BRONSON VAN WYCK IS ABOUT TO publish a 250-page, photo-driven book called Born to Party, Forced to Work (Phaidon), but do not for one second think he is a Lost Boy desperate to recapture the gritty glamour of Studio 54. It is true that he built a ruin of a Doric temple inside an abandoned iron-smelting factory on Mykonos last year and hosted a “Homeric Ball” for 400 friends in celebration of his 44th birthday. It may be more to the point that Van Wyck sent his guests a reading list of books about Greek gods and goddesses so they could prepare to be heroic. Duran Duran performed. The party ended at dawn. It was a spectacular event—but that’s true of every party in the book.
The event planner with a client list that starts with A-list socialites and rapidly ascends to corporations and billionaires was Dionysus that night. That was a rare exception from his norm. His family’s idea of a first summer job for him was to have him pull red-rice plants from the sweltering fields of their Tuckerman, Arkansas, farm. He was educated at Groton, alma mater of several generations of Roosevelts. At Yale, after he hosted his first party—a tribute to Edie Sedgwick, the doomed Andy Warhol superstar—a friend gave him a copy of Edie: American Girl, and said, “You need to read this before you become this.” He got the message and photographed the 1992 election for the Clintons before spending a year as protocol aide to Pamela Harriman, the U.S. ambassador to France. He became an event planner by accident—a friend needed help with her wedding, and Van Wyck, his mother, and his sister pitched in. Exhausted but excited, they launched a business built on the simplest, yet most difficult to execute, idea: hospitality, which they define as “helping people make other people feel good.” Two decades later, Van Wyck & Van Wyck and its sister company, Workshop, have almost 50 employees between them.
“A party without sensuality is tea, and no great night starts with a cup of tea.”
BRONSON VAN WYCK
“The scent in the room, the texture of the tablecloth—90 percent of what we do isn’t noticed by guests, and yet it elevates their experience,” he says.
This also applies to his home, a former tae kwon do studio in an 1883 Western Union building overlooking Madison Square Park that he noticed because “it was between my old apartment and my shrink.” He gutted the 2,400-square-foot space, created an apartment with two hallways that are 100 feet long, and, with a friend, began to paint. Sixteen tints later, the color of the living room walls makes you feel as if you are inside a cloud.
Piles of books on furniture announce that a serious reader lives here. There is also a massive piece of unusual art: a map of England, with numbers linked to entries in a royal diary. How did Van Wyck separate it from the royal family? “David Linley, the furniture designer and 2nd Earl of Snowdon, was selling artifacts at auction to pay death duties,” he explains. “Three months later, the royal archivist called: ‘We hear that you have the map.’ I said, ‘And you have the diary.’”
The map overlooks a Regency dining table that expands to seat 26. It, too, has provenance: the British officers’ mess on St. Helena. Must you even ask if Napoleon dined on it during his exile there? (He did.) Beside it is a window with wooden doors that connects the dining area to the kitchen. If it seems too small for food service, it’s because it was a folly, created for the cat. That pet, now dead, has been replaced by a dog named Cat.
Corporate events are corporate investments. Hosts of private events often replay them on social media. When Van Wyck entertains at home, there’s no publicity, but the bottom line is the same: “Once the guests know you care, you’ve got them.”
So lighting matters. A different scent in each room matters. Just the right amount of romance matters: “A party without sensuality is tea, and no great night starts with a cup of tea,” Van Wyck says.
And perhaps a gift. I was not allowed to leave our conversation without a bottle of 21 Seeds, a sipping tequila—he’s an investor—and a copy of Less, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by Andrew Sean Greer. Good spirits and spirited thoughts: These are Van Wyck’s signatures.