Meera Gandhi’s House for All Seasons
LASSIWITHLAVINA.COM, June 2, 2009
You never know whom you’re going to bump into at socialite Meera Gandhi’s townhouse on Madison Avenue in New York! At one such gathering, if you walked into the living room, there was Asha Bhonsle surrounded by scores of admirers. If you looked into the dining room you found the Kronos Quartet chatting over drinks with a who’s who of society. Wander down the grand staircase into the kitchen/den to get away for some quiet time and you were taken aback to see Zakir Husain trying to do the same, sitting at the kitchen counter conversing with his wife Antonia Minnecola, daughter Isabel and culinary expert and actress Madhur Jaffrey.
The crème de la crème of society as well as denizens of business, politics and the arts have all been guests at this home, from Senator Hillary Clinton to Sonny and Gita Mehta to Mike Wallace. Meera and her husband Vikram Gandhi, global head of investment banking at Credit Suisse Bank in New York, have had many a grand soiree for celebrities and movers and shakers like Paula Zahn, Uma Thurman, Satish Gujaral, Mira Nair, the late Ismail Merchant and Kerry Kennedy in this house.
This historic townhouse once belonged to Eleanor Roosevelt and her spirit is till very much there, with pictures of the iconic First Lady during her India trip on the walls of the foyer. The house has 17 rooms and, including the roof garden and barbeque space, encompasses about 10,000 sq feet of useable space
When the Gandhis first saw the house, it was no longer in its prime and they spent over two years restoring it to its former glory. Says Meera, “I loved the facade and even though we were not looking for a home as huge as this one, we ended up buying the beautiful building – as much for its history as for the open spaces it offered.”
The couple had to do a ‘gut’ renovation as the former owners had converted it into five separate apartments. Intensive renovations transformed it back into a single family home, with brand new plumbing and central air-conditioning. A new staircase was added in, and the entire house was wired for wireless internet access, with a digital TV in every room, and invisible speaker wiring for every room.
In burnishing the beauty of the house, Meera says they felt almost a responsibility for keeping its past alive. She became a trustee of the board of Val-Kill (Mrs. Roosevelt’s summer home) and is on the Board of Governors of FERI (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute).of Val-Kill.
This is the house where the couple has brought up their three children Kiran, Kanika and Kabir, and it’s been the scene of many fun-filled birthday bashes, sleepovers and other happy events with close family. At the same time, Meera has also hosted many events for causes she cares about and is quite willing to open up her home to raise funds for any worthwhile cause.
Ask about her favorite part of the house and she mentions the old wood-burning fireplaces which still function beautifully. “We so enjoy the fire-especially in the living room in winter,” she says. “The family room is bright and the skylight opens up in summer, letting in the sound of the birds and the wind.” Another wonderful hideaway is the peaceful roof top garden, a rarity in Manhattan’s skyscraper jungle.
While the Gandhis enjoy their art filled home with many get-togethers for family and friends, it always is also the house where Eleanor Roosevelt had lived. The space is pervaded with the past for this is the home which has been visited by world leaders like JFK, Khrushchev, Adlai Stevenson, Marshal Tito and many others.
“Mrs. Roosevelt always said ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness’ and this home has been a candle for so many charities and causes in the last 8 years since we have owned the house,” says Meera. Some of the fundraisers held in the house include those in support of the Gujarat Earthquake, Amnesty International and Pratham, and leaders like Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair have been guests in the house.
“I feel privileged to be the custodian of such a historic and special home,” says Meera. “Our plans for now are to keep living here, though with Kiran, our oldest, away in college the house already seems too big and spread out for our family of four!”