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A Private World

Building the Ultimate Den
Erica Jordan
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

Marlon Brando, the Godfather, sits quietly behind a wall of stone, on a commanding estate, in a leather wingback chair, with a cat on his lap. It is his daughter's wedding day. He wears a crisp tuxedo, his hair slicked back, and a red rose in his lapel. One by one, honored guests are quietly invited into the dark room, where he is seated behind a massive antique desk. They come asking the Godfather for protection, justice and revenge.

His large hands smooth over the cat's fur. His voice rasps. "Why did you go to the police? Why didn't you come to me?" With a shrug of his massive shoulders and a wave of his hand, Brando epitomizes power.

The room is enveloped in luxurious wood paneling, presenting a masculine, traditional atmosphere. A mahogany partners desk sits on a deep red Oriental carpet; a humidor is within arm's reach. Black, tufted leather chairs and a simple brass floor lamp create a sitting area for quiet conversation. Like Brando, the room indicates authority without ever raising its voice; simple, to the point, this is a power room.

Formal or informal, a den can be a thousand things. It's more than a room in a house; a private world lavished with heirlooms, books and music, a secret cocoon of soothing textures and colors. A place, perhaps, to do nothing but build a fire, smoke a cigar and think.

To share some secrets for creating the ultimate den, we called upon some of New York City's top interior designers. Although they look at the world through the eyes of people from four different continents, in the States they all see the same changes. Much in the same way that the kitchen became the cornerstone of the home in the 1980s, today's den is an evolution from that. The den has become the room of the '90s.

"I think this whole 'great room' is definitely a term for the '90s," says designer Victoria Hagan. "The way we use the space, the scale of the space, the multifunctions of the space. We're breaking rules. It's not just for adults...it's for everyone. And I think that's very modern. We didn't live that way 50 years ago."

For many, the den is the ideal niche to commune with the pleasures of cigar smoking, the room where the humidor is presented. For those whose loved ones have animosity toward cigar smoke, this may literally be a sanctuary, a place to smoke in peace.

Irish-born designer Clodagh expresses a personal view. "Maybe this is very European, but for me, a den is a place where you bring someone very special. It's not a public place; it's a private place. When I was growing up, it was the place my father would bring his closest friends. If I'm selected by the home owner to be invited into the den, I feel I'm being given something a little bit special."

Sometimes it is a solitary retreat for the remnants of business that spill over into the night, a place for serious decisions. After business hours it can become a decompression chamber, a tranquil place to have an icy Martini as you enter the evening and let go of the hassles of the day.

The den has become so beguiling that hosts are often unable to pry guests from the sofas to the dinner table. It used to be that when you had a formal dinner party, people would gather for cocktails beforehand, and afterward retire to the library. These days, guests often clamor to return to the den.


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