Some of you might remember that I used to work across the street from the design legend Albert Hadley. One of the highlights of my day would be seeing him standing out front in the morning smoking his cigarette (see photo below). That would just make my day. I did get to meet him once at a party but at that time I was too shy to actually speak to him. My friend was supposed to set up an interview but she ended up leaving the company and I never followed up.
Fast forward a few years to when I was asking my friend and interior designer Grant K. Gibson what he would like to do or who he would like to meet when he was in New York this week and what did he reply…”meet Albert Hadley!” Luckily for both us, his friend Suzanne was able to make that happen yesterday!
We both of course nervous and excited and got out our Albert Hadley books by Adam Lewis to do our homework before the big event. At first, I thought that Mr. Hadley was going to think we were silly for wanting to meet him but then I remembered that when he was first starting out as a designer, he said he made it his business to meet every decorator he had ever read about so maybe he understood our desire to meet him and what it would mean to us.
At the appointed hour, we arrived via the little elevator and who should greet us at the door but Mr. Hadley himself! It is clear that he has never lost his Southern manners as he apologized for the state of place since they were moving things to the other side of the office. As he disappeared for a minute, Grant and I giggly like little school kids as we both realized the excitement of sitting in Albert Hadley’s office and tried to take it all in before he returned.
Mr. Hadley wanted to know what we were doing in design first so after we briefly talked about ourselves, we asked him what he thought was the biggest difference in design today from when he started. He brought up Mrs. Parrish (above) who began decorating for her friends who did whatever she said. They sought her advice and respected her opinion. These days we all agreed, clients have definite opinions of their own and that they also have access to the internet where they can buy a sofa today instead of ordering the best quality custom option that will last them a lifetime. He suggested that part of designer’s job should be to educate their clients.
His advice to young designers is to travel and not just see things but to learn. Don’t just sit behind your desk on the computer, get out to experience things in person. Read books and educate yourself to the different periods and styles. Mr. Hadley remembered the time in the 1920’s when designers like Jean-Michel Frank and others were collaborating whereas today, everyone seems to be doing their own thing.
We had to ask how he felt about the Kip’s Bay Decorator Show House this year since it is in honor of him and he seems always so humble. He agreed that he’s not one for a fuss but that it should be fun especially since many of the designers participating are his friends. One of his friends who happened to come up in conversation was Mario Buatta. He remembers telling Mario before one show house, “why don’t you do something different!” But Mario replied that chintz was what people came to him for and expected. We all agreed that we feel bad that he gets a bad rap for his style and that it bothers us when we hear people they “hate” a design or style.
I try really hard on my blog to expose people to different types of design and that there is no right or wrong in design. Just because something is not your style, that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate how much time and effort went into it and if the client is happy, that’s all that matters. I personally would not want to live in an all white space but when you hear a homeowner say that they work with color all day in their job and they just want to come home to a calm space, I can completely understand that logic and appreciate the space even more. If anyone takes anything away from today’s post, I hope it’s to always stay open minded. Perhaps that’s what has kept Mr. Hadley going all these years!
While Mario Buatta may have one particular style, it’s clear from the some of the photos posted here that Mr. Hadley likes to experiment. I especially love his own homes and how they look uniquely personal to him. He also doesn’t get tied down by his possessions and will pass some of his own possessions on to clients.
In the book, he describes working for Mrs. Astor and creating the library for Vincent Astor’s books, a room that Mr. Astor would have been proud of. He said is was his favorite room he ever designed. Albert Hadley doesn’t just design rooms, he designs iconic rooms. I don’t think he sets out to do that though. He sets out to do the best possible job, something we should all strive to do!
One thing I’ve noticed after going through many images of his work is that he uses a lot of red. In his hands, a bold color becomes almost a neutral and not at all too bright. Makes me want to paint something red in my apartment today!
Meeting Albert Hadley and reading about him is so very inspiring. He has achieved a lot since his birth in Tennessee but it is clear that he hasn’t forgotten where he came from and those who have helped him along the way. When we mentioned the story in House Beautiful this month, he was quick to point out that Harry Heissmann had done all the work and actually brought him in so we could meet him as well.
Clearly, Albert Hadley made our day by agreeing to meet with us and we will forever remember our time spent in his presence. He is a huge inspiration to many designer, young and old, and I appreciate that he takes time out of his busy day to share his story and advice with others. It wasn’t appropriate to take photos so Grant and I joked that no one is going to believe us since we don’t have the evidence but sometimes the memory is better than any photo!
My favorite part of the day actually occurred later when I received a text message from a friend who works in the D&D building. She had been in the same elevator as Mr. Hadley and since she had met him many times before, she reintroduced herself and said, “I think you met my friend this morning.” To which he replied, “Heather, yes. She’s lovely. I had a great time meeting with them.” That made my day, if not my year! Especially since I think that Mr. Hadley is beyond lovely! And I am very excited that the next time I see him, I will no longer be too shy to speak to him and I hope you won’t be either!
Photos from House Beautiful and Albert Hadley by Adam Lewis