How to Outfit Your Dining Room in True Mid-Century Style

On July 26, the furnishings and tableware of the legendary Four Seasons restaurant will go on the block through Wright auction house.

Photo: Wendy Goodman
Photo: Wendy Goodman

On July 26 at 10 a.m., the furnishings and tableware of the legendary Four Seasons restaurant will go on the block through Wright auction house, offering bidders a chance to walk away with a piece of New York City history, even if they take home only a saucepan. Wright will be selling 500 lots, which are available for viewing online and in a catalogue that features some of the pieces, at an auction held at The Four Seasons.

The night of July 16 will be bittersweet for Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini, the managing partners of The Four Seasons Restaurant, when the lights go off for the last time in the famed Grill Room (seen here), Pool Room, and bar after 57 years of serving presidents, princes, princesses, power brokers, and tourists in a setting like no other. The confluence of taste, power, and design authority began back in 1954 when Samuel Bronfman moved the headquarters of his liquor company, Seagram, to New York City from Montreal. It was Bronfman’s daughter Phyllis Lambert who partnered with Philip Johnson, at the suggestion of Alfred H. Barr Jr., to search for an architect who would best represent the bold new aesthetic of modernist design. They anointed Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who achieved nothing less than a monument to the International Style.
Wright will be selling 500 lots, all available for viewing online as well as in a catalogue that features some of the pieces, including these curved banquettes and table from the Grill Room designed by Philip Johnson Associates. Johnson assembled a team of designers to conceive everything from flatware to furniture, including Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable for the glass and tableware; furniture by Hans Wegner, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen; the custom sculpture above the bar by Richard Lippold; and perhaps the most famous design detail of all: the curtains made of aluminum-brass-and-copper-beaded chains that undulate with the flow of air, designed by Marie Nichols. The interior of The Four Seasons was landmarked in 1989, so the curtains and bar sculpture will remain beyond the walls.
The calm before the storm in a corner of the bar of the Grill Room, before the onslaught of people making last pilgrimages to the place for which the term “power lunch” was coined, where President Kennedy had his birthday dinner before being serenaded by Marilyn Monroe at Madison Square Garden, and where endless deals have been made in the regal serenity of the Grill Room beyond.
The Eero Saarinen custom tulip tables from the bar of the Grill Room were designed with polished bronze tops and will be included in the sale.
As you approach the Grill Room bar from the stairs, the magnificence of what Philip Johnson described as a Gesamtkunstwerk (a total work of art) resonates in the summer light.
The bar stools from the Grill Room, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, are part of the sale. In the Wright catalogue, a collector’s item in itself, Paul Goldberger has written, “In an age of precious little authenticity, this restaurant is unique, a thing unto itself, a thing whose very existence seems to bespeak that rare commodity of authenticity, and whose identity is as closely tied to New York as the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The Pool Room in the late afternoon with the staff collecting before dinner service begins. Many of these gentlemen have been working together as a family for over 40 years. Von Bidder and Niccolini will reopen The Four Seasons in 2017 at a new location at 280 Park Avenue, in a space designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld.
The Four Seasons plates, designed by American illustrator Emil Antonucci, will be sold in two sizes, with each size offered in sets of 12. Proceeds from certain lots will benefit organizations like the Black Alumni of Pratt and education programs at the Philip Johnson Glass House.
I found managing partner Julian Niccolini, right, who is pictured here with Daniel Sanon, The Four Seasons’ food-and-beverage manager, in a feisty and reflective mood. “The only thing that is going to stay is the wall,” Niccolini said. “And the only reason that is going to stay is that it is part of the so-called landmark designation. But you know what? The restaurant business is not about the walls, it’s about the people. That’s all. That is all I can say.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Brno armchairs, used in both the Pool Room and the Grill Room, will be sold in pairs and in sets of 12. A version of the Brno chair without arms will also be available at auction.
Niccolini took me through the kitchen, introducing me to Jose Chauca and Orlando Nolasco, pictured with him here, part of the staff who were preparing the dinner service. The kitchen’s surfaces and utilities were every bit as spotless and pristine as the tableware in the Grill Room and the Pool Room.
For me, these are the jewels in the crown of all the lots: the crudités and oyster-serving trays, polished from use over the years, designed by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable.
The kitchen, the heart of The Four Seasons restaurant, with its bloodred floor, before the choreography of dinner service.
If I were to be so lucky as to have the winning bid on this beautiful Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable–designed shallow sauté pan, I would hang it on the wall as a tribute to every single chef who cooked exquisite dishes in what will soon be a thing of the past.
Outfit Your Dining Room in Mid-Century Style