If the primary goal of an interior designer is to provide comfort combined with a sense of delight and escape at home, then there can be no more hallowed hall than that of the Winter Garden, the Jardin d’Hiver—and perhaps no more adept architect of it than French designer Henri Samuel.
In many ways, the Winter Garden that Samuel designed in collaboration with Susan Gutfreund for the apartment she shared with her late husband, John, in the Rosario Candela-designed 834 Fifth Avenue is the apotheosis of the centuries-long tradition of the Jardin d’Hiver.
The Gutfreunds’ Winter Garden “is a unique space, a singular combination of Susan’s vision and Samuel’s artistry,” says Will Strafford, Senior International Specialist, European Furniture and Decorative Arts for Christie’s. “It’s densely layered, but brilliantly unified by color. It’s like a perfect painting, but also warm and inviting. There has been nothiing like it in American before or since.”
After John, the former chairman and chief executive of Salomon Brothers, passed away in 2016, the 20-room, 12,000-square foot apartment sold in 2019 for $53 million to investor Stanley Druckenmiller.
The Gutfreunds’ spectacular decorative arts and furniture collections are coming to market via a series of auctions held by Christie’s: a live sale, “The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Gutfreund 834 Fifth Avenue,” will be held January 26-27, with a preview slated for January 20; a series of online auctions themed around entertaining, books and art, and Gutfreund’s dazzling collection of Chanel fashion jewelry, much of which was gifted to her by Karl Lafgerfeld, will be held January 14-29.
Among the over 665 lots up for sale are 18 from Gutfreund’s Winter Garden, which could fetch up to $575,000 alone. (The entire collection and combined sales carry a high estimate of $7.4 million.)
Chinoiserie panels that the Gutfruends purchased from Aveline and Axel Vervoordt at the Paris Biennale prior to buying the apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue served as the foundation for the Winter Garden. “At the time [they were purchased], the Gutfreunds did not have a place for them, but they knew one day they would,” says Strafford. (The panels were in a Belgian chateau prior to being exhibited at the Paris Biennale.)
That day came in the mid-1980s, when Samuel, who had been introduced to the Gutfreunds by philanthropist and collector Jayne Wrightsman whose own private collection was sold by Christie’s in October 2020, accompanied the Gutfreunds to look at the 834 Fifth Avenue apartment.
“He said, ‘This is the apartment for you,'” says Emily Evans Eerdmans, author of Henri Samuel: Master of the French Interior (Rizzoli, 2018). “This room was actually a dark panelled room, but Samuel saw how it could be transformed. What he liked about it was that you could be sitting down and still see the green of Central Park,” says Eerdmans.
With that vision in mind and the Gutfreunds’ previously acquired Chinoiserie panels in hand, Samuel worked with architect Thierry Despont to design gilt trelliswork made of resin for the walls and a domed ceiling. “Susan is a collector with a really fun eye, and Samuel always found a way to use her pieces.”
There is something fundamental to the design of the Winter Garden—any winter garden—that makes it a particularly apt space for collections of furniture and decorative arts.
“Samuel and Susan had an agreement that she could have one ‘fantasy’ room in the apartment, while the rest would be more classical,” says Strafford. “Early on in the process, Samuel referred to this room as the ‘Jardin d’Hiver’, so Russia was certainly on his mind,” Strafford says.
Seeking refuge from harsh winters, Russian royalty built palaces specifically to be used during winter, the most famous of which is the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, which became the official residence of the Russian emperor from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. (Today, the palace forms the Hermitage Museum.)
Nineteenth century watercolor renderings of the Winter Palace’s interior sparked a fervor for fantastical interior garden rooms throughout Russia, Europe, and ultimately the United States in which an ecclectic mix of styles rooted in classical, gothic, and even Far East traditions cross-polinated in vibrant, verdant exbuerance.
Picking up on that 19th century tradition some 100 years later, the Gutfreunds’ Winter Garden “is such a subtle blend of stylistic influences,” says Strafford, noting the room’s Russian floral carpet, Viennese chandelier, and references to the 19th century decoration of England’s Brighton Pavilion, characterized by its more exotic, Chinese and Indian-influenced brand of Regency style.
“There’s a romance to the tradition of the winter garden, the lushness and fullness of it, and to having lots of things in a room,” says Eerdmans. “It’s a room meant to have lots of whimsy…and you couldn’t have too many of whimsical things in Gutfreund’s room. But it works, in part because the sea of green”—picked up from the Chinoiserie panels and porcelain fireplace and echoed in the trellis paneling, taffeta window treatments, and suite of upholstery—”offsets everything,” says Eerdmans.
Today, it’s difficult to imagine the Gutfreunds’ Winter Garden without that suite of seating, which not only infused the room with more of its signature celedon but also afforded it with a greater amount of flexibility: the pieces are fitted with casters, allowing them to be reconfigured with ease. But the space was originally furnished with a table in the center.
“Susan saw the suite of seat furniture at auction in Denmark and knew they were perfect as she found that her guests often preferred to come into this room [to lounge] rather than upstairs to the salon,” says Strafford. “It’s a good example of how organically the apartment’s interiors were created, and not all dependent on Samuel’s advice, as when she acquired the suite he had already retired.”
Occasionally, Gutfreund did serve meals in the Winter Garden, as when she opened her New York apartment to VERANDA in 2014 for an intimate dinner party.
For more insights into the making of the Gutfreund Winter Garden, register here for a panel discussion with Christie’s Will Strafford and Susan Gutfreund and moderated by Veranda EIC Steele Marcoux on January 19, 2pm EST.
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