She admires a sculpture of a woman that is carelessly—and not unbecomingly—topped with a plastic shower cap ("It works!"). "My most important purpose is supporting young African-American artists. But after that, it's all about an eye party. Which is governed by my gut. By, what do I love? What do I think is amusing? What do I think is beautiful? I've never bought anything because it matches something else. Never!"

I ask what will come next. "I feel guilty if I'm not civically engaged," she says. "I was always taught that each generation has a responsibility to bring people along who are not as favored by virtue of birth. I don't know what my next phase is, but I can assure you my bond with art will never be severed. I love artists. I love, as I form my own thoughts, being informed by artists.

"People will say, oh, pull the plug, this aging is terrible. But one of the pleasures [of] aging is the ability to witness change. And change happens everywhere. It happens in the country, it happens in community, it happens in the family, and it happens individually. So I'm not afraid of the future. I'm very excited."

She gets a devilish look in her eye. "You know what else I want to say? That I'm single. And I'm available!"

I leave her in her bedroom—she is getting ready for an appointment—and walk downstairs. In the kitchen, a pot of shrimp curry sizzles on the stove. A little boy, the son of Mary Ann De Vera, the housekeeper, plays in the entryway. Cafritz's dogs, Gumbo and Hugs, run to greet Cooper, a tall, handsome teenager with an Afro and a British accent (he attends the British school here). When I ask him what he thinks about his mother's collecting, he looks amused. "Some of the art I really don't like. It depends on the year. There's a naked baby upstairs!"

Voices fill the front hall as a young Ellington graduate, Felix Osuchukwu, and his wife, Brendell, enter lugging a metal bust and two large canvases. Cafritz leans over the banister to talk. She compliments a painting, asks to see the bust from several angles and tells him it's fabulous, but suggests he remove the metal heart he's using as a base, "and then I might buy it!" They quibble—he doesn't want to make the change, but he'll consider it. She smiles warmly. This isn't really an argument, just part of the ongoing conversation that is the saving grace of art.

Next:Get Peggy's tips on how to start collecting

Interior Designer: Paul Siskin. Haircut and Style by: John Atchison, John Atchison Salon & Spa, New York City, Makeup: Marcella Johnstone for Ilo Day Spa,


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