Tour John Githens’s Bohemian Washington Square Park Home

The Front Room: The red and green tables were designed by architect Paul Lester Wiener. The art between the windows is by Alfonso Ossorio, and the paintings on the right wall, from left, are Sur les Barricades, by Kurt Seligmann, and Femme, Oiseau, Soleil, by Joan Miró.
Photo: Annie Schlechter

Well, I married the apartment,” John Githens says of his home of over five decades in a 19th-century townhouse overlooking Washington Square Park.

In 1968, Githens was a 30-year-old professor teaching Russian at Vassar College when he met and fell in love with the German-born artist Ingeborg ten Haeff, whose second husband, the architect Paul Lester Wiener, had died the year before. “She was 22 years older than I was,” Githens says. “But there was nobody like her.” He found himself spending more and more time in her Washington Square North apartment and soon moved in and never left.

Githens is a scholar and translator who also taught at St. John’s University; he has worked for UNICEF as well. The day we met at the apartment, he was wearing silver sneakers and had laid out a spread of green tea and biscuits for our interview — he told me that he and ten Haeff would host dinner parties twice a week for many years. His head was full of minute details of so many stories of their life together.

The apartment he shared with her until her death in 2011 is essentially two large rooms: one overlooking the park, next to a smaller study, and one in the back, next to the kitchen. There are multiple tables, chairs, and daybeds because, Githens feels, “one should sleep in different rooms and eat in different rooms.”

Wiener had designed many of the pieces in the apartment, including a deep-red lacquered coffee table, green side and nesting tables, and several of the chairs with chrome bases. The apartment is filled with artwork by ten Haeff and friends, including the sculptor Costantino Nivola and the potter Trudi Kearl, and pieces by Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, and Jacques Lipchitz, whose small maquette of the firedogs he made for Coco Chanel sits on one mantel.

Ten Haeff seems to have cast a spell on whomever she met. Still, Githens held on to his $52.90-a-month rent-controlled apartment on 29th Street for “several years,” he says, “fearing that perhaps our relationship might not last. It did, however, for 43 years.”

The Study’s Fireplace: The painting is by Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer. The tile to the right on the mantel is by Cuban artist René Portocarrero. The relief of two figures on the left is by Arline Wingate.
Photo: Annie Schlechter

John Githens’s Desk: The sand-cast relief is one of the maquettes artist Costantino Nivola did for a large work he installed in the Olivetti showroom in New York. Above, at right, is a drawing done by Willem de Kooning.
Photo: Annie Schlechter

The Front Room Fireplace: The big painting is Orpheus and Eurydice (1964), by ten Haeff. The chair on the left is by Gilbert Rohde. On the mantel are sculptures by Patricia Martin Smith, Jacques Lipchitz, Guitou Knoop, François Stahly, Costantino Nivola, and Marc Leuthold.
Photo: Annie Schlechter

The Back Room: The tatami daybed was a gift to ten Haeff and Githens from Fujiwara Kenji. The large painting above the fireplace is by ten Haeff. The small desk and nesting table and chair were both designed by Wiener. The Madonna/MountainGoddess over the white desk is from colonial Bolivia.
Photo: Annie Schlechter

The Kitchen: “The black plates are by Sylvia Baker, who was our downstairs neighbor and worked at Greenwich House Pottery,” Githens says. “The large ceramic goblets on the top shelf are called Cambridge Pottery; we used them for wine.”
Photo: Annie Schlechter

See All


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *