Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Honoring the Greats: Billy Baldwin

"No matter how taste may change, the basics of good decorating remain the same: We're talking about someplace people live in, surrounded by things they like and that make them comfortable.  It's as simple as that." -Billy Baldwin

For the second installment of "Honoring the Greats", I am profiling New York City decorator, Billy Baldwin.  Known for a simple, refined palette, Baldwin decorated for some of the most well-known ladies in Manhattan during the mid 1900s, including Diana Vreeland and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He was a firm believer in surrounding yourself with things you love and he detested what he called, "the sterility of perfection"- saying that if you think you can spot a Billy Baldwin room, then it wasn't his. 

The living room above displays his iconic slipper chair style. Other Baldwin staples were cotton (he was, he claimed, one of its "most active promoters since World War II"); plain draperies, white plaster lamps; off-white and plaid rugs; pattern on pattern; geometrics; corner banquettes; dark walls (his legendary one-room Manhattan apartment was lacquered a style-setting high-gloss brown); Parsons tables wrapped with wicker (I certainly made a lady out of wicker", he once quipped); and straw, rattan, and bamboo. 
{Baldwin in his fabulous one-room Manhattan apartment}

Baldwin generally disdained the florid, Baroque and Rococo in favor of the clean-cut, hard-edged and pared-down.  Among his early influences were Frances Elkins, perhaps the most sophisticated decorator of her day, and Jean-Michel Frank, whom he described categorically as "the last genius of French furniture."

Baldwin's timeless triumph (he, too, considered it to be the coronet on his career) remains Cole Porter's Waldorf Towers apartment, with its decisive library of Directoire-inspired tubular brass floor-to-ceiling bookcase-etageres arrayed against lacquered tortoiseshell-vinyl walls:

More of these fabulous Directoire-style etageres flanked the walls in his Manhattan apartment:

Billy Baldwin was deeply inspired by Matisse's bold use of color.  In fact, he took inspiration from the Matisse painting hanging above the sofa below to design an expressive fabric called l'Arbre de Matisse.

{This living room also graces the cover of one of his coffee table books, Billy Baldwin Decorates}

{L'Arbe de Matisse gracing the walls in this powder bath}

For Baldwin, who was partial to plump deep-seated sofas and chairs, the ultimate luxury was comfort.  "First and foremost, furniture must be comfortable," he decreed.   "That is the original purpose of it, after all."  In addition to decorating, Baldwin also designed a line of furniture.  His furniture collection can be purchased through Ventry Ltd.  I love his studio sofa for it's versatility.  At one time it was considered large and luxurious, but by today's standards it's rather normal- 36"D x 84"W x 33"H:

See the complete Billy Baldwin furniture collection here.

Read more about Baldwin's life here.

Read the first installment of "Honoring the Greats," featuring Tommi Parzinger, here.


  1. Loved this little history lesson on one of my faves. He truly was a 'great'. His tuxedo sofa has been a long time favourite.

  2. I love this tribute -- especially the idea that furniture must be comfortable! I've fallen in the cool-but-uncomfortable trap before!

    x Lily

  3. Having studied interior Design and never having heard of Billy Baldwin this was a really interesting post. I've been loving your blog too, I'm a new reader. Your work is beautiful.

    I was even so interested by your post I did a quick google search to learn more about his career. And I'm pretty sure you plagiarized by pretty much copying and pasting a lot of your writing from an article on Architectural Digest. Please write your own posts or simply link us to the original article if you found it interesting. It's just not right to steal someone else's work and claim it as your own.

    Link to original Architectural Digest article - http://www.architecturaldigest.com/architecture/archive/baldwin_article_012000

    Not trying to be nasty at all, I visit your blog to read your thoughts and words instead of someone else's. I look forward to your next post!




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