A showhouse kitchen designed with Bette Midler in mind
One of the largest projects we have undertaken as a magazine was to stage the Traditional Home Built for Women Showhouse in New York City to benefit The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The showhouse hook: We invited leading interior designers to create beautiful interiors for influential women. The showhouse was a great financial success—we raised more than $260,000 for the Foundation. And it was a great design success too.
One of our favorite designers, Mary Douglas Drysdale, was asked to design a kitchen for the ever-fabulous singer and actress Bette Midler. As Midler is known for her impressive voice, Drysdale is known for her marvelous use of color and mix of classic elegance and modern comforts. Drawing from Midler’s talents and unique personality, Drysdale was inspired to create a kitchen with vibrant hues, eclectic art, and custom-designed comforts.
Photography: Gordon Beall
“The kitchen needed to be like Bette Midler,” says Drysdale. “Warm but with a lot of sass.” Drysdale’s color inspiration for the butler’s pantry came after she painted the rusty old garden urn that is now its centerpiece.
Drysdale began with what she calls “a driver,” in this case an Oushak carpet. “It’s very beautiful, not too formal, and very lively,” she says, “kind of like Bette Midler.” The rug’s hues inspired the goldenrod shade for the walls, a color that comes from the marriage of a yellow base coat with coats of tinted glaze. What’s in the glaze? “Burnt sienna, a few drops of red, burnt umber, just about everything but the kitchen sink,” says Drysdale, who always mixes her own colors. The trim is an intensified version of the walls, and the cabinets are yet another yellow.
In the sitting area, an orange chaise, custom-made for Bette Midler’s five-foot-two frame, telegraphs comfort. The early-20th-century Steinway is the perfect place for her to practice her scales. Patinated antiques abound: The yellow chair is a 1750 Massachusetts lolling chair, the green prie-dieu is a 250-year-old French piece, and the mantel dates to 1740.
When Drysdale first took on the project, she asked herself, “How can I convey Bette’s spirit using my own vocabulary?” She reached for what she knew best—intoxicating color set against an 18th-century foundation.
Drysdale may joke about her blankets of glaze, but they make the color more mellow. “To be truthful,” she admits, “I was worried about the intensity. If you overstimulate visually, you are no longer providing comfort.”
Here, an antique French mirror is poised above a custom Drysdale console. Late-19th-century column capitals flank the mirrored wall in the foyer.
Drysdale loves to develop “undervalued real estate,” such as this wall segment where the Drysdale-designed Neoclassic chair combines with two paintings to balance the pilasters on either side. Wisps of swags dress the tall, narrow windows. “With windows this wonderful, why cover them?” she asks.
The paneled cabinetry is as serious as the room’s Corinthian columns, but rather than employ the expected granite or marble on the countertops, Drysdale took a left turn and chose the favorite wood of antique lovers—mahogany. In lieu of tile, she used beadboard for the backsplash. “It conveys a traditional feeling without being precious,” she explains.
Drysdale designed the five-foot-long pot rack of iron, copper, and brass where antique pots and molds dangle like charms on a bracelet. The cubbies display vintage crockery.
A delicate stencil enlivened with hand painting decorates the dining area wall and hints of the strong color in the pantry beyond.
As a respite from the zesty yellow, Drysdale painted the breakfast room an airy, cooling blue, a color inspired by a trio of caned, 18th-century Italian Neoclassic chairs. The chairs’ blue paint inspired the color of the walls in the family/dining room. Above the table hangs Abstraction, an oil by Arthur Carles. The iron and crystal chandelier hangs above a 57-inch round table custom designed by Drysdale.
A vivid green frieze around the molding introduces the butler’s pantry—painted a startling acid green. “The sequencing of the rooms was important,” says Drysdale. “I wanted each clearly defined.”
The kitchen’s bouquet of color takes a break at this custom console, painted a welcoming white.
See details on the following slide.
The console, designed by Drysdale, is accented with a Greek-inspired meander pattern.
Of course, the logical choice for the eating area would have been by the fireplace. But not for Drysdale, or, as she saw it, for Midler. “It’s easy to make an efficient kitchen,” she says. “But where do we go from there? I want to have a warm kitchen where I can play with my dog, read a book, watch the cake bake, and have my friends over. But at the same time, it should be glamorous, seductive, and special.” Much like Bette Midler.
Here, two 18th-century Italian ballroom chairs flank the Drysdale-designed secretary. A figure by Manuel Neri stands guard.
See details on the following slide.
The secretary is ideal for a multipurpose workspace, where a script or inspiring book is always within reach.
The designer relaxes for a moment in the hearth area. Behind her is Gloria Victis, a 19th-century French bronze.