The Gangster’s Favorite

Photo: David Allee
Floorplan by Jason Lee

Todd Merrill, the prominent twentieth-century antiques dealer, has many design idols, but only one of them may have been a sociopath. James Mont, a notorious, possibly even murderous mid-century decorator, counted among his clients gangsters (Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello) and movie stars (Bob Hope was the best man at his wedding). He also did a stint in prison after assaulting a female colleague who ended up killing herself (as did his wife, mysteriously, after a mere 29 days of marriage). “He was mercurial, and he was hot-tempered, and he could be violent,” says Merrill, who nevertheless features Mont in his new book, edited with Julie V. Iovine, Modern Americana ($75; Rizzoli). The dealer and his wife, Lauren, recently moved from this West Chelsea apartment but took their trove of Mont’s modern Orientalist furniture with them. “Some of his stuff is incredibly tacky,” Merrill admits. “But a lot of it is just exquisitely beautiful and really well made. He was a real showman.”

The Cinnebar Console
The lacquerwork, done in painstaking layers, is typical Mont (he supposedly perfected his wood-finishing technique in prison workshops). The gold-screen centerpiece was recycled from a Brooklyn theater and is backed by another Mont signature, a smoked mirror.

The Walls
The choice of paint color—Lamp Room gray, from Farrow & Ball—is an attempt to mute the profusion of gold and silver in the furniture. “Gold furniture was something that my grandparents would have been horrified at!” says Merrill. The photos are by Barron Claiborne.

The Dining Table and Chairs
The silver-leafed wood dining set is vintage Mont. The mirrored-panel screen in the corner of the living room shimmers with verre églomisé—painted vines and birds.

Photo: David Allee

The Living Room
Merrill became so enraptured by Mont’s work that he replaced all of his grandparents’ early-American furniture with Mont’s. The designer made his name during Prohibition, building, among other things, folding cocktail bars. “You bought a bar from him, and he would also deliver booze in a baby carriage,” says Merrill.

The Fireplace
The only pieces in the Merrills’ living room that were not done by Mont are the plaster Serge Roche torchères flanking the fireplace, the chandelier, designed by Bagués for Elsa Schiaparelli’s thirties London salon, and the zebra rugs, which once belonged to Geoffrey Beene.

The Gangster’s Favorite