremendous if quirkily arranged duplex with a pair of drawing rooms under epic 40-foot high ceilings. It was originally owned and occupied by steel heiress Amy Phipps — remember, kiddos, is was her family who commissioned the building — but at some point the penthouse’s lower level was cleaved from the upper and divided in to three separate apartments. One of the newly formed apartments was occupied by internationally revered American couturier Bill Blass who — so the scuttlebutt goes — was obliged to promise the board not to entertain overnight guests in order to secure approval for his 13th floor bachelor pad. (Presumably this had something to do with his presumed homosexuality but anyways…)

The upper portion of the penthouse eventually passed to Miz Phipps’s son Winston Guest and his socialite/garden columnist wife C.Z. Guest who, in turn, sold it in 1963 to party-throwing philanthropist Janet Annenberg Hooker. Miz Hooker, the socially connected sister of communications tycoon Walter Annenberg, departed this world in late 1997 and, after a couple of years on the market at declining prices, her heirs and executors sold the 6,400 square foot penthouse in mid-2000 for $10.9 million to hedge fund fat cat Richard Perry and his fashion designer wife Lisa Perry.

The Perrys, who last year dropped another $7.6 million for a sizable three bedroom apartment directly below the penthouse, caused quite a kerfuffle in 2009 when they radically re-imagined the southwest corner of their 6,000-ish-square foot wrap around terrace and installed a gargantuan metallic-green jewel sculpture by Jeff Koons. (No one we know seems to know how Mister and Missus Perry managed to get that particular renovation and art installation approved by the persnickety board but approved by the board it apparently was.)

We’re not sure exactly when Mister and Missus Sherrill moved in to their 9th and 10th floor duplex at One Sutton Place South but it was obviously before 1972 when she was elevated to board president. Her obit in The New York Times stated that Miz Sherrill decorated the duplex herself and though it was “refreshed over the years” it was “never decorated again.” Listing details don’t include the duplex’s exact square footage but Your Mama’s quick and rudimentary calculations put it at about 5,000. We counted three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms plus a discreet (and discrete) staff bedroom and bathroom.

The painfully grandiose trend of exceptionally voluminous and grotesquely humongous train station-scaled entrance halls with double staircases may continue unabated as a guest-impressing feature in many newly built mansions and macmansions around the world but Rosario Candela understood the psychic benefit of a more humble and eloquent progression from public to private spaces. A compact, private elevator landing opens to an equally intimate entry vestibule that links to a sufficiently ample but hardly huge gallery anchored at the far end by Mister Candela’s original, tightly curled staircase. There are original, herringbone pattern wood floors and we spied horseshoe-shaped laurel wreath appliqués over each of the doorways that suggest both luck and success.

To the left, a baronial, 31-foot living room has a wood-burning fireplace, heavy-duty moldings, and three over-sized windows with head-on river views and a slightly oblique view of the intricate steel framework of the Queensboro Bridge. Butter- and butterscotch-colored brocade furnishings match exactly the butter colored walls and butterscotch-y drapery and — as was her decorative way — there is a boatload of liberally ormolu-d and probably pedigreed antique French this and thats.

A treillage-accented and celadon-colored pass-through wet bar connects the living room to a peachy-salmon library with built-in bookshelves and entertainment unit. (The library was originally designated by the architect as the formal dining room.) Your Mama would ask the children to note Miz Sherrill — an undisputed high priestess of high Wasp day-core — didn’t feel the need to hide or disguise the television as so many high-priced decorators insist upon nowadays. This sort of thing is not an accident, children, and is akin to the very much on-purpose predilection of old line American families — and those who wish to emulate them — to drive beat up jalopies when in residence at their summer homes.

Miz Sherrill was well known among the decorative cognescenti for liberal layering of mixy-matcy patterns. Chintz and checks can, indeed go together in the right hands and the right environment. She was also vaunted for her deft and frequent use of animal prints as are on full display in her slightly tight, leopard print laden dining room. Neither Your Mama nor The Doctor Cooter would voluntarily to do up our dining room or any other room in a leopard print theme and we happen to think the room might benefit by the inclusion of something a modern and maybe colorful like, say, a Gary Hume painting. However, all T no shade, children, we’re cowed in all the best ways by the dining room’s obvious and spot-on decorative timelessness. (Also note the zebra-print armchairs and footstool in library.)

There are two, en-suite guest/family bedrooms on the upper floor along with a bubble gum pink and rose-hued chintz master suite comprised of generous bedroom with an entire wall of built-in wardrobes for Miz Sherrill’s evening gowns, two large windows with river and bridge views, a walk-in closet larger than most Sutton Place staff rooms, a second and even larger windowed dressing room, and an unfortunately wee but —at least — windowed bathroom.

Miz Sherrill’s East River view aerie may not be your cup of decorative tea but it is without question just as it should be. That’s not to say everyone should decorate like this. That would be silly and entirely unrealistic since so few people can really afford to do up their homes in this manner. After all, a single, 17th-century commode necessary to pull of a cultured decorative scheme like this could easily cost as much or far more than an entire, semi-luxurious tract house in Paduca, Pocatello or Palm Springs.

Mister and Missus Sherrill also maintained a grand estate in the Hamptons. They naturally gravitated to blue-blooded Southampton where they landed like the American gentry they truly were at Mayfair, a rambling “cottage” designed by Carrere & Hastings in the latter years of the 19th century for wealthy attorney and Nobel Peace Prize-winning statesman Elihu Root. After Mister Sherrill passed on in 2010, Miz Sherrill switched Southampton houses with her son Stephen, a private equity executive. He took over the massive Mayfair and she moved into his much more modest home that her multi-talented decorator daughter Ann Pyne — who now heads up McMillen Inc. — expanded and did up in a kicky, colorful and modern-minded homage to her mother’s Old School signature style and had photographed for “House Beautiful.

Listing photos and floor plan: Brown Harris Stevens

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