This article original appeared in the March 1975 issue of Architectural Digest.
Barbara Walters is almost subliminally famous in a way that has only become possible in the twentieth century. Her electronic presence is part of the morning ritual in millions of homes across the country, and the energy and charisma she projects have made her very much of a personality in her own right.
Recently Miss Walters moved into one of those discreet old New York buildings which are so favored by those in the limelight for their unostentatious elegance and strategic location.
“Barbara and I are old friends,” says designer Burt Wayne, a relaxed and urbane man who has the kind of supportive and intelligent personality so necessary when dealing with people with demanding schedules—and with more than simply the problems of interiors on their minds. “Barbara has a grueling pace to keep up, and while she is intensely interested in everything around her, she simply didn’t have as much time to spend on the details of her new home as, let us say, a more average client would have. Which is where I came in!”
Antique Venetian mirror hangs on wall covered in shirred fabric by Brunschwig & Fils in formal Dining Room. Plate on glass and chrome serving table was gift from Shah of Iran to guests attending 2,500th anniversary celebration at Persepolis.
Mr. Wayne, of Wayne and Doktor, Ltd., is emphatic enough when it comes to explaining his design philosophy. “There are several important factors. Most important is knowing your client well enough to wait until he or she is ready for change,” he says firmly. “A unified sensibility is absolutely vital, of course, and a certain tenacity as well. I think it’s terribly important for clients, who after all are often spending large amounts of money, to be educated in a visual way. I expect them to be interested in how an eighteenth-century chair can be made to work in a modern environment. On the other hand, a designer has to take into full account the taste and personality of the client. I always keep reminding myself that design is really a service business, and that my role is to ensure that the client is happy—and functioning in the environment I have created. This apartment was a particular challenge, because Barbara is such a complex and productive human being with so many different needs, and we were obliged to provide for them all.”
Each room of her apartment is a smooth blending of the Wayne ideal and Miss Walters’s own preference for objects with personal associations. “Take the living room, for example. I worked with a lot of Barbara’s things. The rug comes from Iran—she bought it when she went there to interview the Shah—and the pots and cups on the coffee table are objects from Moshe Dayan’s own collection of antiquities, which he gave her. On the other hand, the gray walls, the black-and-white motif on the sofas are my concepts. You see, it’s all in how you hold it together. In this case, such serene classics of modern design as the chairs by Charles Eames and Mies van der Rohe become very important. They are the touchstones in a room. And they do add the gracenotes of timelessness which give a rich dimension to design.”
Floral print in Bedroom provides cheerful atmosphere for early riser, while chaise longue in reading comer offers rare retreat from busy schedule. Boxes collected while traveling the globe rest on bedside table.
The dining room is richly tonal with its fabric-covered walls and draped table. “Barbara, as we all know, is a great conversationalist,” he says, “and I conceived the room in terms of providing an intimate atmosphere in which that particular art could flourish. Knowing that Barbara doesn’t really care for large groups, I had another table made, which is kept folded and brought out when the number of guests exceeds eight or ten. She would much rather have two small clusters.” In such a way the apartment has been carefully designed to specifications.
Typical Wayne details such as the contrasting mood of the Thonet chairs matched against steel-and-glass buffet, and the careful integration of Victoriana from Miss Walters’s mother’s collection, round off the room. The bedroom evokes a completely different mood. Here the country reigns, as flowers climb across the walls, the cushions and a chaise and are echoed by ever-present garlands of fresh blossoms scattered on tables across the room.
“This is Barbara’s refuge,” explains Mr. Wayne. “It’s a place for her to get away from the glare of arc lights and the harsh, mechanistic atmosphere of the studio. Remember Barbara has to get up at five o’clock every morning in order to make that deadline. I wanted this to be a pleasant room to wake up in at a most ungodly hour!”
Lamp by Atelier International bends gracefully over table in the corner of the living room used for games, reading or as additional dining area.
Miss Walters herself, surprisingly fresh after her morning regime, is enthusiastically ready to talk about her new environment. “I’m absolutely in love with it,” she says. “It’s a marvelous, comfortable apartment, not at all pretentious or glamorous. It’s just . . . peace. It’s also surprisingly flexible. I find I can entertain here very well. The other night I had thirty people over after dinner, and they simply fitted in.
“The great thing about working with Burt is the fact that he never makes me feel as if I have to throw anything away. He’s very sane when it comes to what people own and cherish. I have pieces of furniture to which I am sure many designers would have taken the attitude, ‘Let’s just get rid of them,’ but Burt patiently worked them into the new space. Working with him has been a growth process for me. I’ve learned to be a good deal more conscious of my day-to-day environment. So much so that I’ve had my offices at NBC redone by him. He’s the only outside designer who has been allowed to do work for the company, I believe.” The prevailing mood of the apartment can best be summed up by Burt Wayne’s thoughtful parting remark: “What it’s really all about is taking someone’s taste and crystallizing it.”
This is the essence of what he has created for Barbara Walters: a background which is uniquely personal.
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