24 May 2010

Maureen Footer at the PLAZA

When I asked designer Maureen Footer about her one of her latest design projects, she had the most interesting story to tell me- and show me. Maureen started by saying,

"When the PLAZA asked me to provide designs for their legendary State Suite I couldn’t possibly say no-- the views alone overlooking the Park and the Pulitzer fountain make the apartment irresistibly romantic. I am especially pleased with the trompe l’oeil dining room which was inspired by the 17th century Villa Grazioli, near Frascati, outside of Rome. Dipping liberally into an infinite virtual budget, we employed decorative painters, the best art consultants, antique dealers and modern craftsmen and came up with these designs. The talented John Gibson painted the renderings."

Maureen's inspiration for the State Suite Dining Room at the Plaza

Villa Grazioli was built in the 16th century by a Cardinal. It is situated on a hill overlooking the ancient city of Rome, the sea and Tivoli. The Villa is a masterpiece of the 16th century art, history and culture, filled with magnificent works of art painted by Italian masters like Ciampelli, Carracci and Pannini.

Virtual budget? Humm? Was their a Virtual Client too?  

"I fantasized that I was Eloise and I could live in this space!  It was not too hard to do!  Seriously, given that this was at the Plaza, I assumed the client would be a modern,  sophisticated, well-traveled world citizen and the design should reflect this.."

How does your approach with a Virtual Client differ from the real thing?

"Frequently part of the fun of design is the rapport developed with a cultivated individual.  His or her tastes, collections, directive will inspire me in a particular direction.  But this project was glorious!  I had so many ideas I wanted to exercise and wonderful infrastructure to develop the ideas that the project so easily came into focus."

As I pondered Maureen's client, I thought seriously about Eloise.Had she grown up? Would she ever grow up? Of course Eloise is well travelled and all that- But my thoughts ran from Eloise to her very worldly, sophisticated, well traveled world citizen creator- KAY THOMPSON. Kay Thompson seems to be the real client here. Kay could easily have starred in the Dinign Room Maureen envisioned. Of Kay Thompson, Joan Cook wrote,  Whippet-thin, of what the French call "a certain age," Miss Thompson is 75 percent eyes. They're the color of the luminous blue topaz ring she wears, seldom with more than a Gucci bracelet and a watch.  Kay Thompon epitomizes Maureen's client and it is echoed on the back of her Eloise book cover, "Kay is slender, sleek and unbelievably versatile. She is a dancer, a singer, a pianist, a composer, a choreographer, and now an author. When in residence at the PLAZA- phone calls with the question, "Is Eloise in?" immediately went directly to Kay's suite. At the time management said "She's as much a part of the hotel as the palm trees. She moved in two years ago to do some publicity for the Eloise books and we've never asked her when she plans to leave." Illustrator Hilary Knight created the impish sophisticate Eloise and gave her dimension-so to speak-such as any 6 year old can.

Countless articles have been written about Thompson throughout the years and with the conversion of The Plaza into luxury condominium suites and a hotel, Eloise is back in the news-and in residence at the Plaza. Not underestimating the power of Eloise, there is an Eloise shop devoted to all things Eloise. Designer Betsy Johnson is getting into the Eloise act as well- Johnson will be designing a pink and black suite, Named. Guess? the ELOISE SUITE. Though I am sure Kay Thompson was a pink lover-Remember- she thought pink in the movie Funny Face singing- Think Pink!

I think, the sophisticated Kay would have much preferred Maureen Footer's State Suite to Pink Pink. Obviously, Kay would have been so INTO- this virtual suite- She loved a fantasy , a show, making things up- witness Eloise.

Kay would often add to her sometimes flamboyant declarations, Think Pink!, or Be Brilliant!

What perfect instructions for a designer like Maureen-It was easy!

the Plaza

image from the bowery boys here

The project started when Maureen was asked to come in and create a marvelous space for perspective buyers to envision. Maureen elaborated "The Plaza had this plum property  (it was the former State Suite, with additional suites added, best views in the hotel)—but it was an expansive white box and most people couldn’t envision living there. The renderings were used to help prospective buyer imagine the possibilities of  the space and how romantically they might live there—and the State Suite  sold so fast the developer never even had chance to run the full scale marketing campaign with my work.  I guess that speaks to the success of the project."

creator Kay Thompson mimicked her Eloise in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel. 
(Photo: United Press International) 
a look at one of Maureen's glamorous spaces 
ideally suited for Kay or Eloise

How Maureen transformed the white boxes at the Plaza~
Tell me about your inspiration for the Dining Room:

"I had stayed at Villa Grazioli a few years ago and was enchanted by the scale, the fantasy, the beautiful colors of the murals and could not stop sketching them.  I knew I would find a place to use this inspiration.  Of course, it was a matter of waiting for rooms with a scale to approximate a Roman  hill town villa.  Surprisingly, it was right in the middle of Manhattan."

