Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hail to the Chief of High Style

About a year ago, I first wrote about the late San Francisco design legend Anthony Hail. I received many emails from readers expressing their thoughts on Hail, a man who obviously had many fans. Most agreed that Hail was witty, worldly, and sophisticated. I suppose it's no surprise that a man like Hail would end up living in San Francisco, a city which, in my opinion, just might be this country's most refined.

When I look at photos of his home, the word that keeps coming to mind is elegance- honest to goodness elegance, something which is missing from much of design today. Hail's possessions were all of the finest quality, and one can tell that much thought was given to how best to display his pieces. One of my favorite Hail rooms is his bedroom. I found these photos in two of my favorite books,
San Francisco Interiors and San Francisco: A Certain Style, both by Diane Dorrans Saeks. (If you want to see why I think San Francisco is the capital of refinement, just read these books.)

While the room is a bit more masculine than I usually prefer in a bedroom, it's just so warm and so drop-dead chic that it makes me forget about feminine, frou frou bedrooms. I think it's a great example of how elegance and comfort are not mutually exclusive design principles. In the words of the great Hail, "Beauty and pleasures are givens, but rooms must be usable, not fragile or intimidating."

In "San Francisco Interiors", Hail said that the antiques in this room were either Russian, Danish, or French. He wanted pieces that were "architectural and understated. The last thing I'd want in my bedroom are antiques or colors that are flamboyant or over-the-top."

The fabric is a French striped silk. A pair of c. 1790s Danish commodes flank the bed. The black lamps were a gift from friend Billy Baldwin.

(Photo #1 and #3 from "San Francisco Interiors" by Diane Dorrans Saeks, Alan Weintraub photographer. Photo #2 and quote on beauty from "San Francisco- A Certain Style" by Diane Dorrans Saeks, John Vaughan photographer.)


  1. Jennifer,

    It really is a splendid timeless bedroom. Diane's books on San Francisco are all terrific -- I so agree with you!

  2. Stripes, architecture prints, LEATHER headboard. Gorgeous. One for the files.

  3. Hail truly was a masterful decorator.

  4. In that second photo, is that a mirror propped up behind the bed with a reflection of a chair in it? I can't quite read it visually...

  5. Dabney, I believe it's a half-screen upholstered in the same fabric as the rest of the room. The chair appears to be placed in front of the screen. Deceiving, I agree!

  6. Anthony Hail decorated the Manhattan, Southampton, and Nashville residences belonging to the parents of my client. All are filled with incredible Baltic antiques selected by the discerning eye of Mr Hail. And he was a complete gentleman, too often a rarity in the decorating field.

  7. Very elegant and warm. A comfortable respite for sure! Anthony Hail is a great designer.

  8. At an early age, his beautiful drawing room in his old apartment in San Francisco marked me for life...

  9. Stunning! I have never heard of Mr.Hail, but thank you for introducing me to his work! I'm an instant fan!

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about San Francisco......that is why I got married there! What a breathtaking city. I can't wait to visit again :)

  10. That is my dream bedroom -I guess we males of a certain persuasion prefer a more masculine space!

  11. This is room leaves nothing to be desired. But for me, I think it is the quality of light that Mr. Hail achieved. So shimmery, yet restful. The black lamps--perfect, the artwork....So many details.

  12. Good Morning Jennifer-

    How very wonderful of you to write a feature on Tony Hail, who died just a few years ago.
    He was the eminence grise of San Francisco design for many years--he arrived here from New York and London and Paris in the sixties.
    I was very fortunate to know and write about Tony. His last great apartment, connoisseurship epitomized, is in another of my books, 'San Francisco Style' (Chronicle Books). and it is now the Pacific Heights residence of his partner, Charles.
    Tony Hail was born in Tennessee, but grew up on a princely island manor in Denmark. Harvard educated. He is related to Boykin Curry and so Celerie Kemble, (perhaps grand-uncle)...someone should ask.
    Tony had the most refined color sense (look at the stripes on the bed).In this Russian Hill room, a bay window faced south so the light was glorious. It was a room to spend the day in. There was a vast bookcase with every book (including star biographies and rare treatises from 1800s on chateaux and architecture) that you wanted to read.
    His living room at this house,with Georgian bookcases, now the property of Rose Tarlow, would still look fresh and current today.
    Jennifer, thanks for your kind comments--and for inspiring designers and readers with your wonderful commentary.
    happy days, DIANE

  13. I live in San Francisco, and when I first moved here Anthony Hail was a huge inspiration for decorating my home. I agree with you...San Francisco is a wonderful place.

  14. Hi. I posted on Anthony Hail in September. Love him...what a design icon. I have 6 of Diane's books and his home is is represented in 3 of them (several of Diane's books can be flipped through on goggle books). The photos are suffused with golden tones...the magic of continental antiques and wonderful light (and great photographers). My favorite photo is of the 18th century bronze Ibis reflected in the trumeau on the marble mantle. Great design is timeless. Trish

  15. great title. at first i thought you had scooped the Michael Smith white house! ahaha!!!!!! Diane is fabulous. I remember this room because of the fabulous headboard.

  16. White ? Samual White
    related to: Stanford White?

    the WHITE connected with the scandel in NYC??

    The Gibson Girl???