Philip Johnson mini-home sold by Ronald S. Lauder for Almost $20 M

A two-story modernist townhouse on 52nd Street in Manhattan, designed by Philip Johnson and sandwiched between a 15-story condo and a traditional brownstone, has been sold for $19.999 million. The previous owner of the building was billionaire philanthropist, collector, and Estée Lauder cosmetics company heir, Ronald S. Lauder. The property was bought by a limited liability company, Ludo USA, as per city records.

The sale was conducted privately, with no listing of the property, and was so discreet that even Curbed, the New York City real estate monitor that first reported the sale, was unaware of it. Curbed reports that this is the second time Lauder has sold the house, which he initially purchased in 1989. He first sold the property at auction in 2000 to London-based art dealer Anthony d’Offay.

The Philip Johnson–designed House
The Philip Johnson–designed House

The house is as integral to the New York art scene as the Whitney or the MoMA. It was commissioned in 1950 by Blanchette, the wife of John D. Rockefeller III, from architect Philip Johnson. As reported by T Magazine, Blanchette required a space to house her modern art collection, featuring pieces like Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing and Robert Motherwell’s The Voyage. Johnson’s design for the house was not intended as a residential space, but rather a fusion of gallery, artist’s salon, and entertainment venue.

The house, as a result, is not the most convenient for living. The first floor has two rooms with glass walls overlooking an open-air pond. Johnson added two unheated bedrooms to the original design, stating that the building would look absurd without a second floor. There was no kitchen initially, but there was a bar served by a butler, in line with the house’s intended use. A kitchen was later installed in the basement.

In 1958, the house was donated to MoMA by Rockefeller. The museum used it as an extension to attract potential donors and showcase artists who epitomized “Modernism in its purest and most impressive form,” as per the New York Times.

Between 1971 and 1979, the house was leased by Johnson and his partner, David Grainger Whitney, from its then-owner, Mary Gay Labrot Leonhardt, the widow of journalist Robert Sherrod. Johnson moved in and adorned the space with pieces from his own collection by artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. He hosted guests such as Andy Warhol and Fran Leibowitz twice a year.