December 15,2023

William Sofield On His Reign as Lord of Luxury

by David Stewart

Our intrepid West Coast editor drops in on William Sofield at the AD100 designer’s landmark home in Bedford Hills, New York.

Mayer Rus: Would you describe the pedigree of your home for our inquisitive readers?

William Sofield: The Richard Mandel House was designed between 1929 and 1933 by Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey. The two of them lived here on-site while they worked on it. They were collaborating on Radio City Music Hall at the same time, so they did the reverse commute to Manhattan.

MR: The house looks fantastic. I can see a lot of progress in your epic renovation from the last time I was here. How long have you been working on it?

WS: Eleven years. My hope is that it will be finished in time for my memorial service. But that’s a fifty-fifty proposition.

MR: Is this one of those cobbler’s children things?

WS: It’s a combination of the cobbler’s resources and his attention span. I will say that it’s been nice having the time to experience the house before implementing a complete overhaul. If I had done everything I thought I should do when I first moved in, you’d be looking at a very different house. Thankfully, there’s plenty to keep me occupied at the office.

MR: What’s the latest and greatest from Studio Sofield ?

WS: Our big project is 111 West 57th Street, the new needle building that’s going up above Steinway Hall. SHoP is doing the architecture, and we’re doing all the interiors. It’s quite a production—about 1,495 feet high and 58 feet wide, so it’s too thin to kill any of the trees in Central Park.

MR: [ reviewing drawings ] This looks swank! I suppose the building is yet another pornographically expensive project?

WS: On a scale of one to over-the-top, it’s over-the-top. I think the apartments will sell for something like $8,000 per square foot, which is roughly what the fabrics we specified cost.

MR: Pity the vanishing middle class.

WS: I thought this was middle class!

MR: Let’s see what all that dough buys you. What are those giant urns in the lobby?

WS: They’re rock crystal. P.E. Guerin is doing every single piece of hardware. The tubs are carved out of solid blocks of alabaster. We’re doing end-grain marquetry floors, lots of fluted glass.

MR: Ooh la la. I do love rock crystal. I hope the shady shell corporations that will eventually purchase the apartments appreciate it as much as I do.

WS: Shady shell corporations are people, too.

MR: So the Supreme Court tells me. But I suppose I’m in the wrong business to be quoting Marx and Engels, so let’s move on. What else are you doing?

WS: We just did the Tom Ford store in Miami, which is a bit of a departure from the ones we’ve done before. We’re also doing the Versailles Classic residences for Alan Faena in Miami.

MR: Have you spent much time there? I can’t stand Miami.

WS: I kind of like it there. It took me a couple visits to discover the Dixie Highway, which is full of great old motels and diners with neon signs. It’s kind of like Los Angeles—if you get off the beach, the suburban sprawl takes you to all kinds of weird and wonderful places.

MR: Easy there, cupcake. I know you highfalutin New Yorkers like to talk smack about L.A., but I won’t stand for any Miami correlations.

WS: Apologies. I withdraw the comment.

MR: Where did we leave off? I’m sure it had something to do with luxury. You’re the expert on the subject. Tell me about modern luxury.

WS: I like to treat myself to a small chopped salad of hummingbirds’ tongues every week. [ laughs ] No, I think the greatest luxury is a Dumpster. We have one up at the house—it’s so liberating to throw s—t out.

MR: I don’t want to hear about the luxury of a Dumpster or the luxury of a quiet moment or a cup of tea.

WS: Okay, okay. I’m doing a pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue where you push a button and all the walls disappear—and they’re very large walls. Everything converts into something else. We took a lot of risks on this project.

MR: Such as?

WS: Woven leather and silver lamé curtains. I’m not sure if they’re the chicest thing I’ve ever done or if they only make sense in some scenario with Bette Midler riding around the apartment in a wheelchair, wearing a mermaid outfit.

MR: Burlesque realness plus couture construction. I can dig it. What are you doing for the holidays?

WS: [My partner] Dennis and I are headed to Asheville, North Carolina, and then driving down to Auldbrass, the Frank Lloyd Wright plantation in South Carolina, for New Year’s. What are you doing?

MR: I’m holing up at home with my dog, Linus, and a HoneyBaked ham.

WS: Ah, so you’re the real expert on luxury.

  • David Stewart
  • December 15,2023

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