The Park Avenue Armory's Veterans Room. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Decorative details by Lockwood de Forest, architectural woodwork by Stanford White, painted friezes by Francis D. Millet and George Yewell, stencil-work by Samuel Colman, embroideries by Candace Wheeler -- the Park Avenue Armory’s Veterans Room is a masterpiece of the American Aesthetic Movement -- an avant-garde style rooted in the belief that everything should be beautiful. Built in the late nineteenth century, the opulent space was designed and executed by Louis C. Tiffany, Associated Artists -- a cooperative firm of designers led by the visionary Louis Comfort Tiffany. The room is one of the few surviving spaces by Associated Artists, and one of only two interiors by Tiffany and White ever created -- the second one being the Armory’s library, which is located next door to the Veterans Room.

The Park Avenue Armory, which boasts an extraordinary ensemble of nineteenth-century period rooms, has announced that it will revitalize its Veterans Room as part of an ongoing, $200-million project that has helped turn its five-story landmark building into a unique cultural institution. Completed in 1881, the Armory served as a military, cultural, and social center for the Regiment as well as New York society of the Gilded Age. Today, the Park Avenue Armory, which has been described by the New York City Landmarks Commission as “the single most important collection of nineteenth-century interiors to survive intact in one building,” enables artists to create -- and audiences to experience -- unconventional work that cannot be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums. In addition to its own programming, which includes immersive performances and installations, the Park Avenue Armory hosts some of the art world’s most prestigious events, including the Winter Antiques Show, the Art Dealers Association of America’s Art Show, The Salon: Art + Design, Spring Masters New York, the IFPDA Print Fair, the AIPAD Photography Show, and the New York Art, Antique & Jewelry Show. The Armory has selected the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron to lead its painstaking revitalization, which will see the Veterans Room transformed into a state-of-the-art venue for performances, recitals, lectures, exhibitions, educational workshops, and a swathe of other small-scale events.

Since the mid-twentieth century, the Veterans Room’s original splendor has been diminished by several sub-par alterations and restorations. The Room’s initial appearance had much greater variation in color and delicacy in painted decoration as well as a plentitude of thoughtfully selected artworks, artifacts, and textiles. Luckily, the Veterans Room still has its original wood and metalwork, gas light fixtures, and art objects, and where the original finishes are missing, they are generally well-documented. According to Herzog & de Meuron Senior Partner Ascan Mergenthaler, “What makes the Veterans Room different from all other period rooms of the Armory is its level of inventiveness and playfulness. It is a collage of diverse influences and inspirations, reflecting the collaborative efforts of an outstanding team of designers. Their approach on the decorative scheme goes beyond what was typical at that time and explores methods and means that are still fascinating today.” While the Associated Artists only worked together for four years, the seminal artisans broke new ground in interior design. In addition to the Veterans Room, they designed the Cornelius Vanderbilt House in New York, the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and five rooms in the White House.

The goal of the revitalization is to reclaim the Veterans Room’s original exuberance, while uniting historic and contemporary elements by subtly integrating modern amenities into the space. Significant upgrades will be made to the Room’s lighting, acoustics, and heating and cooling systems. The project will also include the removal of wall coverings, paint, varnish, and over-floor that were added over the years; the repair or replacement of damaged elements; the cleaning and restoration of artwork, including the aforementioned friezes and decorative glass by Tiffany; the de-layering of the original decorative surfaces, including the ceiling and floor; and the reinterpretation of the space’s original Tiffany- and Wheeler-designed wallpaper, which was removed in the mid-twentieth century. In addition, the Room’s original built-in benches will be reupholstered and new window and door treatments, as well as furniture, will be added.

According to the Armory’s President and Executive Producer, Rebecca Robertson, “Herzog & de Meuron’s design responds to the room’s cutting-edge founding vision, which has been diminished through the passage of time. We look forward to reopening the emboldened space to artists, educators, and our public in December, when the Veterans Room will join the Board of Officers Room as one of New York’s premier cultural salons.” One of the most important historic rooms in America and one of the few remaining interiors designed by Herter Brothers, a leading design firm of the Gilded Age, the Board of Officers Room reopened in 2013 and now hosts small-scale performances, recitals, and installations.

The Veterans Room project is expected to be completed in December 2015.