Up For Auction: Take Home a Piece of The Four Seasons Restaurant

With designs from Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Hans Wegner, and more, the artifacts that make up this cathedral of Modern design are valuable for far more than the memories they hold alone.

Courtesy Wright
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On July 16, the Four Seasons restaurant closed. As a New York City institution housed in the groundbreaking Seagram Building on Park Avenue, its shuttering ended a reign of pinnacle dining that began nearly six decades ago.

“It was really where the idea of a Modern luxury restaurant was invented,” architecture critic Paul Goldberger tells me, invoking the Capital-M iteration of the word—a necessary descriptor for a collaborative design effort between heavyweights Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. “That’s really what it represented. And the idea of a kind of complete, whole work: the architecture, the art, the furniture, the graphics—absolutely every last detail, thought through, and all of a piece.”

The restaurant’s owners—Alex von Bidder, Julian Niccolini, and the Bronfman family, the original developers of the skyscraper—plan to reopen soon in a new Midtown location, to be designed in a similarly holistic fashion by award-winning Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld. In the interest of making a clean break with the past, and raising money for worthwhile charities, the restaurant will be auctioning off the furnishings from the vaunted midcentury space on July 26, in an immense 600-lot sale through the Wright New York auction house. (Goldberger wrote the auction catalog’s opening essay.)

Because of its longevity, its centrality within New York City’s power-dining power structure, and its singular and breathtaking design, its loss is, for a certain strata of the city, a mournful one and the act of divvying up the pieces a sentimental affair. These are plates on which people’s wedding cakes were served, tables at which regulars celebrated milestones with their friends and family, a buttoned up but bacchanalian site—a never-ending dinner party—filled with familiar faces. One can’t just adorn them with a price tag, and pound the hammer.

“I think it’s something that you face head on,” Brent Lewis, director of Wright New York says. “This is an important restaurant, and there’s no denying the impact that it’s had, there’s no denying that it’s an incredibly important interior, and that people have a much deserved connection to the space and the objects.”

But with pieces up for sale from top-tier midcentury designers like van der Rohe, Johnson, Wegner, Saarinen, and the Huxtables, Lewis has been fielding heated interest from a swath of cultural elite far wider than just the institution’s habitués: the interior design community, architects, and restaurateurs all seem to want a piece.

In a wink to insiders, he has arranged the auction’s order to reflect the breathtaking entry sequence of the restaurant’s interior. “We’ll begin with selling the works that were downstairs in the lobby, proceed up to the bar, then the Grill Room, through the Picasso Alley on to the Pool Room, then the kitchen,” he says. In another nod to regulars, he’s even selling the Grill Room tables and banquettes by their place on the floor, should a patron wish to bring her favorite perch from the restaurant home.

“We are very keen on getting a set of the dishes,” Four Seasons regulars and New York philanthropists Lizzie and Jon Tisch tell me. “We think it would be fun to use them for a dinner party—it will make for great conversation, and bring back so many wonderful memories.”

“It would be wonderful to have one of those silver breadbaskets, or serving baskets,” says Goldberger, “because those were was designed Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable, and it’s a tie not only to the restaurant, but to them, who I was very close to.”

“One of the most interesting things has been to find the things in the kitchen that are less public,” says Lewis. “These incredible pieces—stemware, cookware, serving-ware.”

Celebrated interior designer and architect Robert Couturier takes a far more philosophical approach to what he would take home from the auction. “Nothing at all,” he says. “The Four Seasons are gone. That's it, a page of New York history is turned and we are left with good memories and regrets.”

Click through our slideshow to see a few highlights from the collection, including some of the pieces selected by our interviewees.