Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caryl writes: The King of Understated Chic

This past weekend I went to an auction preview, a kind of retirement sale for the dean of American decorators and a man who loved bold colors, Albert Hadley. At 93, Hadley has closed his office and opened the warehouse where he kept furniture and rugs, mirrors and lamps, paintings and porcelain, fabrics for curtains--he never called them drapes-- for his celebrity clientele to "shop". The auctions –the one I previewed was in Hudson, N.Y, the others are at Sotheby’s in New York City, even include a few of his personal items. Among his first commissions, Hadley and his partner—the queen to his king---Sister Parrish—decorated the Kennedy White House. In the years following he included among his clients such bold face names as Brooke Astor, Babe Paley, Annette and Oscar De La Renta, Jacqueline Onassis, Diane Sawyer, even the Duchess of York. A modest man with oversized owl-eyed glasses and a shy demeanor, he once said: “I believe deeply that a beautiful decor can have a beneficial influence on our life.”

Last year I renovated our family loft. This year I am starting to decorate it---slowly, cautiously, minimally--the latter not so much a design mantra as a fiscal necessity. Although I am not quite yet an empty nester, I am looking forward to a grown-up apartment--sophisticated yet comfortable, reflecting my travels and evolving tastes. Mostly what I want to do after a lifetime of neutrals is embrace color, step away from my palette that ran from white (my spring/summer slipcovers) to khaki (fall/winter ones.)

Hadley probably wouldn’t have liked my formerly neutral-colored loft. He said dismissively of the generation of interior decorators that came after him: “They’re all doing beige rooms.” Hadley celebrated color, like the just-right blue hue in his personal library (right). Me? I am terrified of grey. So I went to the auction preview looking for ideas, inspiration . . .courage! There were big chintz-covered sofas ("Deep, downy upholstery is what I've always been about,” Hadley said.), regal canopied beds (not for me), chandeliers (one with whimsical chickens, another all shimmering crystal), mirrors and paintings (though he would leave the walls bare rather than pick out art for his clients). Each item seemed perfectly chosen for what it was—and no doubt for where Hadley had intended it to live. His favorite interior design aphorism? "Suitability. Suitability. Suitability."

I am not sure any of the pieces to be auctioned will work for my less than grand industrial loft but I like the idea of mixing it up. A few things caught my eye—the bright coral mirror (left), and the low estimates for bids made my heart skip a bit. I am planning to go to the auction next weekend. I’m not sure I’ll bid on anything. I’m timid about more than color. If I only I could ask the King for advice. I suspect he would encourage me not to think too hard or too long about what to do with my home: "Make your house as comfortable and as attractive as possible and then go on with living,” Hadley told his fans and followers. "There's more to life than decorating." Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Hadley.

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