Ronald Lauder Sells Philip Johnson-Designed Home For $20M

Renowned architect Philip Johnson designed the home, which John D. Rockefeller III and his wife Blanchette commissioned as a space for exhibiting their art collection and entertaining artists. 

Billionaire, philanthropist, and Estée Lauder cosmetics heir Ronald S. Lauder has recently sold a small, modernist townhouse for $19.999 million, as per Daniel Cassady of ARTnews. The home, which only measures  2,000 square feet, was designed by acclaimed American architect Philip Johnson. John D. Rockefeller III and his wife Blanchette had commissioned the home, which Johnson designed in 1948, then had it built in 1949 to 1950, according to a report from New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission

The facade of the Philip Johnson-designed "Rockefeller Guest House" in Manhattan's 242 East 52nd Street
The facade of the Philip Johnson-designed “Rockefeller Guest House” in Manhattan’s 242 East 52nd Street/Photo by Elisa.rolle via Wikimedia Commons

Lauder’s sale of the property was an off-market deal so private that there was no listing for the building. Curbed, a New York city real estate publication, was the first to report the story—yet ARTnews’ feature states that even the media outlet had not seen it coming. 

Renowned American architect, Philip Johnson
Renowned American architect, Philip Johnson/Photo from the City of Boston Archives via Wikimedia Commons

READ ALSO: New Order: Art Advisor Migs Rosales Invigorates A Townhouse With A Growing Collection

According to Kim Velsey of Curbed, property records show that Lauder had sold the townhouse to LLC, Ludo USA. This marks the second time the billionaire had sold the building since first purchasing it in 1989. After acquiring it, Lauder later sold it to London-based gallery owner Anthony d’Offay, before repurchasing the home again for $11.16 million in a 2000 auction.

Inside the Artistic Townhouse

The home is located at 242 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, and is one of the earliest structures in the area that reflected the influence of the modern movement, as per the Landmark Preservation Commission

The open-air pond connecting the bedroom to the living room in the 1950s
The open-air pond connecting the bedroom to the living room in the 1950s/Photo from the Library of Congress website

The 2,000 square-foot space features two floors, though the second floor was of little importance to Johnson, who only added it because a one-story home would “look all wrong,” according to the report from the Landmark Preservation Commission. That said, the unheated second floor still contains two bedrooms. 

The home's dining section
The home’s dining section/Photo from the Library of Congress website

According to Curbed’s feature, the home’s first floor only contains two bedrooms, which are separated by an open-air pond. Initially, the home had no kitchen; instead, it only had a bar with a butler for when guests would come over. However, the home eventually acquired a kitchen in its basement much later on. 

Inside one of the home's bedrooms in 1950
Inside one of the home’s bedrooms in 1950/Photo from the Library of Congress website

A Modern Art Space

An article by T Magazine explains that Blanchette Rockefeller wanted a place to store her modern art collection, which is how the townhouse came to be. As such, Johnson had designed the space to be more like a gallery and entertainment venue for artists. The public dubbed it as the “Rockefeller Guest House,” though Blanchette would later donate the townhouse to MoMA in 1958, as per Jennifer Gould of the New York Post

A section of the living room showcasing the fireplace
A section of the living room showcasing the fireplace/Photo from the Library of Congress website

During this period, the home acted as an extension of the museum to curry the favor of potential donors and display artists who excelled in Modernism, reports ARTnews

Johnson himself, alongside his partner David Whitney, would later reside in the house from 1971 to 1979 after leasing it from Lee Sherrod, the widow of business consultant Robert C. Leonhardt, according to the New York Post. ARTnews adds that it’s here where the renowned architect would display his collection of art by Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella, as well as host creatives like Fran Leibowitz and Andy Warhol. 

Banner photo from the Library of Congress website.

Order your print copy of this month's LIFESTYLE ASIA Magazine:
Download this month's LIFESTYLE ASIA digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]