polo online outlet store Decorating With a Ralph Lauren Executive
There was a moment in the 1980s when many fashionable Manhattanites decorated their apartments like country houses, furnishing them with patchwork quilts, dried flowers and weathered pie safes. The look was second nature to Mary Randolph Carter, the Ralph Lauren executive who codified it in her 1988 design and entertaining book, “American Family Style,” which was photographed at her Upper East Side apartment as well as at Muskettoe Pointe Farm, her parents’ home in Virginia, and elsewhere.
It’s a trend Ms. Carter never abandoned. Today, the two bedroom apartment in a prewar doorman building on Madison Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, resembles a cozy, cluttered farmhouse a hodgepodge of good antiques, thrift shop paintings, collectible folk art, garage sale gewgaws and family photos.
“It’s the scrapbook of our lives,” said Ms. Carter, who is 68. She moved here about 40 years ago with her husband, Howard Berg, now a retired advertising executive, when she was pregnant with their first son, Carter Berg, who took the photographs in her most recent lifestyle book, “Never Stop to Think . Do I Have a Place for This?” (Rizzoli), which celebrates the homes of similarly obsessed collectors.
Paradoxically, Ms. Carter’s sentimental attachment to things is based on her awareness that they are ephemeral. “When I was 16, my family’s house burned to the ground,” she said. “It was a sandbox of ashes. All the things the books, the pictures that we thought defined our lives were gone. I know that things are replaceable, but people are not.”
Ms. Carter treasures anything that is reminiscent of her childhood. “One of the first purchases Howard and I made together was a large tavern bench that is still in the front hall,” she said. “Wouldn’t you know? My mother had two just like it.”
In the living room, a big step back hutch is filled with pewter dishes that her parents gave them as a wedding present. “We grew up eating on pewter the way other people used paper plates,” she said. This extended to drinking milk out of handleless “Jefferson cups with our names on them. We threw them in the dishwasher and let them get tarnished.”
She cherishes the headboard that her father built her out of a wide weathered floorboard secured by two skinny trap stakes, which are driftwood relics of the pine poles that fishermen use to secure their nets in the mud of the Rappahannock River near her childhood home. “The room divider in the living room is made of trap stakes, too,” she said.
Festooned with carved wooden fish, the divider allowed Ms. Carter to create an office/library by the windows without cutting off the light to the living room and foyer.
Her improvisational, if not heretical, approach to decorating is exemplified by the windows. “We used to have these wonderful casement windows, and when they replaced them with these modern efficient ones I was hysterical,” she said. “So I got some black masking tape and made mullions on them. Then I started buying antique shutters and leaning them against the windows anything to camouflage them.”
Ms. Carter likens herself to folk artists. “They created things on a whim with a sense of freedom and navet,” she said. “That is what I have always loved and tried to share in my books. I give permission to people to fall in love with the wackiest things, to find the worth in the worthless.”
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Dressed in faded bluejeans, well worn Frye boots and a vintage cowgirl vest, Ms. Carter comes across as a rebellious over achiever. She arrived in New York in 1967 as part of Mademoiselle magazine’s guest editorship program, whose most famous alumna was the poet Sylvia Plath.
“It was my ticket in, my golden passport,” said Ms. She eventually transferred to the editorial department. “I was the beauty editor who never wore makeup!”
It was her idiosyncratic personal style and the portfolio of stories she produced later as the creative director of Self magazine that attracted the attention of Ralph Lauren, who hired her in 1988 as his vice president of advertising for Polo Ralph Lauren. “Ralph used to call me his country girl,” she said. “I lived his spirit.” These days she is a senior executive at the renamed Ralph Lauren Corporation.
Even as Ms. Carter oversaw the creation of idealized images depicting sophisticated lives during the week, she spent weekends going to yard sales and flea markets to decorate her apartment and her country house upstate. But the antiques she once collected samplers and painted furniture were getting expensive and hard to find. “That’s where I had my junk epiphany,” she said. “I came out with shopping bags of stuff for $25. That was fun.”
One of the items she found that day was a broken little statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague; Ms. Carter, baptized a Roman Catholic, has been collecting the statues ever since. A recent trip to New Orleans produced the 50 pound head of the infant in the apartment’s front hall. “I love religious icons,” she said. “I was born into the right religion. I don’t like the politics, but I love the romance of it.”
Her favorite space to hang out is the tiny kitchen with open shelves piled high with mismatched bowls, platters and utensils. “We’ve spent our lives around this table,” she said, resting her elbows on a small pine table covered in oilcloth. Sometimes she drags that table into the foyer and joins it to the trestle table there. “We’ve had sit down Thanksgiving dinners for 40 people here,” she said.
“We use my desk as the bar for parties,” she said. “I take everything off and store it in my closet and then the next day I put it all back. The apartment’s a comfortable place to be there aren’t any velvet ropes on the chairs. People always have fun in our home.”
Correction: July 11, 2014
An earlier version of the slide show accompanying this article misstated the surname of an artist who painted a portrait of Ms. Carter. He is Bill Mangum, not Mangun.