The Art Of The Deal
For Thomas H. Lee Capital on Fifth Avenue, Pierce Allen was bullish on blue-chip paintings, photography, sculpture, and furniture
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
When Edward Durell Stone completed the 50-story General Motors Building in 1968, it was a place where automotive titans surveyed the city from on high. GM still occupies floors 14 through 16, and today's titans include executives at Estée Lauder, Icahn Associates, and investment firm Thomas H. Lee Capital. From his corner office, founder and CEO Tom Lee can take in Central Park, Bergdorf-Goodman, and the Plaza and Sherry-Netherland hotels—albeit from the relatively intimate perspective of the sixth floor. It's even possible to recognize friends and colleagues down on the street as they approach the building from Fifth Avenue. "From here," Lee says, "Grand Army Plaza really feels like a plaza."
Lee's genial attitude precedes him in business, too—the financial press has dubbed him the Teddy Bear at the Gate for acquiring only companies that wish to be. And that may explain his desire for a welcoming office. Sure, the rooms would be big, but not too big to be inviting. "Spacious but gracious," he says with a chuckle.
For those qualities, he knew he could rely on Pierce Allen, the firm responsible for his apartments in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, his house in East Hampton, New York, and the cabin of his private jet as well as a previous office that his company had outgrown. By now, designer DD Allen and her partner, architect Michael Pierce, had spent so much time with Lee and his wife, Ann Tenenbaum, that this latest commission seemed almost like a family project.
Bringing familial warmth to the 10,000-square-foot L-shape office was relatively easy, because Stone's facade isn't all glass. Instead, residential-looking bronze-framed bay windows alternate with solid walls, giving the rooms a domestic scale that no ordinary curtain wall could have. Familiar, however, couldn't mean predictable.
Since reception overlooks a narrow side street rather than the park, Allen filtered the view with shoji-style panels attributed to George Nakashima. A patchwork rug of vintage kilims adds craft to the mid-century collage while softening the spareness of a sofa by Antonio Citterio. Allen used a synthetic resin for the front of the reception desk. "I always try out new things on Tom," she says.
The same resin tops the 20-foot-long custom table that anchors the adjacent conference room. For three walls, Allen chose English burled white oak with a pronounced grain brought out by cerusing. One wall is glass that turns opaque at the touch of a button—a classic executive toy. "It's the traditional wood-paneled conference room that really isn't traditional," Allen says. She's not referring to just furniture and finishes: Note the Andy Warhol camouflage painting, part of Lee and Tenenbaum's unrivaled contemporary collection. (She's vice chairman at New York's Dia Art Foundation.)
A hallway leading from the reception area to private offices doubles as a gallery, where a photorealist portrait by Gerhard Richter seems to be scoping out a mixed-media portrait of Lee's father, Herbert, by Larry Rivers. A series of eight pastel drawings by Francesco Clemente lends interest to the workstations of secretaries' row. In the staff kitchen, the scene gets edgier with a wall-mounted LED installation by Tatsuo Miyajima.
In senior executives' offices, Allen mixed Lee and Tenenbaum's artwork with mid-century furniture and decorative objects of equal quality. In the office of managing director Jim Burritt, that meant a black-lacquered desk by Stowe Davis and a swivel chair by Edward Wormley. Even a side table is an important piece, a mid-1960's mahogany filing cabinet by Jules Wabbes.
In Lee's office, the least famous name represented is actually Allen, who designed the burled-oak conference table. Above it hangs a vintage copper lantern by Poul Henningsen; the coffee table is by Paul Laszlo; and a filing cabinet, which Allen refinished, is attributed to Paul Dupré-Lafon. Meanwhile, walls between the windows provide a perfect setting for a Roy Lichtenstein drawing and Jasper Johns painting; a bronze by Roberto Matta stands on a pedestal. The suite's generous size gives the museum-quality objects room to breathe. "It's very serene," Allen says. For an investment banker's office, that's saying a lot.