The view from ‘Paradise’
Actress/singer/writer Isabel Rose on her love of ’60s music and the pioneer life in Tribeca
Multi-faceted artist Isabel Rose has a thing for the past — the 1960s, in particular. The actress/singer/writer has just put out her latest endeavor, a love letter of sorts to the decade. It’s an album featuring mostly classics — such as “Lots of Livin’ To Do” and “Love Will Keep Us Together” — called “Trouble in Paradise.”
The album is “inspired by a time when America was aglow by Kennedy’s Camelot by day, and lit by the lights of Rat Pack Vegas by night.”
“I’m really in love with music from the ’60s,” Rose said with a big grin, sitting on what she calls a “hot orange Womb chair” in her turquoise den; the blue/green walls (her two favorite colors) providing a perfect background for her red hair, light skin and blue eyes. “It was such a glamorous time and I’m very attracted to that.”
This love is of the ’60s is reflected in Rose’s expansive Tribeca home. The centerpiece of the living room (and also part of the foyer) is a wall of album covers, displayed as art, by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and other iconic singers of the mid-20th century.
But when it came time for her to find that perfect home, Rose, 46, had her eyes fixed to the future. Rose, her then-husband Jonathan Ezrow (they’ve since split up; she’s now happily married to Jeffrey Fagen, who runs Panda Diplomacy, a “surf-inspired action sports lifestyle company”) and their newborn daughter, Lily, moved to a condo in Tribeca 14 years ago. She remembers travelling to the Upper East Side to attend a baby play group. “In 2000, nobody was down here,” she said. “No young families.”
At the time, Tribeca was filled with factories and a few brave artists. And yet, she decided to buy a loft there. “I could see the future,” she said. “I understood that it was going to become a hotspot very quickly. So it seemed like a smart business decision.”
Clearly, Rose’s real estate instincts were guiding her, as Tribeca has since evolved into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. She’s a third-generation member of the Rose real estate family — whose company, Rose Associates, is one of the most successful real estate firms in New York. Started in the 1920s by brothers Samuel and David Rose, today the family manages over 31,000 units in Manhattan. The family is also known for their high-profile philanthropic work, endowing buildings like the famed Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History, the museum at Carnegie Hall and the BAM Rose Cinemas, among many others. Her father, Elihu Rose, is a founding member and co-chairman of the Park Avenue Armory; her mother, Susan, is on the boards of Juilliard, the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. Isabel herself is on the boards of the Lincoln Center Theater and the New Victory Theater.
Even with all that in her background, Rose was undaunted when she moved to the edge of Manhattan, into a 1915 building. “It has an elegance, a history, that I find thrilling,” Rose said. The home has 5,027 square feet of space — the living room/dining area alone is about 1,000 square feet — with eight rooms, five bedrooms, five baths and breathtaking citywide views.
The loft seemed — and seems still — perfect for her family. “Considering what I paid — I’m pretty sure it was $2 million — and the apartment above me sold for $13.5 last year, I think it was a wise move,” she said.
Though her family’s success lies in the realms of real estate, Rose has forged a different path. She’s made a name for herself as a multi-talented writer and entertainer. In addition to penning the successful Doubleday novel “The J.A.P. Chronicles,” co-writing and starring in Samuel Goldwyn’s film “Anything But Love” and performing in nightclubs like The Blue Note and Joe’s Pub, Rose has released two studio albums, the most recent of which is currently being distributed by Sony Records. “I’ve always been very musical and extremely theatrical,” she said. “I never saw myself going into the family business, only entertaining at their annual holiday party.”
Rose’s home reflects her passions. “Everything in here is really personal,” she said. “When I first thought about decorating the apartment, I thought I’d get an advisor and fly down to Art Basel and get important art pieces. But then I thought, ‘That’s going to reflect the taste of someone else — not me.’ It’s very important to me to live in an environment that’s a true reflection of who I am and who my husband is.”
Plus, livability is key. “Once I had children [Lily, now 13, and Sam, 5], I realized that I don’t want to have one of those apartments where, if someone spills something, I’d have a nervous breakdown,” she said.
There’s modern art throughout the apartment; works by Sophie Calle, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and more. A favorite piece is a photograph of a woman’s high-heeled, bejeweled shoe by Marilyn Minter. “I feel that the shoe represents everything I know and understand about femininity,” Rose said. “It’s that juxtaposition of glamour and dirt that women live in all the time. Trying to be beautiful and glamorous while making sure breakfast arrives on the table, making sure the laundry is done, making sure things are running. We’re the worker bees in every household.”
The huge sofa in the living room also has special significance. “It’s almost like a bed my whole family can cuddle on,” she said. “My kids take a flying leap onto this couch. This is a house that’s alive.”
As for the apartment’s overall design — which she says is contemporary and comfortable — Rose thinks it benefitted from several corrections she made. “I have a small storage closet filled with literally dozens of sample pints of paint,” she said. “Painting anything in your home requires a big leap of faith. Color changes the way you feel, and the more subtle differentiation in shade can have deep ramifications to your comfort level (or lack thereof). I have literally repainted entire rooms three times (to my husband’s complete horror) in order to get a shade that works.”
“The only way to discover your sense of style is to make big, bold decisions and lots of mistakes,” she adds. “It’s really a metaphor for life. Before you really know what your heart is made of, you have to break up with someone. I had to be brave enough to make big design mistakes. I don’t take what it means to create a home lightly.”
Rose has fond memories of a childhood filled with art and music. The family’s apartment was across the street from the Guggenheim Museum and a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We went to the ballet, we went to the Philharmonic, we went to Broadway shows,” she said. “But I didn’t learn to throw a football until I was 19.”
Still, she said, all that cultural background was very fortunate training for the life she wanted to lead. Though she majored in American Studies at Yale, she was always focused on becoming an artist. “I was the kid who had the lead in musicals at summer camp and college,” she said. “I had the bedroom with walls covered with amazing collages and costumes that I made from scratch.”
She went directly from Yale to the Williamstown Theatre Festival to the first national tour of “Six Degrees of Separation.” While on tour, she began to write — eventually obtaining an MFA in fiction from Bennington and a book deal for “The J.A.P. Chronicles” (which she later turned into a musical). “I’ve been very fortunate at finding success doing the things I love,” she said.
One of those loves is classic pop music, something that was inspired by her father. “He had gone on a European tour when he was a teenager and came back with an armful of Edith Piaf and Greta Keller records,” Rose said. “So my father was the one who taught me about this kind of music.”
His lessons stayed with her. “Trouble in Paradise” — which is also the album’s title track — is a kind of tip of her hat to him. The New York Times called it “an impressive job.”
“I heard the title of that song, ‘Trouble in Paradise,’ and right away I thought about pulp fiction titles,” she said, laughing. “I love the inherent drama of the title … And it really suits the music in the album — big, dramatic and lush.”
Rose said she’s planning one more movie, one more book and one more album. Though she might be busy, she’s hesitant to consider it “work.” “I think when you’re working hard in the creative arts, it doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “It’s such an expression of my core being that I can’t seem to stop. I’m also waiting to make it big. So I have to keep going.”
“Sometimes I think: ‘What if they gave me an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar — would I keep going?’ ” she adds. “And, you know what, I probably would.”