Friday, January 10, 2014

Kevin McNamara Masters the Neutral Palette

If you have some of the old Architectural Digest books, you have likely seen these photos of a circa 1975 Manhattan apartment, which had been decorated to perfection by Kevin McNamara. Originally published in the November/December 1975 issue of AD, these photos are worth taking a second look at because they capture decorating with a neutral palette at its very best.

The 1970s was a great time for decorating with colors akin to "a Carr's water biscuit." Neutral-minded decorators often injected their beige-y interiors with judicious doses of dark, and sometimes glossy, shades of black, chocolate brown, and dark green, which helped to add drama and body to otherwise subdued settings. These same decorators were also adept at mixing antiques and modern furnishings, a combination that infused these spaces with both patina and sparkle. And finally, the fabrics that were seen in these interiors tended to be a combination of rough-hewn linen, glazed cotton, leather, and velvet, all of which imparted either luster or texture to their surroundings. Basically, these 1970s interiors were the antithesis of those seen in the 1990s, when neutral spaces, which were then all the rage, were meant to exude serenity, calm, and tranquility.  Back in the 1970s, chic interiors were arranged as backdrops for sophisticated living, not as inducements for contemplation and self-reflection.

But back to the McNamara-decorated apartment: I don't see much here that is dated, except, perhaps the wall to wall carpet in the guest bedroom. But other than that, I'd say that this apartment is a pitch-perfect example of the richness and elegance that can be attained when decorating with mostly non-colors.

Image at top:  The dining room had black lacquered walls and those great Billy Baldwin-style brass bookcases.

Another view of the dining room.

The living room contained 18th-century French furniture and Oriental porcelain.

More views of the living room.

The walls of the master bedroom were painted in a dark dill-green shade.  The bed came from Rose Cumming's shop.

The guest bedroom with its French Empire desk and wall to wall carpet.

All photos from Architectural Digest, November/December 1975, Richard Champion photographer.


  1. Now that is timeless design!! Love it all, Karolyn

  2. all the rooms look so current!

  3. Oh my. Perfection! I wouldn't change a thing. Thanks, Jennifer--I will come back to these images again and again!

  4. This post gives me great encouragement that I may actually be "getting it right" in my own home. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I remember drooling over this apartment as a teenager reading my mother's AD!
    It really does hold up! That was such a specific period in time that decorators like Tom Scheerer and Jeffrey Bilhuber still reference. Just great!

  6. I've been re-thinking wall-to-wall carpet lately. There are places where it works very well, namely bedrooms, or in an apartment with concrete floors. If the apartment is a rental, one does not wish the expense of putting in wood floors. I have a guest room over the unheated garage in my house. With this extreme cold lately, if I used it often, I would seriously consider putting down wall-to-wall with a serious felt pad underneath for warmth. Since it is rarely used, I will not.

  7. Yep, still drop-dead gorgeous decorating.

  8. beautiful apartment and as you point out - not dated. However, notice how the fireplace and candles are lit -we need more of THAT life in our magazine photos today!

  9. Kevin had left Parish-Hadley long before I started there, but he brought me in as architect for a few projects after I went on my own. He was a great gentleman and had equally great taste. These days, with some décor in current magazines already looking dated, it is encouraging to see how classics can endure.

  10. Jennifer,
    It's taste with a capital "T" ! Thanks for featuring this on POC. I just LOVE it !

  11. A little Billy here, some Albert there ... and a whole lot of style. An American classic! I have an identical metal frame bed as the one featured in the white bedroom, which looks so crisp and tailored with its fitted cover. I think I'm ready for a change, a la McNamara! The only bits I'm eager to remove are the Chinese modern accents. I didn't like them then and, after all these years, they haven't grown on me one bit - not even sentimentally! Thank for the great post -

  12. "Back in the 1970s, chic interiors were arranged as backdrops for sophisticated living, not as inducements for contemplation and self-reflection." That very astute observation says it all. Great post!