Design for You: Thoughts on Architect David Morton by Pamela Heyne

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It was always a treat going to dinner at Presqu’ile, the 1820 historic home of Anne Morton Kimberly. Proceeding down the long tree lined drive was a dramatic beginning. Then our cheerful, stylish hostess would greet us, often introducing us to new friends. Sometimes her daughter Babes and Babes’ husband Tom would be guests when they were not traveling. Dinner was usually in the formal dining room, or for more intimate occasions, in a cozy nook off the kitchen.

After dinner we would often sit in the library and continue chatting. A full length portrait of Anne’s son, and Babes’ brother, David Morton graced a wall in an anteroom. The picture showed him standing on a hill, smiling, as he gazed in the distance. David was tall and handsome, resembling his dad, 6’7 Congressman and cabinet official Rogers Morton. David had died in 2003.

I had known David much earlier, long before I moved to the shore and met Anne and Babes. David and I were classmates at Yale School of Architecture. David was a talented and brilliant fellow. I recall a handful of us gathered in his apartment as David explained to us some engineering complexities, and exactly how air conditioning worked! He had a patrician confidence, not surprising since he had spent his teen years at Presqu’ile, attended the Country School, and came from a prominent family. Yet he had a zany side too. His New Haven apartment could only be described as quirky. It sported a black hallway with a giant stuffed toy jolly green giant suspended from the ceiling.

A few years later after graduating from Yale I took a trip to New York with another classmate from New Haven, Tom Welch. We stayed at David’s home in Brooklyn. Its previous incarnation was a toilet seat factory but David was transforming it into a chic series of loft apartments. He had a grand piano in one of the rooms. Leaning next to the piano was a cane. I made conversation about the cane. Turns out it was a gift from Leonard Bernstein.

 8 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn New York

8 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn New York

The building was next to the Brooklyn bridge. As we had dinner we gazed out the wide windows as car headlights slipped across the bridge, and the lights of Manhattan glistened on the water. One felt suspended in a kinetic, magical world.

David had a lifelong partner, Tom Cordell, an architect turned artist, of whom Anne was most fond. After David’s death Tom would accompany Anne on trips and was frequent a dinner guest at Presqu’ile. Tom is still alive, and his work is handled by Fischbach Gallery in New York.Anne, who grew up in privilege in Kentucky, had a remarkable openness of mind. Though her husband was a prominent Republican, she hosted a fundraiser at Presqu’ile for Democrat Frank Kratovil and said she “enjoyed her new Democratic friends.”

David grew up in beautiful surroundings and himself created beautiful surroundings. He saw the potential in Brooklyn factory buildings before it was fashionable. Eventually settling in California, he designed homes throughout the US. One of his designs is a spectacular sliver of a house perched on a ridge in Hilo, Hawaii. Now a vacation rental, called “The Falls at Reed’s Island” it is listed in the Frommer guide as one of the “top 15 rooms with a view”.

A few years after David’s death I saw that one of his home designs appeared in Architectural Digest. I took the magazine to Anne and left it with her. She was pleased to see it, but also, really unable to speak. We both realized that a talented person left the earth way too soon.

A while back, on a speaking trip to Chicago, I visited again with old friend Tom Welch. I learned with great sadness that he, a gay man, had been beaten up on the street. In David Morton’s 2003 NYT obituary Tom Cordell was listed as a partner. Now, in Babes’ 2017 obituary, Tom Cordell is listed as a surviving brother-in-law. That little detail said a great deal and pleased me.

Pamela Heyne is head of Heyne Design in Saint Michaels and author of In Julia’s Kitchen, Practical and Convivial Kitchen Design Inspired by Julia Child.

Letters to Editor

  1. Nancy Thompson says:

    The picture repeated in the article is not David Morton. Our families were very close from the time they moved here from Kentucky and I am very sure that picture is not of my dear friend. His mother and I visited him in Hilo just days before he was told of his cancer. The house design takes your breath away and I urge any of your reads to google it and enjoy. Nancy Thompson

    • Weekend Editor says:

      Editor’s note: Our apologies for not getting the right photo. We have replaced it with one of David’s renovated buildings in Brooklyn. If anyone has a photo of David, we hope you can share it with us.

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