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Monday, April 29, 2013

Manhattan romance: Barbara Taylor Bradford's New York home is a shrine to her success — and her English roots

Sunday Times
(April 28, 2013)

The bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford is ensconced in an armchair in her cosy blue sitting room, contemplating a challenge harder than writing any book. She and her film-producer husband, Bob — they have been married for 49 years — want to downsize, and she is both dreading and relishing the thought of decluttering their lives. “We’ve got such a lot of stuff,” she proclaims in a voice that is still broadly Yorkshire, but has a Manhattan twang.

Their home is a shrine to the 79-year-old novelist’s successful career. Rows of her books, in multiple languages and in paperback editions or bound in leather, are in the library. Old publicity posters featuring a younger, blonder, slimmer Barbara hang on the walls. There are knick-knacks and photographs everywhere — a snapshot of Taylor Bradford receiving her OBE from the Queen takes pride of place, but I also count pictures of three British prime ministers, two former first ladies and the actor Christopher Plummer, a close friend. “I gave a dinner party here for my biographer, Piers [Dudgeon],” she says. “ It was a lovely affair, and halfway through the evening I caught his eye. I think he was a bit overwhelmed. He gave me this look, as if to say, ‘Oh, Barbara, you have done well... from Leeds to all this.’ And yes, I have. I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved.”

We are sitting in a lovely room, decorated in shades of blue and cream. It has a plump sofa with overstuffed cushions, comfortable chairs, tasteful art on the wall and a huge wooden cabinet filled with blue and white china. We could be sitting in a country house anywhere in England, but we are in the heart of Manhattan, in the sprawling 13-room apartment on 52nd Street where she and Bob have lived for nearly 18 years. Looking out from the sixth-floor windows, there are views of the 59th Street Bridge. Across the East River, a neon Pepsi sign written in dramatic art deco script is visible in Long Island City.
The decor is grand enough for the author’s heroines
The "Blue" Room
The story goes that the actress Joan Crawford, who was on the board of Pepsi when she was married to its chief executive, Alfred Steele, had the sign erected opposite River House, the very block where we are sitting, in a fit of spite after the co-op board vetoed an application by the actress to buy one of its flats. The story is an urban legend, but it seems fitting — a strong woman getting her revenge on the people who crossed her could be a plotline in one of Taylor Bradford’s novels.
The River House Apartment Building
It is a very English home, the writer acknowledges, echoing a childhood spent in Leeds, where her first job was in the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I like comfortable houses, places where you can sit and read a book or watch television,” she says. “I want Bob to feel that it’s restful here. I hate houses that look like they’ve been designed by somebody else, and you don’t feel you can sit down or you’ll ruin the effect.”

The couple, who have no children, have lived in Manhattan for nearly 50 years: this is their third home in the city. They bought the 5,500 sq ft flat for $4m in the mid-1990s and spent another $2m fixing it up. Taylor Bradford says they were attracted by the light and the views — the elegant living room, which has a wood-burning fireplace, the library and the dining room all look out over a swathe of the East River and are bathed in natural sunlight.
The 13-room property is done up like an English country house
Bradford's Dining Room

It is quite a change from the bizarre dark interiors they inherited — there was red vinyl on some of the walls, and many original decorative touches had been taken out. Now it is light, bright and airy. “I decorated it myself,” Taylor Bradford recalls. “I used to write decorating books and I had an interior design column, so I knew what I wanted. It took eight months and I didn’t have a single argument with Joe, my contractor. He said I was the only client who’s ever given him a board for every room, with all the colours and materials. I didn’t break down any walls, but I put in some new floors and added mouldings.”
The living room has views of the East River
Barbara's Home Library
The public rooms are large by Manhattan standards, and there are covetable antiques, including art deco and Biedermeier furniture. White orchids are everywhere, and candles give off the tangy scent of grapefruit. There is a delightfully kitsch bar, with seats that once belonged in a 1920s ice-cream parlour. “Whenever we have company, all the men gravitate here,” Taylor Bradford says.
The author’s husband, Bob, a film producer, behind the kitsch bar, which has seats from a 1920s ice-cream parlour
Happy hour at home for Barbara and Bob at their bar

