Robert Bray: Six Designs for a Playboy Penthouse Pad

Robert Bray (1940), Drawing of Living Area in which ‘you are standing in the foyer of our duplex penthouse, looking toward the living-room area …. In front of the fireplace wall are leather Domino Chairs; behind them, a multipaneled abrasion proof painting covers an array of audio and video equipage’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, 393 × 577 mm. DMC 2640.4.

Published in 1970, fourteen years after the first Playboy Pad of 1956, and with ‘a new decade dawning’, this penthouse design by Robert Bray was presented as ‘the pinnacle of urban living’, combining ‘the latest technological and architectural advances with an idea as old as the hills’: Roman houses that were built around an open atrium or courtyard. The penthouses were meant ‘to appeal to the urban bachelor who believes a man’s home is not only his castle, but an outward reflection of his inner self, a place where he can live, love and be merry, entertain friends with parties big and small, play poker with cronies from the office, or relax alone with a fond companion’. Drawn in a style that seems a simultaneous exercise in graphic and interior design, Bray’s duplex centres around a two-storey atrium, roofed with a motorised skylight. The first floor was designed for more gregarious pursuits, while the upper floor was designated to intimate activities and an unroofed patio from which to enjoy the sun and stars.

Robert Bray (1940), Kitchen which ‘features the ultimate in culinary conveniences. Foodstuffs not needing refrigeration are stored in the wall by means of the vertical conveyor belt seen through the open cabinet door. Above the digital clock is the push-button-operated screen onto which recipes can be rear-projected’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, 355 × 395 mm. DMC 2640.1.

Billed as ‘coolly elegant urban’ with ‘intimate privacy’ combined with ‘architectural spaciousness’ the design was seemingly a seeming reaction to what at the time Playboy called ‘architectural serenity and spatial sculpturing, to gain a sense of quiet-private interior vistas’ – evident in the clean, bold, painterly style and strong perspectival views of the drawings themselves. Italian-designed, aluminium spun Torino chairs and table, leather covered Domino chairs, and a lacquered Knoll cocktail table furnish the living area and the ‘sunken talk pit’. And the most advanced audio-electronic accoutrements – an Italian designed Brionvega AM/FM hi-fi unit – are concealed in cabinetry and behind multi-panelled, abrasion-proof abstract paintings that open with a remote control. Such sumptuous interiors – echoed in the sumptuous gouache of the paintings – attested to the ideal lifestyle of the affluent man of taste.

Robert Bray (1940), Master Bedroom, in which the ‘focal point … is a sunken king-sized bed with molded fiberglass frame. Behind the abstract panel is a battery of projectors that can turn the room into an electric circus of colors either far out or romantic. Wardrobe needs are stored nearby in dustproof closets.’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, image 385 × 572 mm, backing board 490 × 730 mm. DMC 2640.5.
Robert Bray (1940), Master Bedroom Audio Wall, in which built in are ‘color TV, tape, cassette, and LP gear, video-tape recorder and a two-way audio visual closed circuit hookup that enable instant communication with anyone, anywhere in the pad’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, image 310 × 390 mm × backing board 555 × 763 mm mm. DMC 2640.6.
Robert Bray (1940), Multimirrored Master Bath, ‘located on the second floor … and which features a sunken soak tub set in a radiant-heated black-slate floor. Area beyond is a terrace; others house sauna, shower and lavatory.’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, image 450 × 450 mm. DMC 2640.3.

As the research project and exhibition Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979 led by Beatriz Colomina demonstrated, sex, architecture and design intertwined here against the backdrop of the Cold War and the cataclysmic events and political unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Kent State, the moon landing, Vietnam, the emergence of feminism and the pill, the oil crisis, and a culture of James Bond movies, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to Diamonds are Forever.

Robert Bray (1940), Patio, for ‘[w]hen our man about town wishes to leave the comfortable confines of his kinetic bedchamber, he can stroll onto his private patio-terrace, kindle a blaze in the fireplace and listen to his choice of sounds on his Italian-designed stereo set’, featured in Playboy Magazine, January 1970. Gouache on board, 495 × 550 mm. DMC 2640.2.