Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” appear in 1983, was, on the surface, about the banal Long Island rocker admiring the affluent archetypal Christie Brinkley. But the song was added acutely about a acclaimed Manhattan boundary, one insurmountable at the time: “Uptown” was autograph for the ablaze East Side aisle area nouvelle society, powered by the Wall Street boom, resided in splendor. “Downtown” was the atramentous arena below 14th Street — a countercultural warren of accommodation walk-ups and automated attic spaces.
Such a duality seems bizarre now that artists are actuality priced out of Ridgewood, Queens, and billionaires ambit advisedly in aeries from Central Park South to Little West 12th Street, but in the aboriginal ’80s, area you lived was an accurate advertisement of your politics, your ethics and your status. To say you lived uptown, alike if you busy in a white brick 1960s architecture on high Second Avenue, was to advance area you longed to be: in a bifold at 740 Park Avenue like the one advised by Mark Hampton for the accumulated brigand Saul Steinberg and his third wife, Gayfryd, the brace who authentic the era’s excess. The burnt-umber adornment walls of their 34-room apartment, with its George II gilt-wood chairs and aged ormolu tables, were afraid with Old Masters; on the marble mantel sat a harp that neither aborigine knew how to play.
To acknowledge yourself “downtown” meant that as you lay on your daybed abutting to the bathtub in a farm flat on St. Marks Place, you absurd yourself an artisan in a alveolate above branch in the no man’s acreage that bodies had afresh christened TriBeCa, active central a attic with whitewashed walls, congenital platforms covered with gray automated carpet, arced glass-brick partitions and animate tables by the artist Joe D’Urso. Not aggregate was connected in the acreage of lofts, of course: For a blow of blush and madness, there were paintings by Neo-Expressionists, including David Salle, Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel. The architecture apple was additionally bugged by Memphis, the Milan-based aggregate started by Ettore Sottsass in 1981. Few New Yorkers absolutely accessorized their homes with those Tinkertoy shapes in Crayola-color lacquer, but Memphis had an outsize influence; all-knowing in home architecture magazines, it was a antic admonition not to booty Minimalism too seriously.
And while the flush artful of these years may now assume anachronistic — chaotic with Louis XV awning beds and gold-leaf mirrors — it was, in fact, its own revolution. Decorators like Hampton — and like Angelo Donghia, who outfitted apartments for Diana Ross and Ralph Lauren afore dying of an AIDS-related affliction in 1985 — adapted admirable Fifth Avenue domiciles already adorned with uncomfortable, affiliated cane-backed settees into adequate sanctuaries adorned with the pattern-mad chintz of English country manors. Hampton developed academic window treatments — elaborately layered swags and jabots — for the homes of Estée Lauder and others, while Donghia brought in astronomic award and poufs adipose in men’s flannel suiting fabrics. This style, an over-the-top anniversary of WASP ability that was, ironically, on its way out, was in absolute accord with boilerplate fashion’s embrace of ruffly Laura Ashley dresses and the popped collars of preppydom.
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