Life at the Top
Nancy Hamon’s Turtle Creek penthouse was designed for entertaining. But it’s not only about visual drama and glamorous parties. The charm of her home lies in its personal spaces and intimate nooks.
Nancy Hamon’s cocktail parties are legendary. For these, she keeps a large Sub-Zero freezer stocked with frosted martini and champagne glasses and bottles of Ketel One. The mix of guests-artists, actors, socialites, and business people-is intoxicating enough without the drink. Someone usually sits down at one of two grand pianos in the vast living room and plays. Mrs. Hamon, a former dancer in Hollywood, loves this, and the joke is that if you can play the piano and sing, you’ll get invited to her next party. But her favorite parties are those where people play both pianos at once. Boogie-woogie or Chopin, it’s no matter-she likes it all. The pianos belong not to her, but to friends, including fashion designer Victor Costa who moved to New York some years ago. Mrs. Hamon says, “I sure hope they never come and get them.”
Most of her parties take place in the octagonal living room with its 34-foot ceilings, soaring windows, and almost 360-degree view of the lush Turtle Creek area below. She calls it the “tent room,” an apt description for a space that’s draped in 150 yards of ecru linen. The circus-tent effect adds to the theatricality of her soirees, but even in this big, dramatic room, you feel cozy. This is because Mrs. Hamon, who knows a thing or two about decorating (she was also a former interior decorator in San Antonio), deftly grouped the English and French antiques that fill her apartment into small seating clusters. But aside from entertaining, she hardly uses the tent room. Her favorite room-she’s quick to say-and the nexus of her day-to-day activities is the kitchen. And, like everything else in Mrs. Hamon’s extraordinary life, this is no ordinary kitchen.
With few walls, the 62-foot-long kitchen is almost all window space, affording views on three sides. The center is where all of the cooking takes place (and the site of the aforementioned Sub-Zero), and at both ends she’s created charming areas for sitting and talking, working, or nibbling leftovers after a late-night charity gala. To say that it’s huge is an understatement, but it’s also paradoxically quaint. Of course, there’s a story behind why that is. Mrs. Hamon’s previous house on Shadywood Lane, a white columned affair on a hill, was also quaint in a way. Painted in sunny yellows and sky blues inside, it was warm and happy-a good place to raise a family. After her husband, oil man and art collector Jake Hamon, died, she moved everything out-lock, stock, and barrel-settling some pieces in her new penthouse and sending others to her home in San Francisco. Even the walls were painted the same colors as the Shadywood house. “That was home to me for 50 years,” says Mrs. Hamon. “I collected things I loved over a period of time, and I didn’t want to get rid of them.”
Broad, heart-of-pine floorboards from an old barn on her farm (“They’re a wonderful driftwood color,” she says) were installed in the penthouse kitchen. When the boards ran out before the kitchen did, one end of the floor was laid with slate. This area became command central, the ideal spot for her antique writing desk (she receives hundreds of invitations each month). The old French Provenal furniture is also from the Shadywood house. It’s a curious thing-a warm, country French kitchen inside this grand penthouse filled with priceless art-but it works.
Mrs. Hamon’s art collection has the same sort of curious, hodgepodge appeal. That is if you consider a collection that includes a $1 million Rouault, a somewhat lesser priced Vlaminck, and an invaluable Magritte, hodgepodge. Call it what you will, but Mrs. Hamon, whose donations to museums in Dallas and San Francisco are legion, has amassed an interesting and valuable assemblage of art at home. She and Jake started collecting art together in the 1950s when they were first married. And, of course, there are good stories behind some of them, including the Rouault, which Mrs. Hamon first saw in 1950 at a friend’s gallery. She was too afraid to tell her husband she’d bought “some crazy modern art,” so she did it secretly, selling almost all of her shares in Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal for cash. “I had the shares before we got married, and that was my money, in case I’d ever decided to leave him, so selling it was a big deal,” she says, laughing. She eventually confessed, and he loved the painting. Mrs. Hamon’s favorite piece is the Magritte, an ethereal painting of a woman floating in the clouds, which she bought as an anniversary gift for her husband decades ago. While much of her collection bears the names of great artists, much of it also is by little-known American artists whose work she just likes. A piece by an obscure New York painter hangs in a hallway next to the Magritte and the Vlaminck.
Photographs of friends and family in Mrs. Hamon’s apartment are everywhere-stacked 10 deep on the grand pianos and covering every surface of the walls in the guest bedroom. But what sets her photographs apart from yours and mine is who’s in them. Look closely and you’ll see Mrs. Hamon with Frank Sinatra at a dinner party or Jake mingling with LBJ. These pictures are not out for show or to impress; they’re simply her friends. When asked what her favorite photograph is, she says it’s one taken a long time ago, where she’s standing close to Jake, and she’s wrapped her fox stole around his neck playfully. Nancy Hamon’s life is one well-lived, and her house reflects all of it.