The Tale of Laurel Touby, Bold Millionairess, So Far

I was recently at a tony wedding party—it was really fun! Hooray for love!—and all the women there were talking about, among other things of course, their dresses. It was all “Oh I got this at a sample sale” and the like. Everyone wanted to be clear that she hadn’t paid full price. Many of them even hadn’t. It was as if buying retail was a crime. And it was slightly scandalous (as if it were, like, 1890) that one somewhat New York-famous guest was wearing sneakers. They looked like Vans, people thought. But I pointed out that they were in fact Bottega Veneta sneakers—so, expensive, suede, woven vans—which retail for $560. So that was actually okay, I think.

This party took place the same weekend as Laurel Touby and Jon Fine’s “Housewarming and Art Party.” “Three long years ago,” the invitation went, “we invited our friends to a Housebreak party at our new apartment. With the assistance of giant Sharpies, spray paint, and sledgehammers, many of you played an invaluable role in the earliest stage of our renovation.” Among the invitees to this housewarming were novelist (etc.) Kurt Andersen, Flavorpill’s Mark Mangan, Craigslist’s Craig Newmark and enduring New York guest list names like Felix Salmon and Daniel Radosh. Not so fancy really.

This is what their apartment looked like three years ago. This is what it looks like now. As she told the New York Times in a profile in today’s Home section, she bought the apartment for $3.9 million (actually, $3,905,000, according to city records, to be precise), from Natalie and Steven Judelson, lawyers who now make artisanal sea salt in Amagansett, and then “renovated and furnished it for an additional $2 million.” Touby describes the apartment as being “in the heart” of Silicon Alley; it is not, it is really located somewhere near the left ear of Silicon Alley. Touby bought the pad with the money she received from the sale of the company Mediabistro, in 2007. Estimates as to her actual take-home varied at the time; New York solidly put it at $12 million, as she owned 60% of the company, so that’s a minimum, though that doesn’t count any of the traditionally tasty post-sale executive retention fees.

Not very much cash on hand, actually, to have spent $6 million on an apartment.

And not what I would do with it, exactly, nor is it likely what you would do with it, but yet that’s not a stupid investment; the apartment is very large, and on a very nice block of 19th Street—their names are on the buzzer!—and has a pretty roof deck. As if a hot piece of Manhattan real estate ever did anyone wrong!

Besides, though this may be totally untrue, word is that residents in the building are granted free meals from the exceptional restaurant located on the ground floor, as a condition of the restaurant’s lease.

But after the apartment purchase, they spent a few months traveling the world, starting in late 2009, and adding that to the $6 million minimum on the apartment and the fact that they are “helping to put seven nieces, nephews and cousins through college,” I would suggest that they carefully mind their money. It goes away so fast. (What’s interesting is that Touby said at the time of the company sale that one of the few things she wanted was a car and a driver; the cost of her apartment and renovation could have paid for a car and driver for at least 75 years.) [Update: Touby said on Twitter today that the whole "desiring a car and driver" thing is false, and that it was a "misquote" from ages ago. Too bad, cars with drivers are great!]

People this morning have been scandalized by the Times article, which details the $30,000 couch and the $30,000 “leather, chain-mail and fur indoor swing.” (Sounds uncomfortable.)

Mostly people are horrified afresh at the display of dollar signs. To be sure, $60K on two pieces of furniture is conspicuous consumption. A $2-million renovation is an awful lot of renovation. Yet people in New York City do this all the time. They just do not often relate the price tags to the New York Times. Touby’s greatest contribution to New York is to derail the secrecy surrounding these kind of expenditures. So often the rich are trotted out, eager for a little attention, American-style—but only the right kind of attention. They don’t want to be gauche, so they don’t actually discuss how much all that splendor cost, even as they drag it before us.

Touby is doing us all a huge favor, ripping off this bandage of classy concealment. Going forward, the Home section should spurn the refined who are unwilling to put their checkbooks out there. From rich to poor, we’re too often easily scandalized by the sheer act of the naming of price, whether it be salary, shoes, rent or leather, chain-mail and fur swings.

Whatever your personal feelings, which are sure to vary, I think we can agree that 1. that really is too much to pay for a couch that’s not even really that great and 2. that this is the single most objectionable sentence from the Times slideshow of the Touby-Fine residence:

The spalted maple chairs and walnut slab table were made by John Houshmand. “Spalted,” according to Wikipedia is a timber pigmented by a fungus.

Did we actually just get “according to Wikipedia”‘d by the Times? On the fairly common topic of spalting, no less? What is this world coming to?