This Actor’s NYC Apartment Is Absolutely Dripping With Drama, Dark Colors, and Other Delights
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Name: Charles Busch
Location: West Village — New York City, New York
Type of Home: A duplex co-op apartment
Size: 1000 square feet
Years lived in: 26 years, owned
Charles Busch wears many hats (and wigs). He’s a playwright, actor, director, novelist, drag legend, and cabaret entertainer, and for 26 years he’s turned this West Village apartment into a home absolutely dripping with drama, details, and delightful decor elements. Dark colors, rich wallpaper patterns, and interesting art adorn many of the home’s walls, including a unique, statement arch in his bedroom, a result of when Charles and his architect worked on the space around 19 years ago.
“My duplex is a combining of two studio apartments,” Charles explains. “I bought the upstairs apartment seven years after I bought the downstairs. My architect/designer, August Ventura, had an enormous challenge, finding the best position for the staircase, creating new closets, and giving each floor its own individual layout, because both studios had identical floor plans. He solved the latter problem by creating a dramatic arch dividing two halves of the bedroom.”
Along with the unique architectural elements of his home, Charles’ apartment also has an obvious theatricality to it, no doubt a result of being in theater and film for so many years. But the influence goes both ways: His apartment recently served as inspiration for the upcoming movie “The Sixth Reel,” which he wrote while stuck inside during the pandemic and Skyping with his creative partner, director Carl Andress. The film, which also stars Margaret Cho and Tim Daly, centers around a cadre of film buffs passionate about Hollywood artifacts, and it’s not hard to imagine how living among so many beautiful ones might have inspired the plot.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Golden Age Hollywood/19th century Parisian bordello. Or perhaps how a 19th century Parisian bordello would be designed in a 1940s Hollywood Technicolor movie.
Inspiration: The 19th century French actress Sarah Bernhardt’s Paris home; the 1958 Vincente Minnelli film “Gigi”; Diana Vreeland’s red living room designed by Billy Baldwin; the 1940s interior design work of Dorothy Draper; the work of 1920s set designer Natasha Rambova; and Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride.
Favorite Element: When I was fourteen, I went to live with my Aunt Lil in her Manhattan apartment. She had wonderful taste in decor; a mixture of mid-century modern and French and Chinese influences. When I landed in my current apartment in the Village, I took her design aesthetic and multiplied it by ten. I see her influences everywhere, from the round table by the window, draped in layers of fabric and covered with photos of family and friends, to her living room baroque wall sconces that I painted pearlized white and hung in my bedroom. Having these elaborate sconces give my bedroom something of the feeling of the Jean Cocteau film of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Most of all, I’m pleased that my apartment can be viewed as a complete expression of my personality. After a study of each room, you would know just about everything important about me; my romanticism, my pragmatic nature, my artistic influences, the people I love, and my creative life. My latest project is a film, “The Sixth Reel,” that I co-wrote and directed with my longtime friend and colleague Carl Andress. The protagonist, who I also play in the film, is a collector of classic film memorabilia. Many of the scenes in the movie took place in his West Village apartment. Although “Jimmy” is quite different than me, we share the same interests and the production designer, Dara Wishingrad, raided my home for books, bibelots, and even extra rolls of wallpaper to create Jimmy’s cluttered eccentric apartment.
Biggest Challenge: My duplex is a combining of two studio apartments. I bought the upstairs apartment seven years after I bought the downstairs. My architect/designer August Ventura, had an enormous challenge, finding the best position for the staircase, creating new closets, and giving each floor its own individual layout, because both studios had identical floor plans. He solved the latter problem by creating a dramatic arch dividing two halves of the bedroom. The arch that reveals my bed has the feel of a theatrical proscenium. I could probably fit two rows of seats in front of it. One of these days I’ll give a benefit performance of “Sorry Wrong Number,” which is a solo play that takes place in a woman’s Manhattan boudoir.
Proudest DIY: Every few years, when I’m experiencing writer’s block and unable to get my real work done, I find myself turning to crafts. I loved making this bust of the Byzantine Empress Theodora. I used a Styrofoam wig head as a base. Taking as a base a plaster life mask that a friend made of me in the seventies, I created a papier mache mask, painted the face on it, then covered the face with a silk stocking and painted the red lips over that. I was able to use a headdress that the designer B T Whitehill made for me to wear when I played Theodora with my theater company in the East Village in the eighties. It needed more, more, more, so I bought dozens of antique jeweled brooches on eBay and covered every bit of the head except for the face. It’s an art project I’m very proud of.
Biggest Indulgence: I spent a large part of my adolescence at the Lincoln Center Library of Performing Arts. For hours after school, I’d pour over the scrapbooks of the legendary female stars of the theater. The one who particularly fascinated me was the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. An actress, playwright, director, sculptor, painter, she was the first international celebrity. Her life and career have without a doubt been a profound inspiration for me. As a teenager, I had in my bedroom a $4.95 reproduction of the artist Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau poster of Bernhardt in the play “Gismonda.” For decades, I dreamed of owning the original. Finally, around seventeen years ago, it came up for auction. I had never been to an auction, so I took my friend Kathie. I figured I could afford the estimated price. Well, the first bid went over the estimate. After each competitive bid, Kath and I went into a frenzied conference. With the price more than double the estimate, at long last it was mine. The elderly British auctioneer murmured into the microphone. “I’m very glad you got this.”
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I removed the kitchen on the first-floor apartment and turned the space into a home office. A small Manhattan kitchen was transformed into a perfectly satisfactory office.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I try to use Seventh Generation natural cleaning products. Not so much for me, but for my friend Kathie, who is my 24/7 computer tech support and also wig stylist for all of my plays for the past forty years. Kathie is violently allergic to all chemicals, so for her I use Seventh Generation cleaning products.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Don’t be afraid of making bold design choices for small rooms. It’s impossible to make a tiny room look big, so embrace it and go wild with saturated color and pattern upon pattern.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Your home is a visual autobiography. Express your unique personality with every choice.
“This resource list is unfortunately not applicable since I did the renovation of my apartment nearly twenty years ago and I wasn’t involved in the minutia of the painting and construction. I gave my architect/designer August Ventura imagery and concepts and he turned it into a fabulous reality.”
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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