Seen by some as the consummate hostess, Betsy Bloomingdale’s at-home style and belongings from her William Haines-adorned Hollywood Regency villa are the focus of a Christie’s auction.
Before her death last summer at the age of 93, Bloomingdale, the wife of the department store heir Alfred, was known for her lavish parties, philanthropy and insider status as a Nancy and Ronald Reagan confidante. Her Los Angeles home was one of the last commissions by the actor-turned-interior-decorator William Haines, who also designed the private quarters of the Reagan White House, as well as the Annenbergs’ Sunnylands set on 205 acres.
“Betsy Bloomingdale: A Life in Style” will be on view at Christie’s New York from April 1 to 4 with an auction set for April 5 and the online one running March 30 to April 6.
As a young bride, Bloomingdale first fell for Haines’ style at a dinner party at the home of Ann and Jack Warner, the former Warner Bros. Studios president. Once she linked up with Haines for her own house, their style selections continued for decades. Her affection for Haines was so mutual that he bequeathed to her a band of porcelain monkey figurines, which she featured prominently in her living room and which are now part of the Christie’s sale.
Gemma Sudlow, head of the upcoming sale, said, “One of the most fascinating parts about the journey of exploring Mrs. Bloomingdale is that it’s a little bit like a biography in objects. One of the threads for me is really this care and attention to detail that carries through. In the same way that she would travel to the couture houses in Paris to have these incredible gowns tailor-made for her, similarly the way she worked to decorate her estate with William Haines was very much that bespoke, careful approach. Everything was considered.”
But not everything remained, such as the trapezoid low coffee tables he designed for her living room. Fabulous looking as they were, their awkward height made them hazardous to shin-banging for guests and Bloomingdale’s then young children. “So she switched them out pretty quickly for sort of Chinese, lacquered top ones that were pretty similar to what the Reagans had in their first presidential home.”
The 300 lots include a few designer finds, Chinese and European porcelain and antique furniture. A red crepe Christian Dior gown is expected to fetch between $2,000 and $4,000, a black bouclé Valentino suit is expected to sell for between $800 and $1,200, an evening-style capsule with an assortment of accessories is pegged between $1,500 and $2,500, a stack of six books about fashion and design has an asking price of $100 to $200. There are also sketches of Bloomingdale by Joe Eula ($500 to $1,000) and Cecil Beaton ($1,000 to $1,500.)
David Webb fans will find a pair of ruby and diamond earrings (estimated in the $5,000 to $7,000 range) and cultured pearl and diamond clip-on earrings ($3,000 to $5,000.) Bidders will also have the option of a cultured pearl, coral and onyx tassel pendant necklace, which is expected to fall in the $2,000 to $4,000 range.
Along with signature pieces of William Haines’ furniture, lamps and decorative objects, there is an early George III Mahogany Dining Table, circa 1760 (estimate: $10,000 to $20,000) and a set of 14 George III Mahogany Dining Chairs (estimate: $20,000 to $30,000). Other signs of her hospitality include a 20th-century Royal Copenhagen “Flora Danica” partial dinner service that is expected to be one of the big-ticket items estimated at between $30,000 and $50,000 and a George III mahogany breakfast library bookcase from the end of the 18th century is expected to ring up $20,000 to $40,000.
Noting there was an incredible attention to detail not just in how she dressed but the way she lived, Sudlow said, “What looked like an effortless style was actually carefully considered. You get that mindfulness in the quality of the collection and in the way that she lived.”
Bloomingdale kept handwritten notes on select garments to indicate for what occasion they had been worn and with which accessories, such as the orange Christian Dior gown she first wore to a state dinner in the Rose Garden in 1986 and last donned in 2009 that is part of the auction. “There was this awareness that she was living in a noteworthy time in history. I don’t think most people are aware when they’re living in an extraordinary time or are around by extraordinary people. The fastidiousness in which she recorded those events suggests that she very much appreciated that she was part of something special and something bigger,” Sudlow said.