Villa Grazioli ,image from here

"One of the ideas that continually interests me is how to draw from different eras, points of view, cultures and incorporate breadth of inspiration into a focused vision.  Scale is often one of the critical factors to making these layers work together.  And the quality of craftsmanship usually creates flow, too."   
"The chairs are of course the classic Brno chair by Mies.  I’ve always thought the flat bar version was so much more elegant than the tubular chair.   It was designed in the 1920s and the classic version has black leather.  Red leather gives it a reconsidered aspect and the red connects beautifully with the trompe l’oeil."

 the State Dining Room

All the curtains are lovely. In the Dining Area the curtain design is much more elaborate.What made you go with the more formal design choice here?
"Surprise!  Actually, the curtains are trompel’oeil in the Dining Room!  I took the bet that with the views over the park being so lovely both in the day and the evening and with relative privacy, we could leave those beautiful windows untreated."

The trompe l’oeil work in the rendering is gorgeous, Who would you see executing this work ?"Over the years I have worked from some very talented artists.  Frederic Monpoint, AMHI STUDIO, Staszek Kotowski would be my first telephone calls."

I love trompe l'oeil. Do you incorporated trompe l'oeil into you rooms often? Do find clients are instantly drawn to it, or prefer to not have the walls "speak" ?
"Trompe l’oeil is a special treatment, especially the baroque Italian version.  It needs scale and a very talented painter; hanging art on it is tricky so collectors often shy away from it; on the other hand, it looks great with minimalist furnishings.  If a client is up to these particular characteristics, trompe l’oeil  makes for a spectacular project.

the Living Room

The colour palette in the Living Room is beautiful, So soft but wth verve. The design elements in the room are peaceful & yet there is energy! What an exciting mix-elaborate on your choices."The beauty of this project is that while there were spectacular windows with views over the Pulitzer Fountain and Central Park, and extraordinary ceiling height—two things I couldn’t build into the space-- there was very little inherited architecture.  I essentially had a blank slate.  Many disparate design strains were converging when I began to think about this project.    I had just finished an airy white modernist barn with faded blue linen slipcovers on the sofas and I loved the ethereal quality they created. Attention to color while maintaining some restraint were key to creating a room that remained fresh and smart. So we put down a large Moroccan rug I’d seen at Hakimian-
 The chocolate brown and the grid pattern give the room a little additional rigor and ballast.  I repeated the grid on the 18th century marquises.
The green double gourd lamps and damask on the Regence chair seats, the parchment writing table, and the paintings added some subtle variety to the scheme."

Maureen, Here again there is a misty painted landscape on the walls that I love. I think it is inspired.  "I had just reconnected with Frederic Monpoint who had painted Vernet-like marinescapes on a project I’d worked on years ago; he mentioned he wanted to move in different directions, and I couldn’t stop thinking of his dreamy  work.  I have always had a fondness for boiserie, and as I have mentioned, I love to blend time frames, so I incorporated boiserie, with insets of more gestural painting inspired by Frederic, and then—pushing that idea of layering further—hung abstract expressionist art on top of everything. "
 the Master Suite

How did you arrive at the soft butter yellow colour palette in the Master Suite?
"I had seen this lovely Oushak rug with the unusual color combination of yellow and pale green—it really looked more like one of those wonderful Spanish Cuencas and it remained on the bulletin board above my desk for awhile.  The boiserie with the Directoire painting was similar to something I’d done in a Trumbauer house a few years ago, again overlaid by my recent meeting with the talented Frederic Monpoint.   

I think a bedroom is always the most private retreat and I love to create a little haven of space, the draped bed creeps up in my work frequently because of this.  But I like of course to offset all these 18th century elements with some clean modern elements.  Hence the carved out bedside tables and the wonderful screen, inspired by a work I saw by Peggy Kennedy, former design editor extraordinaire, now painter extraordinaire."

