Mica Ertegun, glamorous interior designer and philanthropist, dies at 97
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Mica Ertegun, glamorous interior designer and philanthropist, dies at 97
Ahmet and Mica Ertegun, at a gala in New York on June 3, 2003. Mica Ertegun, who fled from Communism in postwar Romania, ran a chicken farm in Canada, married a music-industry legend and became a doyenne of interior design, died at her home in Southampton, N.Y., on Dec. 2, 2023. She was 97. (Bill Cunningham/The New York Times)

by Robert D. McFadden

NEW YORK, NY.- Mica Ertegun, a New York doyenne of interior design who fled from communism in postwar Romania, ran a chicken farm in Canada, married a legend of American pop music and for 50 years dazzled her patrons with stylish decor, died Saturday morning at her home in Southampton, New York, on Long Island. She was 97.

Her death was announced by a friend, Linda Wachner.

More than a decade after the death of her husband of 45 years, Ahmet, a founder of Atlantic Records who reigned for five decades as one of the world’s most influential music magnates, national magazines still gushed over a couple that Vanity Fair called “the virtual definition of sophistication.”

Ertegun and socialite Chessy Rayner founded the interior design firm MAC II in 1967 (the initials stood for “Mica and Chessy”) and presided over the decor of sumptuous apartments and grand homes in North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. Her husband, meanwhile, helped shape the careers of megastars such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

As their twin fortunes multiplied, the Erteguns acquired palatial homes in Manhattan, Southampton, Paris and Bodrum, Turkey. They bought a 78-foot Turkish yacht for cruising the Mediterranean. They gave millions to charities, threw lavish parties and appeared regularly in gossip columns and society pages.

Together, they embraced a wide circle of friends from the worlds of music, business, theater, literature, the arts, politics and society. A celebrity-studded Ertegun dinner party might have included Jacqueline Onassis, Joan Didion, Kid Rock, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger.

While Ahmet Ertegun was building Atlantic Records into a global powerhouse, his wife, who never shared his passion for rock and soul music or his enthusiasm for nightclubs, threw herself into the business of interior designs for MAC II.

In their interiors, often described as austere and exotic or simple and elegant, furnishings were surrounded by a riot of modern or impressionist artworks. Their designs were featured in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, House & Garden and other magazines, and were often favorably reviewed in The New York Times and other news outlets.

In 1969, Ertegun and Rayner were retained by Saks Fifth Avenue to redecorate the flagship store’s entire fifth floor. They created a “Street of Shops,” with boutiques featuring Adolfo, Donald Brooks, Geoffrey Beene and Oscar de la Renta; a salon for the Bill Blass couture collection; and a “Park Avenue Room” for the creations of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and Pierre Cardin.

Ertegun designed the interiors of her own townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — where she pulled down the walls of three rooms to create a dramatic entertaining space filled with modern art and Russian, French and German antique furnishings — and for her 10-bedroom stone villa in Bodrum overlooking the Aegean Sea.

“That the home, and its mix of local marble, stone and wood and colorful Turkish textiles, feels as fresh decades after the renovation is a testament to the taste and talent of the Romanian-born Mrs. Ertegun,” the Times said in a 2010 profile of the designer and the whitewashed villa, which was a roofless ruin when the couple acquired it in the 1970s.

By the 1980s, MAC II was flourishing, with projects for artist Kenneth Noland, television producer Douglas Cramer, former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. New York penthouses, residential properties in Paris and Tel Aviv, Israel, and homes with ocean views were particular specialties of the design team.

Their partnership ended with Rayner’s death in 1998. But Ertegun continued her own design work into her 90s, decorating a Park Avenue duplex for Walmart heiress Alice Walton, an oceanfront mansion in Southampton for financier Leon Black, and two projects in Israel.

Ertegun, named to Architectural Digest’s AD100 Hall of Fame in 2017, was also a prominent fashion leader. She was named to the International Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1971, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired a collection of her gowns.

After Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006 of injuries suffered in a fall backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in Manhattan, his wife continued the couple’s philanthropies. In 2015, her $9 million gift created an atrium for Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2017, her $1.4 million pledge helped restore a substructure under the fourth-century Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, a site where, according to Christian traditions, the body of Christ was entombed. In recognition of that gift, she was named grand commander of the Holy Sepulcher by the patriarch of Jerusalem.

Her $41 million gift for humanities scholarships at the University of Oxford in 2012 was the largest of its kind in Oxford’s 900 years. In 2017, in recognition of her services to philanthropy, education and British-American cultural relations, Queen Elizabeth II made her an honorary commander of the Order of the British Empire.

“For Ahmet and for me, one of the great joys of life has been the study of history, music, languages, literature, art and archaeology,” Ertegun said at the time. “I believe it is tremendously important to support those things that endure across time and make the world a more humane place.”

Mica Ertegun was born Ioana Maria Banu in Bucharest, Romania, on Oct. 21, 1926, the only child of Natalia Gologan and Gheorghe Banu. Her father, who served in a 1930s Cabinet of King Carol II, was close to King Michael I during World War II, when Romania was at times allied with Adolf Hitler. Amid Allied air raids, Mica, as her German nurse called her, was sent to the family’s country estate.

In January 1948, after the king was forced to abdicate and her father was imprisoned by the new Communist government, Mica and Stefan Grecianu, an aristocrat 15 years her senior whom she had married when she was 16, were put on a train that carried the royal family into exile. Traveling on stateless refugee passports, the couple arrived, penniless, in Zurich.

Friends put them up for a year at the majestic Dolder Grand hotel, overlooking the Swiss Alps. Others paid their fares to Paris, where Mica got modeling jobs to support them. Later, more friends lent them money to move to Canada. They settled on a farm on the shore of Lake Ontario, where for eight years Mica helped to collect, wash and box the eggs of 5,000 chickens.

She went to New York City in the late 1950s to meet a Turkish diplomat who she thought might help free her father in Romania. The mission was unsuccessful, but at a dinner, she met Ahmet Ertegun, the son of Turkey’s former ambassador to Washington. A notorious playboy, recently divorced, he had founded Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in 1947 and now scoured nightclubs for musical talent.

Mica was charmed. Ahmet pursued her to Canada. She obtained a divorce, and in 1961, they were married in Manhattan.

“He was a man like nobody else,” she told Vanity Fair. “He was a man who fascinated me.” But his work with rock stars was a turnoff. “I knew opera,” she said. “But I didn’t know what I was listening to with him. Boom! Boom! Boom! After an hour, I said, ‘I can’t stand this!’”

No immediate family members survive.

The Erteguns settled into a whirl of social activity. She got to know, and like, many of her husband’s famous clients and their music. Ahmet Ertegun, for all his success, remained a nightclub habitue and a philanderer who did not try to hide his liaisons. Mica Ertegun, by her own account, remained a tolerant and forgiving wife.

“I never minded, because I knew it wasn’t against me,” she said. “I knew I was the best thing in his life.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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