To this period-perfect foundation O’Brien has added fascinating oddments that span a glamorous gamut from Deco to disco. At opposite ends of the living room, for example, a Chinese-style low table and a polished-steel cocktail table by Alberto Pinto are engaged in a genteel standoff. Selections from the dealer’s covetable furnishings line, Liz O’Brien Editions, hold their own, including a black-lacquer taboret cushioned in a dashing leopard-spot print and Queen Anne–style dining chairs dressed in an icy lavender twill.
O’Brien’s immersion in the world of decorative arts, so enchantingly on display here, was entirely accidental. She had wanted to be a writer but “didn’t like the isolation.” After college she landed a job at a New York City antiques shop and began hitting flea markets, reading old magazines and auction catalogues, and leafing through books in the library at the Cooper-Hewitt museum. Sotheby’s 1998 Andy Warhol estate sale marked the first time the autodidact saw Art Deco furnishings on a grand scale—and it was a life-changing event. “I remember in vivid detail the preview,” she says, “and seeing real Jean-Michel Frank chairs covered in Hermès leather. People like Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent were collecting in the ’60s and ’70s, a time when you could still buy the best of things.”
Though O’Brien’s comfortable retreat contains few conspicuous trophies, it does reference numerous high points of 20th-century taste. (“You shouldn’t let me talk about objects, or you’ll never leave,” she says apologetically.) Fashion and interiors photographer Horst owned the needlepoint chair in the dining room, and André Ostier snapshots of the grounds at Villa Trianon, decorator Elsie de Wolfe’s house in Versailles, hang in the master bedroom. “I knew the 18th-century dealers were going to be all over De Wolfe’s interiors albums when the photographs came up at an auction in California,” O’Brien explains, “so I bid on the garden one.”
Given that eagle eye, the dealer is often asked by friends what choice finds she has come across while nosing around the rolling Pennsylvania countryside. There haven’t been many, it turns out. O’Brien and her husband, Allentown attorney Michael Moyer—whom she met in the area four years ago and recently wed—prefer to play tennis and throw big dinner parties on their emerald-green lawn. They are actively involved with the Allentown Art Museum, and the Little League games of her ten-year-old stepson, Joshua, are also on the agenda. Treasure hunting, however, is largely out of the question. “My husband loves me,” O’Brien says, “but an antiques show would kill him.”