The Devoted Classicist, April 4, 2014, full article
There is a wonderful new book just published, GEORGE STACEY AND THE CREATION OF AMERICAN CHIC, that will be a ‘Must Have’ for all interested in influential twentieth century interior design. Maureen Footer, the author who is also an interior designer, and Mario Buatta, the living legend who wrote the Forward, both relate how George Stacey helped them formulate their own design aesthetic. And the last chapter shows examples of work by today’s well-known designers and how they are influenced as well. Students of interior design might be familiar with George Stacey’s philosophy from his writings; articles from 1941 and 1942 issues of Vogue are reprinted in an Appendix as is the text from his chapter in the immensely popular 1964 book, THE FINEST ROOMS BY AMERICA’S GREATEST DECORATORS.
Most of the book, however, is devoted to showing and discussing the work of the talented Mr. Stacey. Great praise is due Maureen Footer for her research, providing extensive and informative End Notes (far too uncommon these days) and a wealth of interesting photographs. One theme that is repeated several times was the exceptional interiors Stacey created for particularly stylish female clients. The homes of film star Ava Gardner, Brenda Frazier (Debutante of the Century), Mrs. Anthony Drexel Duke, Blanche Levy (Bill Paley’s sister), Lil Isles, Marie Harriman, Betsey Whitney, and Minnie Astor all benefitted from the stylishly edited interiors by George Stacey. In addition, the book goes into detail to present the homes, usually plural, of several clients who were confident enough to receive the full benefit of Stacey’s talent.
The apartment that Stacey decorated for Diana (“dee AHN a”) Vreeland and her family at 400 Park Avenue was used as the set for fashion photo shoots for Harper’s Bazaar in the late 1930s. Light colored walls, ebonized floors, lacquered doors and accents such as blackamoors and Regency convex mirrors promoted the edict of the times: high style, high contrast, and perfect scale. (Some readers might remember Vreeland’s next apartment, at 550 Park Avenue, where Stacey’s fabric-festooned mirror and other furnishings were re-purposed by Billy Baldwin). The Devoted Classicist’s favorite Vreeland room, however, was the living room of their country house in Brewster, New York. The wood paneled walls and trim of the double-height room were painted a bold cyclamen pink, unusual for interiors at the time but identified with the fashions of Schiaparelli. A sheet of mirror with a narrow frame was affixed to the wall above the 19th-century carved white marble Italianate chimneypiece with a polar bear skin rug laid on the Besarabian carpet. Large white lampshades punctuated the space anchored by a large sofa in a floral slipcover. A basket of firewood, lots of accent cushions, books, magazines, plants, a butler’s tray fully stocked with liquor, and even a white furry dog all added up to create the kind of room still cherished today. (This photo of the room was not supplied from the publisher, but is a very similar image from the Louise Dahl-Wolfe Archive).
Around the same time, Stacey began to be involved in the decoration of a series of residences for Mr. and Mrs. Ward Cheney. Unlike the Vreelands, the Cheneys seemed to have an endless supply of money. And Frances Cheney had the confidence to trust Stacey’s judgment, with their new Fifth Avenue duplex apartment becoming one of the most glamorous residences of its time. Dramatically presented art and antiques combined with comfortable upholstery, the Cheney apartment was also used as the location for Harper’s Bazaar fashion shoots, a design story for Town & Country, and a lifestyle feature for Vogue.
The master bedroom was dominated by the bed. No frame or fabric was exposed, only gigantic bullion fringe which created a half tester canopy with valance, backdrop, and pulled-back side panels as well as a bed skirt, all of the twisted/braided trim made to the length required. A Venetian style chandelier was suspended by a sheath of silk from the ceiling covered in squares of mirror held by mirrored discs. Textural contrast was provided by an impossibly shaggy, room-sized rug of string. Papier-mache chairs inlaid with mother-of-pearl provided shots of black accents and contributed to the exotic effect. Tailored curtains framed the windows with the urban views softened by lace under-curtain panels. The apartment’s decoration was a grand expression of high-rise luxury before World War II.
Stacey decorated for Mrs. Stanley “Babe” Mortimer as he did for others who searched out style with a budget in mind. But when she became Mrs. William Paley, wife of the head of the CBS Television empire, that all changed in regard to costs. The expanded colonial house at Kiluna Farm on Long Island was re-imagined as a Belle Epoque country villa by Stacey for Babe Paley, a Francophile. Her bedroom was furnished almost entirely in French furniture.
A one-time Vogue model, Mrs. Paley is shown on an extravagantly large, tufted sofa, like those Stacey used for Babe’s sister Betsey Whitney at Greentree, the adjacent estate. (Jock Whitney was tall and the sofa model became an often-used feature of Parish-Hadley’s rooms for tall clients as it was so luxuriously comfortable). A floral carpet provided the foundation for a black lacquer Louis XV desk, an assortment of caned and painted Louis XV chairs, blackamoors, black papier-mache tables, and crenelated tab curtain valances reminiscent of continental pavilions. (A special pair of boudoir chairs from this room will be featured in a future post of their own). Paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Rousseau, and Cezanne added to the very personal effect of the private retreat of the lady of the house.
In addition to the masterpiece decoration for a new house by architect John Volk for Blanche Levy, Stacey decorated the Levys’ house in Philadelphia, neighboring the family home of Grace Kelly. Kelly admired the décor, and when she became successful in film, she rented an extravagant apartment at 998 Fifth Avenue, Stacey was hired to design the interiors. Soon afterwards, she became the Princess of Monaco and Stacey was brought in as successor to Emilio Terry at the Palais Princier in Monaco in 1956. Stacey updated the décor of many of the grand state rooms of the palace as well as the private quarters, the yacht and the apartment on Avenue Foch in Paris. But the room I wanted to show to illustrate the development of his style (on page 183) was part of a palace renovation in the 1970s to accommodate the family with growing children. The family room was a two-story space in the palace that opened on to a balcony overlooking a garden with views to the harbor below. With some large-scaled furnishings matching the huge room, a central borne was given a contemporary appearance with new upholstery, contrasting with a large Coromandel screen, a very long rustic table, a slat park bench and chairs, and a multitude of assorted potted plants scattered across a bare marble floor, adding points of color and texture to an otherwise neutral scheme.
There’s much more to the book, of course, and Ms. Footer has done an admirable job of bringing it all together. It is a well-crafted presentation of George Stacey, the man who brought a stylish, contemporary twist on traditional decoration, a talent just as desirable today as it was eighty five years ago.
Posted by John J. Tackett