Decorator George Stacey Recognized in New Book

March 29, 2014 | by Erin Riley

Interior designer Maureen Footer releases the first book on one of the most influential decorators of the 20th century, George Stacey.

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic by Maureen Footer.

“His story mirrored the emergence of America as a world power,” says Maureen Footer on the subject of her new book from Rizzoli, George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic, which hits shelves April 1. This extravagant volume is the first on one of the most brilliant—and sparsely documented—decorators of the 20th century. It traces the path of his groundbreaking career—first as a student and antiques dealer in Paris studying decorative arts and living la vie bohème, then, upon his return to the United States, as the innovator of a new template of American chic that would inspire names like Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, and Mario Buatta.
In the 1930s, when American interior design was freeing itself from European models, George Stacey’s indifference toward convention resonated with the nation’s emerging tastes—particularly with those of “the smart set” who wanted something chic, effortless, and never seen before. “His confident spontaneity, willingness to mix, and use of ad hoc pieces precipitated today’s design environment where mixing and experimentation are givens,” says Footer. Stacey’s innate understanding to do just the right thing in just the right manner was “a link between American cultural deference to European classicism.”

While his name is closely associated with clients like the Astors, Whitneys, Warburgs, and Paleys, and such actresses as Grace Kelley and Ava Gardner, “over time one very important client was overlooked—ironically it was Diana Vreeland, the least forgettable person imaginable!” Footer exclaims. Vreeland, with her penchant for scouting out new talent, spotted Stacey shortly after his first commission, the art moderne Monticello on Long Island for the Ward Cheneys (pioneering silk manufacturers), and commissioned the 33-year-old decorator for her apartment at 400 Park Avenue. This was the start of a great friendship; for Stacey would go on to decorate her country home, as well as many of the backdrops for her Harper’s Bazaar fashion shoots.

Unlike legends William Pahlmann and Billy Baldwin, Stacey never released a book encapsulating his work. While this proved challenging for Footer, it also made for a fascinating journey. “There is no master archive where one might sit for a week and comb through boxes, all beautifully organized with a finding aid and sub files,” Footer explains. Instead, recreating Stacey meant scouring through town records, ship manifests, and army records, as well as paging through hundreds of back issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town and Country and traveling to the British, Paris, and Monaco Palace archives.

For Footer, an experimental classicist herself, “understanding classical precepts and developing a connoisseur’s eye affords the freedom to reinterpret in an elegant and relevant manner.” After practicing design for six years, Footer traveled to Paris to study 18th-century French decorative arts and design at the École du Louvre. It was here that she honed her own highly regarded aesthetic. “I was trained to examine every object as a reflection of a culture, and assess its importance by how it progresses an idea,” says Footer, and it is for this reason that she chose George Stacey as the subject for her first book. “While design’s vocabulary changes over time, the grammar of good design endures and makes contemporary design better.”