It's with a very heavy heart that I'm publishing this post, one that I hope will be a fitting tribute to Albert Hadley. As I'm sure some of you are aware, Mr. Hadley died early this morning in his hometown of Nashville. It's strange how very sad I feel, especially considering the fact that Mr. Hadley and I were barely acquainted with one another. And yet, I feel as though I knew him quite well. His work resonated with me like that of no other designer. And truth be told, no other designer has taught me as much about design and living as Albert Hadley did.
There have been very few times in my life that I've been struck by the proverbial thunderbolt, but one indeed hit me while reading the Elle Decor cover story on Albert Hadley's Manhattan apartment (February/March 2000.) If there is such a thing as a perfect home, that was it. Yes, the rooms possessed more style and flair than most of us can ever hope to achieve in our own homes, but what mattered more to me was the apartment's complete lack of pretension. His home was just that: a home, one in which he surrounded himself with objects that had meaning for him or that simply struck his fancy. You could tell that nothing was chosen for show, but rather because it spoke to him. And in turn, his apartment spoke to me.
One of my dreams in life was to meet Mr. Hadley. I was fortunate enough to have spent time with him on three different occasions. But before meeting him, we had corresponded by mail. Shortly after starting my blog, I sent out holiday cards that I had designed using a photo of Sister Parish goofing off and holding an empty Jeroboam up to her mouth. A friend suggested that I mail a card to Mr. Hadley, and so I did. He responded with a very gracious letter in which he wrote, "Sister Parish would be thrilled to be the Christmas card for "The Peak of Chic"! I don't recognize the photograph, but she's certainly belting it out."
A few months later, I had a private meeting with him at his office. He was very generous with his time, answering all of the silly questions that I asked him. I was struck by his mild manner and his still-mellifluous Southern accent that seemed little affected after years of living away from the South. Seeing that I was a fellow Southerner, he was especially interested to show me framed drawings and sketches of the work that he did at Rosedown Plantation in Louisiana. I realized after that meeting that Mr. Hadley was not just a great designer, but a kind and courtly gentleman as well.
That was not to be my only meeting with Albert Hadley. Close to four years ago, the editors at House Beautiful assigned me an article to write about a wonderful Manhattan apartment designed by Mr. Hadley and his then associate Harry Heissmann. (House Beautiful, April 2009.) Once again, I made the journey up to the offices of Albert Hadley Inc., only this time I was armed with my tape recorder, pad, and pencil for an interview. I suppose that if there is to be one plum writing assignment in my life, that was it!
Mr. Hadley was the best kind of decorator. His primary concern was to create homes for his clients in which they could live comfortably and live well. He catered not to his whims but rather to the needs of his clients. And most impressive to me was that he encouraged young designers to get educated in the history of design and the decorative arts. He believed that without this foundation of knowledge, decorating with any kind of authority is difficult at best.
I realize that my tribute to Albert Hadley might border on hagiography, but death has not elevated Mr. Hadley to legend status nor design sainthood. He achieved that long ago during his exalted career. And it might seem hackneyed to say that his passing marks the end of an era, but in my mind, indeed it does. I feel fairly certain that the word "branding" never crossed Mr. Hadley's lips. And I do wonder if a humble, thoughtful person like Albert Hadley could succeed in today's world where never-ending self-promotion has become the norm.
There are other masters of design practicing today, and for that we should be thankful. But there will only be one Dean of American Decorators, and for me, Albert Hadley will bear that title forever.
Some of my favorite Albert Hadley and Parish-Hadley designed interiors:
The Manhattan apartment of Albert Hadley.
A mid-1970s era Manhattan living room in which Parish-Hadley used a mix of Alan Campbell fabrics.
A Palm Beach guest house bedroom. (Parish-Hadley)
A garden room at a Greenwich, CT show house. (Parish-Hadley)
Brooke Astor's Manhattan apartment. (Parish-Hadley)
The Manhattan apartment of the late Glenn Bernbaum of Mortimer's fame. (Parish Hadley)
Mr. Hadley's former country house in Tarrytown, New York.
A Manhattan bedroom designed for a bachelor. (Parish-Hadley)
Decorated by a young Albert Hadley, this room appeared in a 1959 Vogue article, "Summer on a Shoestring".
The guest sitting room of the Leonard Davis house, Palm Beach. (Parish-Hadley)
The "Dog Sitting Room" in the guest suite of the late Brooke Astor's apartment. (Parish-Hadley)
Mr. Hadley's Kips Bay show house room from 2001, "Homage to Van Day Truex". (Albert Hadley)
Mr. Hadley's Southport, Connecticut house.
All interiors photos with the exception of the first are from Albert Hadley: The Story of America's Preeminent Interior Designer by Adam Lewis and Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design by Christopher Petkanas, both terrific resources.