Some of the star’s closest friends share memories of being entertained at her grand Upper East Side home, and discuss what made her such a special hostess — ahead of the sale of The Private Collection of Joan Rivers on 22 June
What are your fondest memories of Joan Rivers the hostess?
Marjorie Stern, businesswoman and founder of A Time for Children: She was the most marvellous hostess because she was always worried about whether her guests were having a good time. She kept an eye on the table to make sure people were laughing and participating in the conversation. She once said to me, ‘I’m going to sit you next to so and so because you never stop talking and can talk to a wall’. She loved to set a formal table which included finger bowls, of course. I never missed an opportunity to tell her they were ridiculous in today’s world!
Preston Bailey, celebrity event designer: Joan was one of the most giving people I have ever met and that alone made her a standout host. Not only would she create a beautiful environment, but she made every guest feel like a VIP. One of my favourite events was when she gave a party in honour of my book, Preston Bailey Flowers. Not only was it one of the most beautiful parties I have ever attended, she surprised me by inviting all of her friends. It turned out to be an extraordinary evening and she made me feel very special. With her generous heart and genius promotion, that particular book became a bestseller.
Mario Buatta, interior decorator: I was fortunate to be invited to her apartment for her famous Thanksgiving dinners. I was seated at her left at the head of the 40-foot table in the apartment’s Center Hall. She was the epitome of a fine-tuned hostess, very concerned that every one of her guests was happy with their seat and their partners.
Aileen Mehle, society columnist and neighbour: Joan was a fine hostess because she was always full of fun and laughter. She loved to entertain. She gave a Thanksgiving dinner every year for all her closest friends and always set the table beautifully; she had such wonderful silver and china.
Mario Buatta: During coffee at her Thanksgiving dinners, Joan would ask her guests what they were thankful for this year. ‘Do not say that having dinner with me is one of them,’ she would always say. Luckily, she started to her right, which meant it was always up to me to give the last reply. Each year I would answer in the same way: that I was thankful that I could finally get to the powder room to relieve myself!
What struck you most about her apartment?
Preston Bailey: What I loved most was the way you would walk in from one of the busiest and most hectic cities in the world and instantly be transported to another period in time. Joan’s apartment was a reflection of the true Joan: warm, elegant and truly inviting. You felt as though you were being entertained by royalty.
Marjorie Stern: The apartment was grand, formal and full of very serious furniture. It was a complete contrast to the ‘real Joan’ — she was none of those things; she was warm, friendly, generous and always ready to laugh. The decoration, however, was ‘over the top’ and, of course, Joan was ‘over the top’. There was nothing average or understated about Joan. She never went outside in the street without full hair and make-up. When fans complimented her and said she was gorgeous, her reply was always, ‘Yeah, yeah — you need glasses’. The apartment was like Joan — always perfectly made-up.
Aileen Mehle: I was in the apartment many times because I live on the second floor of the building and Joan had the penthouse. It was one of the loveliest apartments I have ever been in in my life. She had great taste in art and paintings and only went for the best.
Mario Buatta: Joan once asked me to furnish a pair of custom-made lampshades for a pair of wall lamps inside her canopy bed in the master bedroom. I was thrilled to be asked but very upset when I found they were made on the wrong frames. She was very understanding and forgave me, and even invited me to decorate her next apartment.
Aileen Mehle: As many times as I visited, there was never an occasion when I didn’t notice something new that I thought was lovely, and arranged beautifully. Every book that she had put in a shelf was arranged perfectly. Joan did that apartment from top to bottom. It was supremely comfortable, the colours were glorious and there was great attention to detail. Everywhere you looked, there was beauty. It was Joan’s idea of beauty, which meant a lot of gold — it was what you might call total luxury. Her mark was on everything.
One of Joan Rivers’ many great lines was about her apartment — she said it was ‘where Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money’...
Aileen Mehle: Perfect description, sounds just like Joan. She was very Marie Antoinette — nothing modern, nothing plain but nothing garish either. It was all done with such great taste.
Marjorie Stern: The apartment was like a movie set — one entered from the elevator into Versailles. The double ballroom, which was perfect for huge parties, was full of period chairs and sofas. The windows were covered with lace and the rooms had a luscious pink glow. For all its formality, it was not a cold environment. Of course, there were always flowers everywhere. She loved being home and would come back every night from her sales performance at QVC, even if it was three in the morning. She had closets full of silver and china. All her furnishings were important to her, regardless of the price. She mixed heirloom silver service pieces and antique china with modern things we used to buy together at the New York Gift Show. Her spirit was such a part of the apartment, I can’t imagine it without Joan.
What made Joan so special?
Aileen Mehle: Everything she touched turned into something lovely. One of the things she did on Thanksgiving was deliver meals to people who were housebound. she did this through the charity, God’s Love We Deliver. She would deliver these meals before she gave her own party. She was a divine creature.
Marjorie Stern: Joan was unbelievably generous with everyone. One of my favourite memories is of sitting in her bedroom with her going through all her ‘stuff’. She was pulling out all the things she didn’t want any more and trying to get me to take them. She was always taking off her costume jewellery and making you wear it. It was impossible to say no. This time, in her bedroom, things became ridiculous when she started throwing clothes, shoes and everything she could get her hands on. We were both laughing hysterically.
Preston Bailey: It was more than her humour and laughter that made her so special, it was also her accessibility. There will never be another like her and I am honoured to have known her and to have called her my friend.