The natural colors of Central Park and the poetry of Helen Hays Whitney served as inspiration for French designer Hugo Toro when he was tasked with remodeling Whitney’s writing workshop inside the former Payne-Whitney mansion on Fifth Ave. Designed by illustrious architect Stanford White, the early 20th-century mansion is now home to Villa Albertine, “a new French institution for arts and ideas in the United States.” The remodeled workshop, called Villa Albertine Atelier, will serve as an events space and is the latest room in the landmarked building to undergo a transformation. On November 22nd, you can join Untapped New York Insiders for a special tour of Villa Albertine where we’ll get an exclusive look inside the Atelier, the hidden bookshop, the Venetian Room, and more historic spaces!

This tour on November 22nd is free for Untapped New York Insiders! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and gain access to member-exclusive experiences, both in-person and online, as well as our archive of 200+ on-demand webinars. Use code JOINUS for your first month free! Registration opens on November 8th.

Tour Villa Albertine

Villa Albertine entryway

Helen Hay Whitney was an accomplished poet, socialite, philanthropist, and racehorse breeder. Her writing appeared in publications such as Harper’s Magazine and The Metropolitan Magazine. She also published multiple children’s books. Much of her writing was done from the comfort of her fifth-floor studio at 972 Fifth Avenue, where her legacy lives on.

the French Embassy, also known as the Payne Whitney House

The colors, ornamentation, and materials Toro used in the room’s design draw on the home’s history, its location across from Central Park, and its French connection. Toro was especially inspired by Whitney’s poem, “My Brook.”

“I wanted to weave an architectural metaphor around water, inspired by the poem “My Brook” by Helen Hay Whitney, the first artist to occupy the space,” Toro explained, “The four words that guided me in designing this place, where every detail is carefully considered, are authenticity, French expertise, creativity, and French eclecticism. It is intended to be anchored in time and in the memories of the visitors and users of the space.” The text of “My Brook” appears on a plaque at the entrance to the Atelier.

Albertine Atelier
Photograph by William Jess Laird

Inside, the space is covered in warm natural tones of green, brown, gold, and red, mirroring the colors of the neighboring park. New bespoke pieces of furniture, such as the interlocking tables and oak chairs designed by Toro and crafted by Atelier Boutin, sit in harmony with the historic architectural details of the room, like the vaulted wooden ceiling. Hanging from that ceiling is a handblown glass chandelier designed specifically for the space.

From the tucked-away corner bookshelf design by Toro to his statement fireplace flanked by custom stone light fixtures, no detail or little nook went unnoticed. Every inch of space posed an opportunity to showcase contemporary French design and illustrate the natural theme. The room blends influences of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles with shapes that are both sinuous and fluid, like the edges of a brook, as well as clean and straight.

Villa Albertine Atelier
Photograph by William Jess Laird

Historic elements of the space were expertly restored by Cinzia Pasquali, founder of Atelier Arcanes. Some of the items in the room that Pasquali worked on include Renaissance-inspired painting decorations on the studio’s vaulted ceiling and the glazed brick-colored terra cotta tiles on the floor. Called “tommettes de Provence,” the tiles are a glazed terra cotta made by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, whose work appears in many late 19th and early 20th century New York City buildings. Parts of the floor are covered by a custom-made rug by Maison Pinton, designed by Toro.

Villa Albertine Atelier
Photograph by William Jess Laird

Villa Albertine Atelier will continue to be a space where creative ideas can flow freely. The space will host artist dialogues, site-specific installations, and exclusive events that complement Villa Albertine’s exploratory artist residency program. That residency program invites 50+ international creatives annually to the US to enrich their diverse practices and promote cross-cultural exchange. You can see all of the upcoming Villa Albertine events here and see more photos of the space in the gallery below!

  • Villa Albertine Atelier
  • Close up of interlocking tables
  • Glass chandelier detail
  • Oak chairs
  • Villa Albertine Atelier
  • Close up of silver sculpture
  • Fireplace
  • Close up of a green and white rug
  • Close up of green tile

Step inside the Atelier on our upcoming tour of Villa Albertine for Untapped New York Insiders!