fall design

A Harlem Prewar Apartment Stripped to Its Original State

The only thing that’s changed since 1971 in Lana Turner’s home is the number of hats (600), gloves (365), shoes (312), and books (too many to count).

The Dining Room/Library: It houses only a fraction of Turner’s books. “The greater part of my collection is in storage,” she says. Turner designed the bookcases in stages, with ample room on top to store a portion of her hat collection. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Dining Room/Library: It houses only a fraction of Turner’s books. “The greater part of my collection is in storage,” she says. Turner designed the bookcases in stages, with ample room on top to store a portion of her hat collection. Photo: Annie Schlechter

Lana Turner, the real-estate broker, professional organizer, swing dancer, Bill Cunningham muse, and vintage-clothing collector, had a very specific idea of where she wanted to live when she started to look for an apartment in 1970. “I used to make the rounds to two different apartment buildings — this one and another on St. Nicholas Terrace — every three months to talk to the supers.” A year later, several apartments in her current prewar building on Convent Avenue were finally available; the one she took was the last she saw, and it was the light and the views of the Hudson River that won her over. “I remember the owner distinctly saying to me at the time, ‘What is a little girl like you going to do with all of that space?’ ”

One thing Turner was determined to do was strip the paint off all the original woodwork and the painted-over glass panes in the French doors and transoms. It took her three years, going room by room and listening to Aretha Franklin all the while, to complete the job. As her fashion collections grew, Turner had to figure out where to put everything. She hung white curtains along the walls of her back bedroom, essentially making each wall a closet. Hundreds of dresses hang from double sets of racks, along with boxes of jewelry and 312 pairs of shoes, each one bagged with a typed description. Her hats, 600 and counting, are stored in shiny hatboxes in the hallway and the library/dining room. And 365 pairs of gloves are neatly folded and organized by color and type in various boxes. “I could live in this apartment forever and never go out,” Turner says, “because everything I love is here.”

The Living Room: The two glass panels with etched figures of Chinese door guards leaning against the back wall came from a (now long-gone) Chinese restaurant on 46th Street. The circular Chinese rug was a gift from Turner’s friend Sharon Madison. Turner found the Chinese folding screen at a church sale, she re-covered the slipper chair she found on the street, and the armchair belonged to the actor Geoffrey Holder, whom Turner assisted at the end of his life. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Back Room: Turner stores her vintage dresses, shoes, and accessories behind these curtains. Her Vintage-Clothing Collection: Turner’s organizational system is flawless; everything is labeled. Photos: Annie Schlechter.
The Back Room: Turner stores her vintage dresses, shoes, and accessories behind these curtains. Her Vintage-Clothing Collection: Turner’s organization... The Back Room: Turner stores her vintage dresses, shoes, and accessories behind these curtains. Her Vintage-Clothing Collection: Turner’s organizational system is flawless; everything is labeled. Photos: Annie Schlechter.
Tip of the Iceberg: A peek into some of the boxes of Turner’s evening bag collection. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Living Room: A view from the living room toward the entrance hall with more hats in the shiny hat boxes. Photo: Annie Schlechter/Annie Schlechter 2018
The Kitchen: Above the sink, a framed portfolio print of Vases et Urnes by Pierre Bouillon. To the right is a Fluted Column print by Jacques Lamy. “He studied Classical and Renaissance style technique” Turner says of Lamy. “Time is ancient and yet present. The prints keep me mindful.” Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Bedroom: A simple peaceful room with the bed and a photo by Hollis A. King. Turner's Black Cocktail Parasol hat was made by Heidi Lee. The Hallway: The entrance to the bedroom at the end of the hall shows the original woodwork surrounding the doors and transoms. Photos: Annie Schlechter.
The Bedroom: A simple peaceful room with the bed and a photo by Hollis A. King. Turner's Black Cocktail Parasol hat was made by Heidi Lee. The Hallway... The Bedroom: A simple peaceful room with the bed and a photo by Hollis A. King. Turner's Black Cocktail Parasol hat was made by Heidi Lee. The Hallway: The entrance to the bedroom at the end of the hall shows the original woodwork surrounding the doors and transoms. Photos: Annie Schlechter.
Turner is a fabulous hip-hop and ballroom dancer and has the wardrobe for any occasion. Here, she is wearing a dress that was originally designed by Geoffrey Holder for his wife Carmen De Lavallade. When Turner inherited it, she deconstructed it to fit her. Photo: Annie Schlechter

*A version of this article appears in the September 3, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

A Harlem Prewar Apartment Stripped to Its Original State