Well, I married the apartment,” John Githens says of his home of over five decades in a 19th-century townhouse overlooking Washington Square Park.
In 1968, Githens was a 30-year-old professor teaching Russian at Vassar College when he met and fell in love with the German-born artist Ingeborg ten Haeff, whose second husband, the architect Paul Lester Wiener, had died the year before. “She was 22 years older than I was,” Githens says. “But there was nobody like her.” He found himself spending more and more time in her Washington Square North apartment and soon moved in and never left.
Githens is a scholar and translator who also taught at St. John’s University; he has worked for UNICEF as well. The day we met at the apartment, he was wearing silver sneakers and had laid out a spread of green tea and biscuits for our interview — he told me that he and ten Haeff would host dinner parties twice a week for many years. His head was full of minute details of so many stories of their life together.
The apartment he shared with her until her death in 2011 is essentially two large rooms: one overlooking the park, next to a smaller study, and one in the back, next to the kitchen. There are multiple tables, chairs, and daybeds because, Githens feels, “one should sleep in different rooms and eat in different rooms.”
Wiener had designed many of the pieces in the apartment, including a deep-red lacquered coffee table, green side and nesting tables, and several of the chairs with chrome bases. The apartment is filled with artwork by ten Haeff and friends, including the sculptor Costantino Nivola and the potter Trudi Kearl, and pieces by Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, and Jacques Lipchitz, whose small maquette of the firedogs he made for Coco Chanel sits on one mantel.
Ten Haeff seems to have cast a spell on whomever she met. Still, Githens held on to his $52.90-a-month rent-controlled apartment on 29th Street for “several years,” he says, “fearing that perhaps our relationship might not last. It did, however, for 43 years.”
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