Is yellow a colour you often use in bedrooms. Could it be a favourite colour? "I don’t have a favorite color, as long as it is color! I adore yellow—it looks as good in evening light as in morning light, in summer as well as winter.  For these reasons, I often am drawn to a warm palette, as I work quite a bit in the North East.  But greens and blues are of course divine too. Even when I work with a more neutral palette, we make a commitment to that beige, or that dove grey, or white, so it doesn’t look like a default but a design choice.

one of Maureen's amazing bedrooms echoing strains of the Plaza Master Suite
What "role" does a curtain treatment play in a typical Maureen Footer interior? I adore curtains, they add an important vertical line to a room, they create a certain acoustic hush, which I love too.   Those beautiful hand stitched ones with lining, flannel interlining, black sateen contribute great understarted luxe to any space, modern or otherwise.  I often like to hang curtains on simple rods and rings, as I did here, so the architecture is still prominent.  
 Maureen's Vision of the Ultimate Room with a certain HUSH
Maureen's attention to detail, classical knowledge, and her classical approach to her work. Maureen crafts each project as if a work of art- this in today's climate where a sea of designers too quickly turn to formulaic design for the worse.
"How we define our interiors is the most personal expression of who we are. I chose to bring a highly personalized approach across all design elements while understanding the bigger business picture, because I believe this combination is what clients desire in today’s environment."

As Maureen adds in her philosophy Mies Van Der Rohe said “God is in the details.”

Maureen Footer Design here
Emily Evans Eerdmans interviews Maureen Footer here
the Eloise website here
a Plaza history here
the Villa Grazioli here

read a post from the Zhush with Eloise,Kay Thompson and Diana Vreeland !  here 



  1. Oops, I thought it was the devil's in the details. I love the yellow rooms for some reason. Never had one but hope to some day.

  2. Seriously, Eloise would have a blast there, drawing on the walls along with pushing elevator buttons!

  3. My husband said the Villa Grazioli is so much more beautiful than any photo could convey, its a perfect jewel box.

    Sometimes I miss New York I lived up town. The plaza was such a center piece of the city.

    We are big Eloise fans here The first film my son auditioned for was "Eloise in Paris" I don't know if it was actually made. Great post as always.

  4. Donna- and yes that is a sort of derivation and God is used too- it all goes to the same point. I love the yellow too.

  5. Patricia, I know what you mean, Eloise could be a problem in this suite-let's hope she has kept her darling looks and acquired a few finishing school manners-Is there a book Eloise goes to Miss Porter's?

  6. Thanks Debra, Maureen was certainly inspired by it! Eloise was not so much around my small town- she was a city child, that I have never been.

    How great to have an actor in the family! Exciting. pgt

  7. Wow! I really enjoyed this post so much! Maureen's interiors, both real and virtual are just stunning! Off to see more of her work...thanks!

  8. Zhush! yes, she is great and gorgeous. pgt

  9. I just love tented rooms!! I must come back to read the entire post carefully... I'm quickly stopping by. I was just researching Eloise yesterday for a post I'm working on for a client. The spirit of Kay Thompson must be in the air!

  10. la, loved your musings on Eloise all grown up as Kaye Thompson - no doubt about it, she and her blue topaz would have been right at home in Ms. Maureen's smashing design. EEE

  11. Emily, How I miss you and your posts-the book calls. It is thanks to you that I had these gorgeous renderings of Maureen's Plaza suite. xo

  12. I was hoping the elusive and much missed, no longer a Miss EEE would come out to play on this topic! I also wonder how Eloise and Madeleine Castaing would have decorated these rooms. I'm seeing leopard spots before my eyes. Charmingly done as always, LA.

  13. As a young girl growing up in NYC, friends of mine actually LIVED in the Plaza. Naturally, Eloise was the inspiration for the little mischiefs we got ourselves into on a regular basis. Thank you for showing us these wonderful pictures which bring back memories of their home, and my "playground!"

  14. I just don't know where to start or what to comment on here...so may I just say how delightful, inspriring and informative this post was???!!!

  15. Home, I suspect EEE will reappear in Madeleine Castaing blue frock and leopard skin stilettos with her fabulous book in hand- can't wait. Gaye

  16. Beryn, the legendary Plaza and who knew it need a new breath of fresh air-it sounds as if Maureen has provided it. It was interesting doing a bit of Eloise research. So glad you stopped in and look forward following Your tweets. pgt

  17. AA, can't take any credit- Eloise, Kay and Maureen must take a bow. pgt



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