Inside Bette Midler's Lush Manhattan Penthouse and Garden

bette midler
William WaldronThe entertainer and urban-garden activist cultivates a verdant and stylishly cozy world in the New York home she shares with her husband, Martin von Haselberg.
Text by Mitchell Owens | Photography by William Waldron | Produced by Carlos Mota

Bette Midler, the showbiz force of nature also known as the Divine Miss M, is spellbound by artisanal footnotes, those subtle details that are testaments to the human touch. Finely spaced stitches that secure a delicately ruffled lampshade to its metal skeleton. Fingerprints that bear witness to the intimate relationship between a potter and his clay. The poignant imperfections-smudges, saturations, overlaps-that occur when fabrics and wallpapers are stenciled or blocked one motif at a time.

"My mother was a great seamstress, really brilliant," Midler recalls on a spring afternoon at her Manhattan residence, an airy Fifth Avenue penthouse overlooking Central Park's sun-sparkled reservoir. "Because of her I've been crazy about textiles all my life. And my father painted houses for a living. I grew up around people who worked with their hands, so I love how you can see the care and affection that craftsmen pour into their creations." Her husband, Martin von Haselberg, an investor, performance artist, and collector, concurs, explaining that he is drawn to "really juicy paintings" with gutsy brushstrokes or rugged impastos, by somewhat-under-the-radar talents such as Roger Herman, Charles Karubian, and Hubert Schmalix. "We don't have any big names," he adds, in a tone that's anything but rueful. "We almost got a Francis Bacon but didn't have the stomach to go all the way at the auction."

Engaging textures are one reason the triplex apartment-where the couple raised their actress daughter, Sophie von Haselberg-has the coziness of a well-loved country house. Another is its Edenic wraparound terraces, conceived by Brian Sawyer of the New York architecture, interiors, and landscape firm Sawyer|Berson. Shell-pink 'Alchemist' roses and aubergine clematises clamber up brick walls, and foxgloves sway above emerald hostas. No peonies, though they are Midler's favorite: Their tendency to collapse in brisk winds makes them "the worst flowers to grow on a roof terrace," Sawyer says.

Glorious greenery has long been of the utmost importance to the Hawaii-born Midler, an ardent advocate for Mother Nature's beneficial effects on mind and body. The New York Restoration Project, or NYRP, which she founded, is a dynamic nonprofit whose volunteers revitalize forlorn parks and foster community gardens. (The NYRP has also planted, with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, some 834,000 trees, well on its way to the goal of one million by 2015, the group's 20th anniversary.)

"If you live in the kind of apartment that most people do, you'd want to go sit on a park bench too," Midler says, plainly impassioned. "I lived that way for years when I moved to New York." Now perhaps the lifelong go-getter could also work her magic on the city's architecture? "People suffer from the lack of light in this town," the entertainer professes, warming to the idea. "There aren't enough windows!"

That's not the case at Midler and Von Haselberg's penthouse, a mellow spot (it was once two apartments) that was remodeled by Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher and furnished with decorator Fernando Santangelo. Sunlight streams over a chipper jumble of periods and styles, thoughtfully acquired yet casually deployed. "I don't make a study of anything -- if I fall in love with something, I want it. For me, working in many media, it's hard to just do one thing," says Midler, whose latest triumph was a 2013 Broadway run as the notorious talent agent Sue Mengers in the play "I'll Eat You Last."



Read about Bette's home and restoration projects.

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noirinkelly

What a beautiful home certainly reflects who she is sunshine inside and outside

June 12 2014 at 2:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
luckydoc2

The CLASS of the LADY, is REFLECTED in the SOFT SPLENDOR of her PERSONAL L'il PARADISE_! _! _!

June 04 2014 at 1:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CAMERON

Breath taking views

June 03 2014 at 5:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Why not ask

I can remember my and my partner and sometimes I would take a client or two. She used to joke with the front row seat as the "AMERICAN EXPRESS" people... it cost plenty to sit there as I have paid $2,000 a seat to sit there.
I would do it all over again as we saw her as often as we could. She is the wind beneath my wings, and the movie Rose nearly put me under. I always wanted to say just hello to her, but so many people always around and didn't want to step into her space when it was her time to relax. I am so happy for her. She is Devine........David

June 02 2014 at 6:27 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
no1chef99david

Always loved her acting and singing talents and now her garden talents as well. This lady is not getting any older to me just getting better at everything she does. Thank you Bette for all the years of shareing your talent, may you a long and happy life.

June 02 2014 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NCRL08

Very nice !!

June 02 2014 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
happy2bgridfree

It really is Paradise. My idea of New York Heaven :-) She earned it and deserves every blissful minute she spends there. I love Bette Midler.

June 02 2014 at 3:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
devonstreerboys

I love Bette , her place is out of this world....Bette is such a great person, she does so much for others in New York (HER CITY!!!!!)-Rick Morris

June 02 2014 at 3:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Wow! She has certainly worked for all that. I have seen everything Bette has done in NYC since 1979 . . . I've never seen a performer who gives more to their audience, truly. Mazel Tov!!!

June 02 2014 at 3:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
lusan140

ONE OF MY MOST FAVORITE ENTERTAINERS-LOVED HER SONG TO JOHNNY CARSON AND BARBARA WALTERS ON THEIR EXIT!!

June 02 2014 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lusan140's comment
Sportster1

Bette is a great singer and performer. One of television's greatest moments is when she sang to Johnny Carson. Who had a dry eye after that?

June 08 2014 at 9:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply