The Contents of an Incredible Billy Baldwin–Designed Apartment Are Up for Sale

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Inside a Rare Billy Baldwin–Designed ApartmentJuan Cruz Ibanez

When the great American decorator Billy Baldwin received the call to decorate the Madrid apartment for a sophisticated Spanish family in the late 1960s, he was already in the winter of his career. The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Plácido Arango, were in their 30s with three young children, while Baldwin—having decorated for sophisticates like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Babe Paley—was just a few years away from retirement.

Still, as Baldwin recalled in his 1974 book, Billy Baldwin Remembers, the project resulted in “one of the happiest relationships I’ve ever had with a client.” The same could be said of his affinity for the home’s interiors.

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The apartment, with its high ceilings, fruitwood floors, and botanic garden views, was the perfect canvas for Baldwin, who was tasked with making the apartment “look like a big happy house in the country” despite the fact that “you can throw a stone and hit the Prado, another and hit the Ritz.” Throughout, he employed his effortless balance of modernism and glamour, with country-fresh colors here, gilt Louis XVI armchairs there. “The result: rooms that look freshly plucked from some French hillside,” Baldwin declared in his 1972 tome, Billy Baldwin Decorates.

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One of the most valuable works in the sale includes Rôdeur au Site Urbain by Jean Dubuffet, with a high-end estimate of $320,000. You can also snag the tiger-print chairs. Juan Cruz Ibanez

Tuesday—more than half a century after Baldwin completed the project—the contents of this extraordinary residence will be auctioned off as part of a sale at Christie’s Paris. The 127 lots, which range from a pair of tiger-print Louis XV chairs to a 1953 still life by Bernard Buffet—reflect the timelessness of Baldwin’s taste and the discerning eye of his clients.

“It’s all about allowing people to rediscover one of his interiors that people might not be necessarily familiar with,” says Tancredi Massimo di Roccasecca, who oversees the sale of private collections for Christie’s Paris.

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Baldwin in his New York apartment in December 1972, when he was still corresponding with his Madrid clients.WWD - Getty Images

Highlights of the sale include a work by French surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, which is estimated to fetch up to $370,000; an enigmatic painting of a figure by Jean Dubuffet, with a high-end estimate of $320,000; as well as the Bernard Buffet still life, which is expected to fetch as much as $160,000.

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But there are also lots up for grabs that would make any decorating history buff’s pulse quicken, like a set of lustrous sycamore boxes (low estimate: $425) or a gorgeous Louis XVI daybed (low estimate: $1,025).

“We haven’t taken everything down to the last teaspoon; we’ve done a curated selection of things that we thought best represented both [Baldwin’s] taste while being faithful to the interior of the apartment,” explains di Roccasecca.

“I think people are going to be buying the look,” he adds. “If you're looking to have your own collection, you always look to the collections of the past for inspiration, and you’re sort of trusting the eye of whether it’s the collector or, in this case, the interior decorator. But then all of the objects—whether the 18th-century furniture and objects or the modern art—could easily be collected by someone who’s very specific to that category.”

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Di Roccasecca had the privilege of visiting the apartment, which he noted—even after the homeowner’s passing—was impeccably maintained, down to the fresh bouquets of lilies. And after poring through the personal correspondence between the clients and Baldwin, he also noted the decorator’s tireless work ethic. “The correspondence went between 1968 and 1975,” he notes. “He was someone that never stopped working.”

One delightful archival discovery included a letter written on Bunny Mellon’s letterhead from her home in Antigua pontificating on the orientation of a fire screen.

“It’s a remarkable legacy, like planting a garden and watching it mature and grow more beautiful day by day,” notes designer Michael S. Smith in the auction’s catalog. “How amazing it would be for any of us to own a piece of such an incredibly elegant, glamorous, and magical place.”

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