Space of the Week: Eloise at Home

Hilary Knight, the artist who brought Kay Thompson’s character Eloise to life in 1955 with his iconic illustrations, and over the course of many subsequent Eloise books, lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side that he has called home for the past 52 years. He watched the modern building go up when he lived four blocks away, in a railroad flat, and decided back then that a spanking new apartment would be a nice change. On a recent visit, I was happy to find that Eloise was there too, of course. Knight’s apartment really is her home away from home at the Plaza”especially now that the hotel has been so discombobulated by the unsettling changes to the iconic rooms she knew so well. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Every single corner of his space is adorned, even the intercom phone to the lobby. The gilt Venetian frame belonged to his mother, Katherine Sturgis, who was also an artist. The red-and-gold-ribbon necklace is from India. Photo: Wendy Goodman

The entrance, “Bird Hall,” is filled with Knight’s collection of prints and embroidered Burmese fabrics. “It started with a woman I knew called Mary Jo McConnell who collected birds and silk-screened prints of their feathers,” he recalls. “I bought two of them and then added to the collection. I’ve eliminated everything that is not birds.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

The living room is a cozy composite of furniture and paintings, including those by both Knight’s mother and his father, Clayton Knight, who was a pilot during World War I and then a famous aviation illustrator for books and magazines. The painting of five pilots over the desk was done by Knight senior for Liberty magazine. “The apartment started out all white, and I painted it black about twenty years ago.” The day I came over, he was in the midst of a major purging, and getting rid of knickknacks that he was reexamining one last time before tossing. Photo: Wendy Goodman

This painting by Knight’s mother was his inspiration for Eloise. “I grew up seeing this painting. It was embedded in my brain.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

The crimson Carlyle sofa bed sits beneath another large painting by Knight’s mother. “It was done in the mid-thirties, and she sold a lot of paintings during that time. This was one I really loved, and when she gave it away, I told the lady who got it that if she ever wanted to get rid of it, I’d love to have it. She left it to me in her will.” The painting of a woman’ s head in the right-hand corner is by Marie Laurencin. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Knight is a cat person and recently lost his third cat, who won these ribbons the one time he was entered into a cat show. “He was not a pure breed but a child of two different kinds of Persians,” Knight says. “I was amazed that he tolerated [being shown] at all.” The metal palm tree was assembled and painted by Knight, who found its origins at a long-gone store on Sixth Avenue. “It was one of those curiosity shops that was filled with such bizarre and enormous things that were so grotesque.” Knight stripped the palm tree, left the leaves, then painted the whole thing. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Knight painted this hallway a deep raspberry after a trip to London to interview Isabella Blow at Philip Treacy’s shop. “We all became friends, and they came to the apartment on a trip to New York, and I had just painted this hall, inspired by the interior color of Philip’s shop.” The airbrush portrait of Carmen Miranda by a Brazilian artist was found at an auction. “In 1939, I was taken to see Streets of Paris at the Broadhurst. Carmen was onstage exactly seven minutes and became a major star in America. Some might call it a caricature, but in her glorious way, so was she.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

Knight and Kay Thompson spied this armchair in the window of an antique shop off Second Avenue in the late fifties, and even though they both liked it, as it happened to be Knight’s birthday Thompson gave it to him”sort of, as she only paid for half. “Every single Eloise book was done in tight collaboration,” Knight says of his work with Thompson. Today, he is working on a new book. “This one is for adults,” he adds. “But it’s an adult book that children will like, too.”

Click here to see how one young illustrator paid tribute to Knight’s iconic character in the latest issue of New York. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Space of the Week: Eloise at Home