Monday, May 21, 2012

The Legendary Barbara D'Arcy

Over the weekend, I learned of the death of designer Barbara D'Arcy. As many of you know, D'Arcy was a designer and merchandiser with Bloomingdale's where she was responsible for creating the department store's much loved and much discussed model rooms. According to many of my New York friends, D'Arcy's displays were the hottest thing in interior design during the 1960s and early 70s. While it might seem strange to us today, department store model rooms were once at the forefront of design, usually showcasing the latest and greatest
trends. And customers often made special trips to the department stores just to see the latest model rooms. I think that the only thing comparable to this today might be the 7th Floor at Bergdorf's with its ever changing displays and vignettes.

I scanned some photos from Bloomingdale's Book of Home Decorating to give you an idea of what D'Arcy's rooms looked like. Obviously, many of the rooms reek of what was hot in the 1960s, something that makes these rooms of their time rather than timeless. But of course, that was the whole point of these model rooms; they were meant to be capsules of trends and flavors of the moment, a place in which Bloomingdale's could showcase their latest offerings. I think what is most notable about D'Arcy's rooms, though, is how accomplished she was at decorating both traditional spaces as well as groovy, futuristic looking rooms. It seems that D'Arcy's creativity was truly endless.

Image at top: According to her New York Times obituary, D'Arcy's Cave Room, at top, was one of her most famous rooms. The molded walls were made of sprayed urethane foam, while the floor was covered in one-fourth-inch square mirror tiles.

This room was inspired by D'Arcy's visit to a Japanese converted country farmhouse. The walls were covered in a plaster and straw mix, something that made the walls look "hairy", according to D'Arcy. The large support beams on the ceiling were large trees, while the smaller beams were small trees and saplings.

A model room made to resemble an Early American keeping room.

D'Arcy wrote that this room was a recreation of one she saw in a Portuguese palace. The floor was made of plywood painted to resemble marble.

D'Arcy wrote, "This room would certainly belong to a member of the Saturday Generation." By designing hyper modern model rooms, Bloomingdale's hoped to entice young, hip customers to visit the store on weekends- hence the term, "Saturday Generation".

According to D'Arcy, this room "combines everything." Indeed, it did, including Chinoiserie chairs, a brushed nickel and mirror cocktail table, urns holding flowers, and gunmetal patent vinyl wallcovering.

Another memorable room was this room in which everything- furniture, walls, and floors- were made of cardboard. The furniture was designed in collaboration with Frank Gehry.

This was the "Mary Wells Lawrence Room". The color palette was tonal, and yet D'Arcy introduced texture to give the room dimension.

I suppose this is another "Saturday Generation" room. Plastic furniture and a flokati rug were placed against a backdrop of a wall upon which a projected image of a deep sea diver was shown.

All images from Bloomingdale's Book of Home Decorating by Barbara D'Arcy.


  1. Wow, talk about ahead of her time! The form and function used was fantastic! Thank you for helping me learn something new about design everyday!

  2. Jennifer Dengel9:48 AM

    Jennifer, thank you for this posting of a bygone era. Or is it? Wouldn't it be wonderful if Bloomingdale's reinstated these model rooms. They could have a rotating roster of guest decorators. I for one, would gladly make the "pilgrimage" to see these rooms!

  3. They were fully realized stage sets, and they did indeed exert their influence in a manner that was probably disproportionate to their qualities.
    Still, it was the surprise of The New. I recall being quite bowled over by the Frank Gehry furniture (and how affordable it was at the time).

  4. Thanks for mentioning my cousin, Barbara. She was an inspiration to me at a young age to follow my design dreams. I enjoyed visiting their lovely homes in New York and hearing about their world travels. She will be missed by our family.

  5. Gae, Your cousin was so talented and a legend in this field. I'm sorry for your loss.


  6. Barbara D'Arcy was new to me until today. Thank you for this glorious post highlighting her many talents. Maybe this will serve as inspiration for future furnishings promotions. Bloomingdales--are you listening? Mary

  7. Jennifer I adore the first image the Cloud room and the collaboration with Gehry! Amazing legacy!

    Thought you would enjoy...Interview with Leslie of Segreto Finishes and her fabulous Book Giveaway!

    Art by Karena

  8. Love this post - Bring back model rooms I say! And to Gae, my tenderest sympathies... Frances

  9. I used to love to go to Bloomingdales in the 60s and 70s and soak up the inspiration in Barbara D'Arcy's rooms. It was heaven for me. She was an extraordinary talent.

  10. I LOVED the model rooms at Bloomingdales. Of course everything was for sale, so one wanted to make sure to see them at the beginning, before substitutions were made for the items that had sold. Sometimes the furnishings of a room were sold in their entirety, as they were to Amelda Marcos when a cleverly timed salute to the Philippines provided the furniture for a newly purchased Manhattan townhouse.

    1. Anonymous6:27 PM

      That's an incredible story, and fitting tribute to the abundantly talented Barbara D'Arcy. She will live on with her timeless designs (she pioneered the color orange for decor in the '60s-genius move).

  11. Anonymous10:36 PM

    I have several pieces my Uncle purchased from the model rooms when he lived in New York in the late 60's to mid 70's. The furnishings would have been considered futuristic for their times and to see them now, you'd think they were modern pieces you could purchase today. They are over 45 years old but good design is timeless.