With a refurbishment at City Hall, Jamie Drake conquers still more municipal territory
Marisa Bartolucci -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Sitting demurely amid shade trees in a small downtown park, City Hall is a surprising work of architecture. It's an 1812 municipal palace rendered in a French-influenced Federal style with a dramatic rotunda, a delicate facade, and perhaps the most graceful cupola in New York. The building serves as a backdrop to many of the city's political dramas—and recently the tragedy of Councilman James E. Davis's assassination—yet curiously, perhaps because the place is so hectic, its splendors are often ignored.
When Michael Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, the south-facing trio of historic rooms known collectively as the Governor's Room was closed, pending refurbishment. The impressive 2,600-square-foot suite comprises Central, West, and East Chambers, a sort of grand meeting facility boasting noteworthy collections of John Trumbull oil portraits and Federal mahogany desks that belonged to George Washington.
Bloomberg's inauguration wasn't the most auspicious moment for redecorating. Reeling from September 11, the city was in a fiscal crisis. Despite the staggering challenges confronting the new mayor, however, he recognized the suite's symbolic importance—a moonlighting media king, he knows the power of appearances.
The mayor asked his friend Jamie Drake, principal of Drake Design Associates, to conceive a decorative scheme for the Governor's Room, pro bono—a logical choice, given that Drake had designed several of Bloomberg's private residences. "Jamie has no one style," he says. "His work ranges from the very modern to the traditional, from European to real Americana."
He proved the point in his first municipal commission, when asked by Bloomberg to spruce up a down-at-the-heels Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence. Acclaimed for employing adventuresome colors, Drake didn't shy away from them when devising a period-correct palette for the early 19th-century farmhouse. Working with the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, he papered the sitting room in a conversation-making 1835 Zuber & Cie. pattern in chartreuse and orange. He painted the ballroom a step-quickening Wedgwood blue.
After Gracie Mansion, Drake received the mayoral summons to redecorate his ceremonial office at City Hall. "It's a bold, handsome space with a 19th-century flavor," says Drake. It's also serious but lively, with gray-blue paint on the walls and gold-trimmed scarlet upholstery on assorted 19th-century antiques and reproductions.
When Drake was preparing his plans for the Governor's Room, the Art Commission of the City of New York briefed him that the suite had been redecorated numerous times, most famously by society architect Grosvenor Atterbury in 1912. Atterbury had departed from the building's French roots to render the Governor's Room in the anglicizing neo-Adam style then fashionable. As no single look qualified as authentic, Drake felt free to combine some of Atterbury's ideas with elements from other past decorative schemes. And Atterbury's brown-and-white palette with green accents was far too staid for this color enthusiast.
When the arts commission found an 1815 receipt for "French green paint for the Governor's Room," Drake decided to duplicate that color for the suite's walls. The question then became: What exactly is a French green? Preservation experts presented several options from the early 1800's. Derived from a copper base, all had a verdigris cast. Drake's choice is luscious and vibrant. "It sets off the portraits and their gilt frames so well," he says.
To drape the suite's five French windows, Drake chose a custom reproduction of an early 20th-century cotton-silk damask, also in French green. He based the elaborate window treatments on an example found in a period pattern book, adding an ornate wood-mold fringe. When Drake needed rosettes to tie the swags, he took the arts commission's suggestion: to duplicate the gilded rosettes adorning City Hall's dome.
Drake added more color to the Governor's Room via upholstery. For the Central Chamber's 43 Federal chairs, he chose a dark green velvet mohair; a gold striped silk-cotton covers the Federal sofa. In the East Chamber, a red wool moiré enlivens chairs surrounding the 11-foot-long mahogany Federal table.
Abuzz during tours and stately during judicial swearings-in, the Governor's Room is now truly resplendent—flamboyant in color and historic in tone. The decor pays homage not just to New York's illustrious past but also to New Yorkers' enduring sense of style. "You've got to do these things when times are tough," says Bloomberg, "so the city remains a place that people want to be."