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The Four Seasons pool room in 1959.
DESIGN ALMOST WITHIN REACH

Photos: The most iconic midcentury modern dining room in the US is being auctioned off, piece by beautiful piece

Jenni Avins
By Jenni Avins

global lifestyle correspondent

Since its opening in 1959, the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan has served as an epicenter of a certain sort of New York power. “Spectacular, modern and audacious,” espoused The New York Times food critic, Craig Claiborne that year. “Both in décor and in menu.”

Two weeks before the restaurant opened in the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Seagram Building on Park Avenue, Claiborne reported the installation and furnishings—”said to be the world’s costliest”—ran a tab in excess of $4.5 million. In today’s dollars, that would be a $37 million dollar restaurant. Architect Phillip Johnson, who oversaw the interiors, “set out to do nothing less than to re-imagine the idea of an elegant restaurant for the modern era,” wrote Vanity Fair architectural critic Paul Goldberger. “It was more than just a matter of removing the froufrou.”

So much more: soaring ceilings, walnut paneling, and aluminum, brass, and metal curtains; artwork by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Mark Rothko, and a Richard Lippold sculpture of bronze rods that hung suspended over the square bar of the restaurant’s grill room. In a second dining room, a square pool sat in the center of four seasonally rotating trees. (Sophia Loren reportedly fell in while celebrating the 1961 premiere of Divorce, Italian Style.)

AP Photo/Richard Drew

After nearly six decades, the Four Seasons served its last power lunch, and closed on July 16. The team behind behind downtown eateries Carbone and Dirty French will soon revamp the restaurant in their own image. While the interior is landmarked, the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, season-specific ashtrays, Saarinan tulip tables, and walnut-and-steel service carts are not.

Should you feel nostalgic for the era of three-martini lunches—or just prefer your furnishings with stories to tell—you can bid on all these objects and more on July 26, when Wright holds an auction of the Four Seasons furniture, flatware, and ephemera at the restaurant. You can even get table 32, the three-sided banquette where Philip Johnson ate his lunch almost every day for forty years. If you do, I’d go ahead and adopt the menu he favored toward the end of his life: foie gras, espresso, and Americanos—the cocktail, not the coffee.

Here, a selection from the auction:

Three-sided banquette and table 32 from the Grill Room, estimate: $3,000–5,000

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson Stools from the Bar Room, set of two, estimate: $5,000-7,000

Four Seasons ashtrays, set of four, estimate: $500–700

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chairs from the entrance lobby, estimate: $5,000-7,000

Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable serving cart, $1,000-1,500

Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable breadbaskets, set of two, estimate: $1,000-1,500

Knoll Associates, Inc. custom sofa from ladies lounge, estimate: $2,000-3,000