CLOSER TO HOME
The screen star escaped Tinseltown and found this magnificent Manhattan palace
Closer revisits screen icon Greta Garbo’s vintage NYC retreat.
Iwant to be alone,” Greta Garbo famously sighed in her classic 1932 hit Grand Hotel. And for the last 37 years of her life, the screen icon was able to enjoy her privacy in a spectacular riverside co-op in New York City. The luxurious three-bedroom, threebath apartment took up the entire fifth floor of The Campanile building at 450 E. 52nd St., located on a quiet cul-de-sac next to the East River. Greta had a great desire to leave Hollywood for the security of an NYC doorman building like this one. According to her great-niece, Gray Horan, Greta once had to dangle from a drainpipe at her LA home to avoid a prowler inside.
Her famed Garbo magic, however, didn’t cast its usual spell on the co-op board right away. “I had a hard time getting this apartment,” she reportedly told a friend. “They don’t like actresses in this building.” But she was able to buy the apartment in 1953, and set about decorating it in shades of rose, salmon, pink and mossy green that remain today. This was especially evident
in her favorite space: an enormous living room that boasted a gas fireplace and balcony.
“One day, we were sitting in her living room and she told me, ‘I love color. I want the room to sing. How can one not understand? I just know. I didn’t have to learn it,’ ” Greta’s niece Gray Reisfield recalled. “She said, ‘This room is my creation, and I think it’s pretty good. You must learn to trust yourself.’” It included 18th-century silk curtains, a Louis XV Savonnerie carpet and the finest in Régence furniture and Impressionist paintings.
Her love of vivid hues could also be found in the pink rhodonite knickknacks she collected and the salmon Fortuny fabric in her master bedroom, which she enlisted decorator Billy Baldwin to paint. “Miss G picked up a small candle shade of mulberry-colored silk and [said], ‘This shade was on a candle in a dining car in [my native] Sweden in the first train I was ever on,’ ”
he remembered. “Then she lit a candle and held it beneath the shade. Our job was to paint the room the color shining through the silk!”
And while her reputation for wanting to be alone was slightly overblown, it wasn’t entirely a myth. “Her home was a sanctuary,” says Horan. “You didn’t get in there uninvited, and there were the sort of rooms that would then open up onto other rooms. She would maybe let some people into the first room, the foyer, but it would be very tantalizing because you really wouldn’t get beyond that. She was very private. She entertained in her home, but it was always a very quiet type of entertainment.”
Greta lived there happily until her death in 1990. In March, her heirs listed the 2,855-squarefoot space for $5.95 million — its asking price enhanced by her eye for interior design. “I never set out to be an actress,” she said. “I would have been good at a number of things.”
“I was on the lam,” Greta said of her frequent moves in California to escape snooping neighbors and fans. A corner maid’s room was removed to expand the kitchen and include a cozy sitting area.
Renoir’s 1909 painting Léontine et Coco once sat above the fireplace in her L-shaped living room. TOP RIGHT: Her building, built in 1927, had its own swimming pool.
Garbo seen in a publicity shot for 1932’s As You Desire Me
Greta designed this bedroom rug (made with NYC-based V’Soske) and named it Birds in Flight. The nearly 35-foot gallery connects the entire apartment. Though Greta’s brocade wallpaper has been removed, it still showcases elegant light fixtures.