Awash in a punchy palette, the Dakota Jackson dining room table (with leaves) comfortably seats sixteen. Vintage buffet hails from Amerika in Lambertville; decoupaged cloches by John Derian/NYC; Baby/Bath 2003 painting by Vincent Desederio; reverse-painted art glass chandelier by Ulla Darni; grape area rug designed by Jerry Rose and Carpet Cove in Summit.
The family room’s modern aesthetic is anchored by an electric blue Knoll sofa; red leather Dakota Jackson chairs; an oversized suede coffee table; and amusing British prints from Shed in Maplewood. Room design by Judy King Interiors, Princeton.
Tabletop topiaries, cut floral arrangements, and perennial borders contribute vibrant color and a happy vibe to the get-together. Tin lanterns and a custom-designed, copper-top table make for elegant outdoor dining.
Guests gather under the sun-drenched pergola for irridescent cocktails in a spectrum of colors. Passed hors d'oeuvres include smoked salmon on potato pancakes, and beet-infused risotto timbales with crème fraiche. The terrace is outfitted with a melange of stone tables, metal chairs, and planters overflowing with annuals and ivy.
Fruity cocktails in funky glasses, garnished with sugar-dipped citrus, are the order of the day at this stylish South Orange gallery-in-a-home.
An edible butterfly candy keeps watch over chocolate mousse, presented in an eggshell—and resting upon a chocolate nest garnished with spun sugar.
Dazzling tablescapes and high-impact vignettes abound, with fresh flowers and other visual surprises around every corner.
Step into the eclectic South Orange residence of Patricia Bell—art collector, philanthropist, asset manager for Merrill Lynch, and consummate hostess—and you’ll instantly be enveloped by hundreds of avant-garde paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
Everywhere you look are quirky, one-of-a-kind examples of creative genius.
A shelved wall of Michael Anchin giraffe-necked vases—that Bell describes as “Dr. Seussical”—sets the tone for the distinctively whimsical home. Steps away is an intriguing colection of smile-coaxing Tom Nussbaum sculptures, a unique self portrait by photographer Gillian Wearing, and a fully stocked bar. And you haven’t made it past the foyer yet.
For many of New Jersey’s design-conscious and community-minded, Bell’s residence is party central. The home’s hybrid architectural style can be described only as arts-and-crafts-meets-SoHo. Loaded to the gills with objets d’art and funky furniture, the space is an explosion of color—pops of green, orange, purple, red, and blue. One never knows what to expect when invited to this surprising gallery-in-a-home, and that’s what makes it the hottest ticket in town.
It’s Party Time!
Few people throw a bash like Pat Bell. Her soirées, like her taste in art, are eclectic and over the top. Those fortunate enough to attend “a party at Pat’s” are treated to a memorable experience, delivered in her cool and unruffled style.
Each year Bell hosts 15 to 20 events; some are lavish gatherings for eighty, while others are ad-hoc get-togethers for just a few couples. Guests include friends, neighbors, and clients—and about half of her celebrations are strictly philanthropic.
It’s commonplace for this entertainer extraordinaire to donate a catered event to a school or non-profit organization. In fact, last year one of Bell’s posh cocktail parties for 25 people, pulled off with the help of Jerry Rose Floral and Event Design (jerryrose.com) and her caterer of choice, David Ellis Events (davidelliscatering.com), garnered $7,000 during a live auction for the Connie Dwyer Breast Center.
“That cocktail party was spectacular,” she beams. “Jerry Rose donated the flowers, David Ellis contributed the food, and I supplied the wine. It was a wonderful collaboration, and we went all out.”
Bell reveals that the David Ellis staff knows her kitchen better than she does. “Although I do know how to cook, I like to be an attentive hostess, and that means being completely present for my guests,” says Bell. “I like to serve either heavy hors d’oeuvres—or light appetizers followed by a buffet—so the David Ellis staff is here a lot.”
Bell is widely known for her selections of fine wine, and often donates cases to charitable events. She regularly consults with Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino (amantivino.com) in Montclair for guidance in stocking her cellar. (It’s actually a garage re-purposed as a top-of-the-line, temperature-controlled, above-ground cellar that holds 9,000 bottles. But that’s another story.)
This hostess’s tips for a successful soirée? “I try to set an atmosphere of fun and frivolity. Sometimes I ask a deejay to play a little Eric Clapton, and maybe some Elton John, Suzanne Vega, and Sheryl Crow. On New Year’s Eve, the outside of the house was decorated with huge mylar balloons and red and yellow streamers, and the dining room was gorgeous in silver and white.”
But Bell doesn’t overthink her parties. “I typically don’t offer planned activities, because guests simply like to walk around and enjoy the artwork on both floors,” she says. Bell acknowledges that repeat partygoers have learned to watch their step—because every nook and cranny of the home is loaded with suspended art or carefully balanced sculpture.
