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LUXURY NOW / ART, ARCHITECTURE & STYLE / THE GUTFREUND LIFE

For 26 years the antique-filled Paris apartment of John and Susan Gutfreund was the scene of intimate dinners and glittering cocktail parties. On the eve of a Christie's Paris auction of it contents, we take a virtual tour.

During the 1980s, the society hostess and decorator Susan Gutfreund and her Wall Street power broker husband John were considered symbols of excess, famous for their extravagant parties (one December soirée required a crane to lift a 22-foot tall Christmas tree into their New York apartment), decadence (Susan apparently once travelled by Concorde on two tickets – one for her and one for a cake), and high spending (“It's so expensive being rich,'' being the most delicious quote attributed to the former air hostess). The couple are even said to have been the inspiration behind the Bavardages in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Fast forward a few decades and while the Gutfreunds are still known for high living – Susan being known as one of the world’s most prolific couture clients – they are now a symbol of good taste rather than conspicuous consumption.

Nowhere is this more evident than in their homes, a glimpse of which can be seen in the June 28 Christie’s auction of the contents of their just sold Paris apartment. Located in a wing of the Hotel de Bauffremont on Rue de Grenelle in the chic seventh arrondissement (Hubert de Givenchy occupies another part of the grand mansion), the Gutfruends’ four floor apartment was designed by decorator Henri Samuel and architect Alain Reynaud (as well as Susan who is now a sought after interior designer in her own right), and styled in period splendour with 18th-century panelling and fireplaces and a treasure trove of Louis XVI antiques. Maryvonne Pinault, writing in the foreword to the Christie’s catalogue, describes their home of 26 years as, “equal to the most beautiful historic Parisian apartments,” and a “magnificent ‘French’ pied-a-terre”, a statement which belies its 506 square meters of living space.

What is most striking about both the apartment and its contents available at Christie’s is not the rare highlights – which include an 18-century writing desk once owned by Hubert de Givenchy (estimate: €12,000 - €18,000) and a large rococo crystal chandelier (estimate: €40,000 - €60,000) – but instead the copious amounts of tableware, which includes 13 porcelain dinner service sets.

Indeed, the Gutfruends’ Paris apartment was designed for entertaining. Entered via an entry hall of ballroom proportions complete with sweeping staircase to the first floor, the Gutfreunds would serve cocktails and canapés in the salon, dinner in the intimate dining room, and coffee in the library off the drawing room. “I’m a hausfrau. I think that’s why I feel that I’m good at what I do with my decorating,” once said Susan. “I care about running houses. I think there’s nothing better than being a housewife. I love my house. I love entertaining. I love the kitchen. I love to put flowers. I love the details of a house.”

Despite the grandeur that she surrounds herself with, Susan has talked of the key to entertaining being in the basics. “Like Mrs. Dalloway, you work very hard to set a mood for the evening and make people feel welcome,” she says. “You’re going to give them a cold drink, a comfortable chair and a warm meal. That’s basically what I want to do – and to make my girlfriends look pretty with good lighting.”

Known globally for their generous hospitality, the ultimate invitation is to their main residence, a lavish Fifth Avenue duplex that is legendary for its art (one of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies once hung in the foyer) and its winter garden (complete with a chirping, caged parrot).

What of the future of the Gutfeund’s former Paris apartment? It’s all change on Rue de Grenelle. WWD reports that Coach creative director Reed Krakoff is the new owner. A well-known collector of cutting edge design and contemporary art, he passed on the opportunity to acquire the apartment’s contents which are estimated to fetch €1.2 million - €1.8million. It’s the end of a gilded era at the Hotel de Bauffremont.

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