The couple’s bedroom, in peach and blue, would be grand enough for any of her heroines, although I’m sure the next owners will want to update it. A painting of Gemmy, the couple’s first bichon frise, takes pride of place above the dressing table. They are devoted to the breed: their current dog, 17-year-old Chammi (short for champagne), has just been taken out for a walk by one of their two housekeepers, and is having her paws dried by what sounds like a hairdryer. They also have a house manager, Mohammed.

Any writer would envy Taylor Bradford’s spacious study, converted from a bedroom, with a desk looking out onto the art deco building next door. There is a computer, used for email and research, but she still writes her books on an old IBM typewriter: “I can’t think on a computer — I need to see things on paper.” She has written 28 books, including the bestseller A Woman of Substance, selling more than 88m copies; her novels have been translated into 40 languages and distributed in 90 countries.
Her work ethic is admirable for a woman of her age. She puts in 10- to 12-hour days and delivers a book a year to her publisher, HarperCollins. She shows me the plotlines for her next work, a two-book saga that will cover the years 1913 to 1945. The first book is titled Cavendon Hall and the second The Saga of Cecily Swann. “It’s not like Downton Abbey — I thought of it before that was even on television,” she says. “It’s about two girls, an aristocratic girl and Cecily, from a family of retainers. They grow up together and remain friends all their lives.”

During the rest of the tour, I get a peek at Bob’s den, the screening room, the kitchen and breakfast room, and Taylor Bradford’s walk-in closet, made out of two maid’s rooms, which Bob calls “ the department store”. She plans to donate pieces by Pauline Trigère, a French-born American fashion designer, to a museum. In another cupboard is her collection of handbags — including 24 Hermès bags, bought by Bob to celebrate wedding anniversaries and other important moments.

Yet they have decided to sell up for $10.3m (£6.7m), as the flat is now too big for them. “It’s a lot of walking because it’s such a big place,” the novelist says. “We really only live in three rooms.” The plan is to buy a smaller flat in Manhattan and a house in Florida, where they can see out the winters.
Her pad is full of antiques, knick-knacks and candles
The Living Room Fireplace
They’ll be leaving behind many happy memories. “We’ve had some wonderful dinner parties,” Taylor Bradford says. “Joan Rivers is such good fun — very ladylike and polite. She doesn’t mind at all if you comment on her latest facelift.

“She told such a funny story recently. She donates quite heftily, I think, to Prince Charles’s charities, and she was the only American, apart from diplomats, to be invited to Charles and Camilla’s wedding. She sent them a shopping bag full of the jewellery she sells on QVC as a wedding present, but there was obviously some confusion.” Apparently, Rivers asked the royal couple if they liked the gift she’d sent, only for Camilla to reply: “Oh, I haven’t decided yet what I want.” It turns out they thought they had to buy something, and Rivers had to explain that it was a gift. Taylor Bradford giggles at the thought of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall sifting through jewellery sold on the shopping channel.

She will be 80 next month, and is in fine health. She recently bumped into Joan and Jackie Collins in a restaurant. “Joan said conspiratorially, ‘We both have big birthdays coming up — what are you going to do?’ I replied that I’m doing nothing, just going out for dinner with my husband and some friends. Joan said she wouldn’t be having a big party, either.” She shrugs. “I feel young — like I’m 45. But when we sell this apartment, it’s going to be a whole new chapter.”


Listen to an extract from Taylor Bradford’s latest novel, Secrets from the Past

Secrets from the Past by Barbara Taylor Bradford is published by HarperCollins at £14.99. To buy it for £12.99, including p&p, call 0845 271 2135 or visit: thesundaytimes.co.uk/bookshop

Sotheby’s International Realty; 00 1 212 606 7611, sothebyshomes.com

Broker: Serena Boardman:
Serena.Boardman@Sothebyshomes.com


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