Updated on Decemeber 21, 2020: Auction paddles at the ready! Christie’s will be hosting a series of sales net month highlighting the furniture and objets d’art which once decorated Mr. and Mrs. John H. Gutfreund's New York apartment on Fifth Avenue. Design lovers are invited to discover the cherished dinner services, storied jewels from the House of Chanel, and fine English furniture through in-person and online auctions taking place January 14–29.
In 2014, Susan Gutfreund welcomed VERANDA into her New York apartment for an intimate dinner party filled with vintage English plates, early-20th-century engraved stemware, and French Champagne flutes, all of which are up for auction by Christie's. Read on to learn Susan's lessons on gracious entertaining.
As a young corporate wife in the gilded, go-go New York of the 1980s, interior designer Susan Gutfreund was inspired in the art of parties by some of the day’s most celebrated and storied hosts. From de la Rentas to Rothschilds, her mentors are legendary and, alas, of a rare—if not dying—breed of those who entertain formally and impeccably at home. Decades later, Gutfreund valiantly upholds their legacies of starched linens, exquisite porcelain, sparkling crystal, and perfect flowers. “I enjoy being a hausfrau,” she says emphatically, “and sharing my passion for entertaining with friends is a great joy.”
In her famously fabulous Henri Samuel–designed Fifth Avenue duplex—the kind of luxe spread that makes New York New York—the galas and arguable excesses of yore have retreated to the perhaps more genteel realm of luncheons and small dinners. The ideal number of guests is from four to eight, she says, “more than the Graces [three] and less than the Muses [nine]. I was told that by Liliane de Rothschild, and it actually is the ideal number. Everybody can beat one table and speak to everyone else.”
Gutfreund crafts her guest lists with care, her goal more to mix than to match. She might plot an artist next to a CEO, next to an actor, next to a surgeon. Then, she continues, “once I have my people, I work very hard to make it look effortless. When people arrive, I can mingle as a guest. I can relax because I’ve done my homework. If a hostess is unsure, then her guests aren’t comfortable.” That homework entails some or all of the cooking, the flowers, the lighting just so, the seating plan, and choosing from the enviable collections of linen, porcelain, and silver that she has organized and photographed in pleasing combinations, which are therefore easily executed when the time comes.
An evening chez Gutfreund might begin with drinks in the drawing room or the more intimate fumoir before trailing down to dinner. (No cell phones at the table, please.) For smaller groups, Gutfreund may eschew the formal dining room and set up a table in the “winter garden,” so-called for its 18th-century floral painted panels and carved trellising. Cozy by the fire, framed by an extraordinary early-19th-century Chinese ironstone mantel, guests are surrounded by treasures that include chairs from a Danish palace, a Ming jardiniere, 18th-century silk chinoiserie pillows, and a sofa from the estate of Vincent Fourcade.
For all the room’s grandeur, Gutfreund keeps her food simple. Knowing her “audience,” as it were, she likes to serve things they don’t have in restaurants, like her barbecued meatloaf, her dishwasher-poached salmon (seriously), or her prized pigs in a blanket. Hers are made with pretzel dough, which she buys in the Amish markets in Pennsylvania, where she and her husband, John, have a house on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. Her credo is as straightforward as her food is satisfying: “What people—especially men—really want is a comfortable chair, a cold drink, and a warm meal. A pretty woman to look at doesn’t hurt, either,” she adds. Safe to say Gutfreund fits the bill on all counts.
This feature originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of VERANDA. Interiors by Susan Gurfreund; photography by Melanie Acevedo; produced by Carolyn Englefield; written by Frances Schultz.
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