Maureen Dowd's blood-red den

Photograph by Michael Arnaud, styling by Rebecca Omweg

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Maureen's favorite spot is the second-floor den, whose walls match the blood in a French poster for the 1948 Maureen O'Sullivan movie The Big Clock. "It's a bit macabre," she says, smiling slyly. That's what gives the house's prettiness an edge: Maureen loves old films, but she goes for the dark melodrama, not the fluffy musical. "I love the style of film noir," she says. "The women were always Trouble with a capital T, and the guys said things like ‘quite the hacienda.' The clothes are sleek and sumptuous; the mood is sexy and mysterious."

Then there are her ironic minutiae—collections upon collections (like the Russian nesting dolls from Times reporters), much of them movie-related, the rest anything that combines fantasy and femininity. Maureen's shelves are filled with images of glamour girls like Brigitte Bardot, and the Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio wedding-day photo that got a New York Times editor demoted in 1954 on account of the movie star's sexily parted lips.

And everywhere are books (her favorites are by Jane Austen and Edith Wharton). No wonder West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, whom Maureen once dated, told New York magazine that her house was "a cross between the New York Public Library and the House of the Rising Sun."