Making Lemonade With Salvador Dali

Kitchen not quite right? Wishing your dining room were a little more squarish? Architect says all is lost if you don’t move the door way 2 1/2 inches?

Consider the late Luther Greene. He began his career as a theatrical director and producer in the 30’s and 40’s, then re-created himself as a landscape architect and garden designer in the 50’s. He called himself an “exterior decorator.”


Mr. Greene lived in a basement apartment on Manhattan’s East Side from the late 50’s until he died in 1987. The apartment was 120 feet long and 20 feet wide. He reported that he had seated dinner parties of 75 here. On good days he called it “Villa Subterranea” and on bad days it was “the longest submerged trailer in the world.”

The wonder of this apartment was Greene’s grotto. He was inspired to create it after seeing the mosaics in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. He hired Ruth Ross, a former architectural designer, to create the room entirely of shells. There are 12,000 pieces of eight varieties of shells from all over the world. Greene’s New York Times obituary said he worked on the room for twenty years.


Another of Greene’s treasures is the set of the letters of his name in the form of naked figures, created by Salvador Dali in 1942. Greene used them on his cards and letterhead. He had one recreated in silver for his door knocker.
What pipe in the ceiling?

All images Architectural Digest, November 1979.

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14 thoughts on “Making Lemonade With Salvador Dali

  1. Mrs B – this is so interesting and gorgeous! An unbeatable combination. This sort of individuality has all but disappeared, and I really would like to know why?

  2. HoBC – He must have been an amazing guy. It all makes me wonder about the mass retailers. Even the ones bringing us great style tend to homogenize the look. You keep moving forward with good design – that might save us all.

  3. Jennifer – I thought of you as I was scanning the grotto. I wonder if it still exists. The apartment was the building superintenant’s before Greene took it over.

  4. Indeed a wonderful inspiring posting! We live in a basic suburban bungalow with no redeeming features — and I simply decided it WAS an English cottage. That was it! And even gave it a name — much to the bewilderment of my Dallas neighbors! LOL! And folks are still surprised when they walk in — “NOT what we were expecting at all!” Lemonade ….. although the lemons still pop up now and again ….. LOL! Thanks again for the morning reading!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  5. Now THIS is what I wish we saw more often in the mainstream design press–the application of talent and ingenuity (to say nothing of hard work and persistence) to make the ugly beautiful. So much more interesting than the half-dozen standard looks created by a handful of designers for clients with bales of money. Hmmmm…Architectural Digest, Nov. 1979–is this available anywhere else that you know of? It would be worth having. Bravo, Mrs. B!

  6. Chelsea Girl – I agree. I think House Beautiful has been the go-to-girl for this kind of thing – and sometimes Domino – but we see it less and less. While I cringe at the AD layouts where the super star “did it myself” – which is usually a mistate – I adore seeing a stylish and creative homeowner who can. They are out there.

    As for the issue – google it – you’d be amazed how much is out there. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Do you know anything about the Mrs Luther Greene of whom Dali painted a 1941 portrait? It wasn’t the second Mrs LG, Judith Anderson, who he married five years later.

  8. Paul – I don’t – but isn’t it intriguing that the Times brushed right by her? I’ll let you know if I turn up anything.

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