A Pop of Red: In Memory of Albert Hadley

March 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ugh. I feel simply terrible today, as I just learned that one of the most important and beloved interior designers of the 20th (and 21st) century, Albert Hadley, has died. You may not necessarily know his name, but trust me, there isn’t a well-turned out contemporary room that wasn’t influenced by his incredible talent, both during his years working with Sister Parish at the legendary Parish Hadley, or at his own firm formed after Sister’s death, Albert Hadley, Inc. And there are many, many well-known designers working today that started out under his wings, including Bunny Williams, David Easton, Mariette Hines Gomez and Thom Felicia. (Yes, the one from that TV show a few years back.)

For an excellent account of Mr. Hadley’s life and work, I highly recommend Albert Hadley: The Story of America’s Preeminent Interior Designer by Adam Lewis. I think I read it all in one day, and regularly refer to it for a little inspiration when decorating my own rooms:

Aside from a marvelous collection of the work, Mr. Lewis gives the reader a very full biography of the designer and a real sense of his approach to living. Notions that work as well in decorating as they do in daily life: Suitability, comfort, and hospitality. And beauty. Definitely beauty.

I also suggest two other books if you want to go a little deeper. They are a tad harder to get one’s hands on, but do give Alibris a shot:

Parish Hadley: Fifty Years of American Decorating by Sister Parish, by Christopher Petkanas and Christopher Perkins


Albert Hadley: Drawings and the Design Process by Mark Hampton, Mario Buatta, David Easton, Mariette Hines Gomez and Bunny Williams

The first is a survey of the work of the venerable Parish Hadley. If you grew up in the seventies and eighties and wondered what all that chintz, wicker and needlework was all about, Parish Hadley was the beginning of the style in the States. (Sister started the company during the Depression.) But a closer look at the work reveals how much of a modernist Mr. Hadley was, even in the confines of the classic “Sister” style. And there is also an excellent chance you will recognize some of the rooms, including his famous library done for Brooke Astor. Every new red library owes a debt to this one.

The second is a book based on a lecture Mr. Hadley gave at the New York School of Interior Design some years ago. It is filled with wonderful sketches of Mr. Hadley’s work and the accompanying text provides additional insight into how he conceived a space. There are also excellent essays by some of his colleagues, including Mark Hampton and Bunny Williams, that gives us a peek into what the designer himself was like. I found an autographed copy of this last year and will treasure it a little bit more as of today.

Now, if you are wondering about the title of my post, well, Mr. Hadley was known for a number edicts on design — including a recent urging of designers to move on from the beige rooms that have been so popular in the last ten years or so. But it is possible that his best known rule was that every room should have “a pop of red”. And I could not agree more. In fact, as I looked around the house today, it appears as if the command has been internalized…

The bar, which is like three inches from the dining area in case things are looking familiar to you. (And no, Mr. H and I aren’t always boozing it up, but you need to have variety.)

The kitchen, on top of an open cart which also contains a number of bright red cookware. (Yes, sometimes I buy things simply because they are adorable. These cherries count, but we will also use them in cocktails. Until then, they stay visible.)

And a part of the living room. The candle, a gift, is by Frederick Malle and is available at Barney’s.

I would be remiss of I didn’t mention one of the things I admired most about Albert Hadley:  His apparent professionally generosity. Design — all forms — is a pretty cutthroat business. Even when you are on top, you are either too busy with work, or too concerned with staying on top (or both) to take the time to contribute to the profession as a whole. That never seemed to be the case with him. From forwards in books, to encouraging employees to spread their wings, I get the sense that “what’s in it for me” didn’t come up much in the way he conducted himself — an increasingly rare thing.

Maybe this was because Mr. Hadley was a member of The Greatest Generation.  (Yes, he fought in World War II, and then when right back to decorating.)  Maybe it was because he was — without a whiff of irony  — “A True Southern Gentleman”.  Maybe it was that he simply knew that someone doesn’t have to lose for you to win. My guess is that it was a product of all of these things, and his death makes me a little wistful for a world filled with more of that way of being.


(Photos: Some Cozy Night.)

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