Several months ago, on October 11th to be exact, New York magazine ran an article about the life and death of Robert Isabell. This article grabbed my attention because of the lavish and fascinating life that the subject of the article led. To call Isabell, who died in July at the age of 57, an events planner and a floral designer would be an understatement because he was so much more. He was an artist. According to his obit in the Times, Anna Wintour called him “the king of the event world.” One of his first memorable projects was using four tons of glitter to decorate Studio 54 one New Year’s Eve in the 1970s. Since that moment, he only became more creative and more in demand. I admired his work even before I know who he was. Isabell was responsible for the wedding of JFK Jr. to Carolyn Bessette in 1996 and I can just remember thinking, when I saw photos of their wedding, how simple yet incredibly elegant and magical it was. Isabell was a handsome man and one can easily see how, with his taste for extravagance and good looks, he easily fit in with the celebrity set. Isabell was not afraid to experiment and therefore it is only fitting that a man with such taste and imagination would have an incredible home with an even more incredible art collection.
On Thursday, December 17th, Sotheby’s New York will auction off Isabell’s collection. The catalogue features beautiful photographs of Isabell’s Greenwich Village home, which was just as remarkable as the man himself. The sale, 128 lots, is full of really beautiful things. Isabell had a very impressive collection of furniture and objects from the American studio movement as well as mid-century French industrial design. The sale included some terrific pieces of furniture by my favorites Paul Evans and Phillip Lloyd Powell. In collaboration the two artists produced beautiful, hand-made furniture such as the sideboard (Lot 66), from ca. 1960, made of walnut and metal and also the Bar (Lot 20), also ca. 1960’s, of painted wood, gold foil, steel and slate. Evan’s bronze and cooper furniture looked terrific next to the exposed brick and stone walls of Isabell’s home. I found the Evan’s pieces that were topped with silver or gold leaf over wood (Lot 1 and Lot 72) particularly interesting as I have never seen them anywhere before. I also love, love the Johnny Swing “Nickel” Couch (Lot 52) of 2003. Its anthropomorphic shape makes the cold sofa quite inviting. In addition to pieces by Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouve and Serge Mouille, Isabell used the bronze sculptures of Harry Bertoia and Klaus Ihlenfeld to further decorate his home. Looking at the photographs in the catalogue one gets a sense for what an incredible interior space this was. As an events planner he had a great propensity for taking a space and creating something entirely new out of it, his home was no different. Isabell took a modern, six-unit building and a 19th c. blacksmith shop, which was next door, creating an indoor garden which brought light into the otherwise dark spaces. The outside and the inside flawlessly fuse together to create a space that is at once intimate and open, private and public.
It is rather sad how objects which were collected with such love and made up the interior of such an unbelievable home will end up on a cold pedestal at Sotheby’s. However, I guess in the end it is only fitting that in life and in death, Isabell will bring some of his magic, and his great taste, into someone else’s life. Appropriately, the proceeds of the sale will go towards the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation for the Benefit of the Oak Spring Garden Library and Greenhouses. Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon was one of Isabell’s dearest friends and they spent a lot of time in her greenhouse as they both loved flowers.