12/18/08 4:17pm

SOUTHAMPTON HOUSE OF 48,762 CUBIC ZIRCONIAS Give him another 18 months to finish it, Dr. Anthony Walter tells reporter Kate Murphy, and he’ll open the Grand Hall in his Southampton home to the public for tours. A few church groups have already seen it: “‘People are just astounded.’ Indeed, it’s hard not to gape at a gilt and mirrored hall so boisterously baroque that you half expect Marie Antoinette to appear and offer you cake. Lighted by sparkling chandeliers, the hall is 100 feet by 25 feet, with a soaring 22-foot-high coffered ceiling in gilt and lacquer. The walls are embellished with gilt cherubs, roses, feathers, foliage and birds. Enormous and richly hued paintings in elaborate jeweled frames depict romantic, mythological and biblical scenes. . . . Dr. Walter said he tried to interest curators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in his project, perhaps to make it a satellite decorative arts museum, but ‘they could care less.’ One of the museum’s curators, Emily Neff, said she had visited his home but wasn’t able to spend much time there and thus had no comment. He said their reaction was understandable, given that the museum’s collection includes abstract art, which he disdains. ‘I am a huge threat because what I have done renders everything they have junk,’ he said beneath the glinting chandeliers in his great hall. ‘I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but the reaction of people who come in here tells me the power of it.’” [New York Times; slide show]