Designer Gloria Vanderbilt reconstructs her 1940s childhood room

May 16, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: Did I read that Gloria Vanderbilt had become an interior designer? Last I heard, she was making jeans.

A: I don't think Ms. Vanderbilt has given up her day job -- being one of the world's wealthiest women -- but you are partially correct. She did try her hand at interior design again when she created a room at this spring's famous Kips Bay Show House in New York.

I should say "recreated" a room. Now 85, Vanderbilt was inspired by a room that was originally designed by her aunt, Gertrude Whitney, the relative who actually raised the famously "poor little rich girl" back in the 1940s.

With its silver leaf wallpaper, Swedish grandfather clock circa 1857 and headboard covered in moire faille, the room looks very sophisticated for the 16-year-old who once lived in it. But that was in the glam days before World War II, remember?


Decorator Matthew Patrick Smyth certainly remembers. It was his idea, in fact, that Vanderbilt join the lineup of interior designers who created fantasy rooms in the Manhattan mansion, which served as this year's show house. Open through May 17, this designer show house raises funds for the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Clubs (

Smyth and Vanderbilt worked together on recreating her girlhood room until it was "faithful in spirit, if not in every detail," as reporter Eric Konigsberg put it in a newspaper review. One detail that is Vanderbilt's exclusively: a quote she painted on one wall, taken from a memoir she wrote in 1985 about her tumultuous childhood. It reads, "I fell in love with this room and forever tried to recapture it ..."

At one point during her long creative life, Vanderbilt started a home furnishings business. She also, as you recall, is well-known for her designer jeans.

Now, she's proving that one can go home again - almost - given enough silver leaf, chandelier crystals and the expert help of a professional designer like Matthew Smyth (

Q: Guess who's cooking up dining tables?

A: The Emmy-winning, folksy talking, world's most down-home cook herself, Paula Deen.

Debuting at Universal Furniture ( during the recent High Point Furniture Market, her new collection of "put your feet up on it" furniture includes several dining tables - no surprise. But what is newsy: A couple of the tables are tall and square; they not only double as extra workspace in the kitchen, they also "let you really lock eyes with the person you're eating with," as Deen puts it.

Including bedroom pieces (there's a "Steel Magnolia" bed), TV cabinets and sideboards aimed at convivial dining rooms, the Universal collection is based on the furniture in Deen's own Savannah, Ga., home.

"Only in the last few years have I been able to afford good furniture like antiques," Deen confided to admirers, who thronged the Universal showroom to sip sweet tea and compliment the cook.

"Seeing this furniture makes me emotional," she told them. "It does just what I wanted. It kinda puts its arms around you and says, 'Come on in!'"

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

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