Besides the “welcome bar” in her foyer, Bell also maintains a seasonal bar in her pool solarium. “One of the best events I ever hosted was a swim party for tweens and teens,” says Bell, the mother of a grown son. “We served Tex-Mex food, and the kids liked it so much, they asked me to do it again.”
She adds, “My mother loved to entertain, my step-mother throws great parties, and my dad has always been the perfect host—so entertaining just comes naturally to me.”
After spending time with this effervescent patron of the arts who surrounds herself with vibrant color, one can’t help but wonder why her very chic personal wardrobe is exclusively black. “That’s a throwback to my early years when I always wore black as I scouted around SoHo for art. But I do tend to go wilder with my eyewear and accessories,” Bell admits.
Passion for Her Profession
When it comes to the local contemporary art scene, few collectors are as enthusiastic as Bell. She maintains one of the state’s largest collections of work by emerging New Jersey artists, and her philanthropic efforts are widely respected.
Bell recently was honored with 2009 Garden State Humanitarian and “Girl Who Gets It” awards. She is a trustee on the boards of the Center for Visual Arts, Montclair Art Museum, Garden State Arts Center Foundation, and the Aljira Center for Contemporary Art in Newark. Besides her formal roles in the art community, she personally underwrites many public and private events.
“It’s important not only to introduce people to contemporary art, but to the artists who produce it,” she says.
Although Bell lives and breathes art, she confides that her “passion” is her profession, through which she earns the resources to fuel her collecting and philanthropy.
As senior vice president of investments for Merrill Lynch in Short Hills, Bell manages almost a half-billion dollars in assets. She consistently has appeared on Barron’s annual list of top 100 U.S. financial advisors, and over the last three years, she was ranked in the top 20 (3rd, 5th, and 16th respectively) among all female advisors in the country. This year, she celebrates 30 years in business—another reason to throw a party.
“My father is a successful businessman and he always encouraged me. Even at a young age, he said I could accomplish whatever I wanted,” Bell says. “Today, my passion is solving problems for my clients—and doing that well helps me earn a living so that I can continue to support talented, emerging artists.”
Home is Where the Art is
Pat Bell’s eye for art is as keen as her eye for investments. A significant portion of her noteworthy collection is acquired from local sources. A favorite is a contemporary, 30,000-square-foot space in Newark devoted to emerging as well as established artists who don’t have gallery representation.
“Rupert Ravens Contemporary Art Gallery at 85 Market is part of Newark’s revitalization. Rupert brings certain pieces to me because he knows what I like. While some galleries limit themselves to specific genres, he showcases work unlike anyone else’s,” says Bell. Other favorite haunts include Aljira (aljira.org) in Newark; Andy Foster’s Gallery 51 (gallery51.org) in Montclair; Arts Unbound (artsunbound.org) in Orange; Like the Spice (likethespice.com) in Brooklyn; and BravinLee programs (bravinlee.com) in Chelsea.
Given her professional investment background, one might think that Bell is into collecting for profit. Not so. “I don’t buy anything I don’t like, and never have. I trust my own instincts, and I have to see the artist’s sensitivity in each piece,” she says. “If it appreciates in value, that’s just an extra dividend.”
As for Bell’s own artistic ability, she admits, “The most I’ve personally achieved in the art world is drawing stick figures.” Despite that fact, when it comes to spotting New Jersey’s most promising up-and-coming artists, Bell’s eye is second to none.
Favorite NJ Artists to Watch
“I love new things, and always find a spot for the pieces I love,” says Pat Bell. “When I’m surrounded by all this wonderful work, it’s like living with the souls of the artists.”
Each month, as fresh—and sometimes massively large artwork—arrives at her home, Gabrielle Pulls, Bell’s housekeeper of 17 years, equips herself with an electric drill, a level, and a keen eye. As pieces leave the home, they often are loaned or contributed to non-profit organizations, such as the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
“I’m fortunate to live in this state because we have so many wonderful artists,” says Bell. “I like what’s in my backyard.” To keep au courant with the local art scene, get acquainted with some of her favorites:
Willie Cole, Mine Hill, multi-dimensional
Tom Nussbaum, Montclair, sculptor
(tomnussbaum.com)—profiled on page 46.
Claire Rosen, Montclair, photographer
Margaret Murphy, Jersey City, painter (margaret-murphy.com)
Lisa Pressman, West Orange, painter
Marcia Kure, Princeton, painter/collage artist
Wayne Roth, Mountain Lakes, digital artist/photographer (2face.com)
Nancy Tobin, Maplewood, collage painter (nancytobin.com)
Dan Fenelon, Madison, painter
Jordan Eagles, Short Hills, painter/installationist (jordaneagles.com)