I hope my readers will agree it is regrettable that such a fine, accomplished gentleman of discernment brimming over with, as more than one contemporary assures us, joie de vivre along with an infectious enthusiasm for grand interiors and facile appreciation of l'art de vivre, should more often than not be only scantly remembered today for the brutal and murky circumstances of his gruesome murder in his apartment in April of 1976 at age 60 when he was found strangled to death and tied to his favourite Neoclassical steel bed in the red room of his apartment. A newspaper clipping right after the murder is seen below. It didn't help either that, for reasons I find rather peculiar, when Doyle's auction house in New York City sold his collections of lovely Louis XVI and Directoire furniture and appointments, a piece of case furniture on display during the auction preview was discovered to still have a rather unexpected collection of dildos in it that, it seems, no one thought to remove! Need it be said? The story made the rounds all over New York and still comes up when poor Michael Greer's name is mentioned to the aged over 60 members of the antiques and interior design scene in New York!
Michael Greer should be more remembered and admired by today's lovers and students of l'art de vivre for his rolling off the proverbial log facility when it came to creating ravishing and welcoming interiors for himself and his clients that clearly demonstrate a well educated man of superior taste, an almost instinctive command of information about the history of the great periods of European decorative art and a particularly admirable knack for adapting historical styles to the mood and rhythm of the lives of well to do and sophisticated New Yorkers and other appreciative clients in other American cities of the mid 20th Century. And while Greer did have a vast reserve of carefully acquired familiarity with all the great historical styles, it's obvious when we visit his own apartments that this man particularly gravitated to the joyful French Eighteenth Century - and especially to that particularly chic, clean period of Louis XVI and the Directoire with the occasional toe put into the waters of the First Empire!
That Michael Greer has been nearly forgotten today is genuinely to be lamented. There is much we can learn from him about the art of elegant living from reading Inside Design (which can happily be dug up second hand with a bit of diligence online) and looking at various photos of Michael Greer interiors. However, no matter how much we immerse ourselves in a particular style of the past, it's really nearly impossible to recreate, to the last detail, a perfect Louis XVI or Directoire interior. Nor would even the most ardent collector and enthusiast of the period really want to do so. Modern comforts on which later generations depend would have to go for such a decorative ensemble to be a 100% historically correct recreation. And with domestic help not being available in legions, it's not exactly realistic. That explains, for instance, why Michael Greer did not disdain the use of vinyl flooring when he felt it would be both convenient and effective.
For instance, Directoire inspired as this dressing room may be, it is clearly something that only a decorator working in the 1960's would have created. Perhaps not one of Greer's best moments... But it's still not without historic interest. You can see it below as it appeared as an illustration in Inside Design.
Photographed in Architectural Digest in the January/February 1974 issue in full colour, it's obvious a mature, more self assured and fully evolved Michael Greer has emerged in this oustanding and elegant apartment which he enjoyed until his death in 1976. Ever the affable host, the magazine hastened to add that when the journalist writing about this apartment in 1974 arrived, Greer had a gathering in honour of the magazine that included Earl Blackwell, Joan Bennett, Eliot Janeway and even the Duchess of Argyll. The AD writer also thought to note that on that same day, Greer was delighted he had just accomplished the purchase of a rare antique desk costing "only $120,000.00". The remaining photos seen below are of Greer's final residence as seen in AD and which begins with a view to the corner of the main drawing room in which an admittedly questionable Louis XV bureau plat (that is either remade from various antique elements or oddly restored) is laden with such tantalizing items as a monumental ormolu inkstand that was understood to have been made for Catherine II of Russia. Another typical Greer detail rooted in the 18th Century is the collection of obelisks. Note the lovely draped Grecian beauty of antique 18th Century terracotta which was among the items salvaged from the fire in the former apartment as was the desk and the inkstand.
Michael Greer's very focused and admirable pursuit of knowledge about the areas of late 18th Century French steel furniture and tôle peint were widely known and his connoisseurship on both subjects were such that among the few reference articles on these subjects still consulted today were authored by him for The Magazine Antiques in the late 1960's. The Charles X period steel bed was salvaged and reused and now set in a powder blue room with a clearly late 18th Century Pecier and Fontaine inspired decor with lavishly draped fabric. Greer loved to reuse lovely 18th Century architectural fragments with which he created curtains and decorations for false windows. The tôle peint hanging lighting fixture is typical Greer as are the outstanding and rare steel chairs and the hauntingly curvaceous rocker that antedates Thornet's bentwood by decades. But in the midst of these eccentric and esoteric decorative fancies, a solid and deeply rooted love and appreciation of the late French 18th and early 19th Centuries resonates