Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Decorator

I think that for some (or maybe even many), there is a mystique to decorators. You might even say a certain glamour. Now, we all know that there are aspects to the job that are far from glamorous. And let's face it, it can be tough work. Still, if there wasn't a certain allure to the job and the persona of "the decorator", there wouldn't be photos like the one above, featured in the October issue of Town & Country. Aaron Spelling would never have shot a pilot back in the 1960s titled "The Decorator" with Bette Davis, nor would we have had our favorite 1980s TV sitcom about four Southern decorators with a proclivity for one liners, beauty pageants, and big shoulder pads. (That would be "Designing Women", by the way.)

Decorators oftentimes lead glamorous lives in the movies. Take, for example, "Goodbye Again" which just happened to be on TCM yesterday. In the 1961 movie (it was based on the Francoise Sagan novel), Ingrid Bergman plays a 40 year old Parisian decorator named Paula who is supremely stylish. She wears Christian Dior clothes and Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, and she has a French maid named Gaby who draws her bath and gets Madame ready for nights out on the town. Never mind the fact that Paula is madly in love with her philandering boyfriend Roger, a cad who calls all of his other women "Maisie" so that he doesn't accidentally refer to them by the wrong name. OK, so Paula leads a rather sad life, but still, she lives in fabulous apartment and she has Gaby, so all is not lost. And, if I recall correctly, Paula has a great line in the movie, something like "The problem with being a decorator is that everyone thinks they know how to do your job"...or something along those lines. I'm sure many designers can relate.

Loyal Gaby putting away one of Paula's dresses. Note the dramatic headboard in the background, and the tiled kitchen to the right. A chic Paris apartment, non?

Paula at her dressing table.

And Paula out on the town.

My other favorite fictional decorator is Doris Day in "Pillow Talk". Once again, this designer wears really chic clothes, lives in a cool apartment, and has man trouble, only this time it's Rock Hudson rather than Yves Montand who is the culprit. Doris even has the maid who is the voice of reason, although Thelma Ritter, while funny in that wisecracking, New York kind of way, is not quite as chic as French Gaby. Doris works in a decorating shop surrounded by a sundry of antiques and bibelots- just like Paula- and she has men swooning for her. Could it be her profession that men find so captivating? Her sunny personality? Those clothes? And who can forget the hideous bachelor pad that Doris does up for Rock as punishment for his bad behavior? It's like a jungle-fied version of a Trader Vics.

Doris with her maid, played by Thelma Ritter.

Doris in front of her de rigueur dressing table.

Doris out on the town.

Doris and Rock making up in the notorious bachelor pad.

While researching this post, I came across a recent post about on-screen decorators on
Apartment Therapy. See, someone else is intrigued by the decorator mystique as well.

(Image at top from Town & Country, October 2010; Marc Royce photographer)


  1. J --

    You should produce a 21st version of Designing Women. I mean, there will never be another Dixie Carter, but I'd love to watch something set right now that's just as hysterical and smart. This go round though it would be fun if the interior backdrops were done by Ruthie Sommers, Miles Redd and Kelly Wearstler :)

    Oh, and just to inject more TV trivia, another small screen decorator was Grace from Will and Grace.

  2. Love this post and loved having dinner with you & Clint in Atlanta!!!! Loved the bogging dish & loved Atlanta!!! Lots of great info!!! More coming up too!! When are you in NYC?????
    xxxxo judi

  3. My alltime favourite kitchen is that of Bergman's character in "Goodbye Again." It is a hygienic ivory white with classic Delft tiles. It is small and charming, nothing like the pretentious and cavernous kitchens in the suburban monster homes of today. To me this is the ideal kitchen that is comfortable, practical, bright and cheerful, and never dated. It is visible (behind her thru the door) in the photo where she is lighting her cigarette.

  4. Pillow Talk is one of our family favorites (along with the other Doris/Rock movies). But I don't think I have ever seen "Goodbye Again" which is saying something since I am a classic movie aficionado. You of course had me at Christian Dior clothes and Van Cleef jewelry. So sorry I missed it!

  5. I am with Courtney on your producing an updated Designing Women! A lot of people think my job is glamorous and sometimes it is, but today I have been working on moldings, bath mats and been in a huge hot warehouse inspecting furniture!

  6. Don't let us overlook the Patricia Neal character in
    Breakfast at Tiffany's. Not only did she decorate
    George Pepard's apartment, she bought his wardrobe
    and shared his bed. My kind of decorator.

  7. This post was so interesting.... and oh so accurate! It's true that being a designer always appears to be so glamorous to those who don't see all of the crazy behind-the-scenes work involved! HA. However, despite it all, I always feel pretty special to have a career I love, doing something that adds a little more beauty to my clients' worlds! Completely worth every NON-glamorous moment!

    I adore your blog! Thanks for sharing so much unique content!

  8. Seen them all. Auntie Mame is my favorite Decoretta of them all.

    But nowhere do they show such unglamorous things as the endless trail of paperwork. Now where is my devoted French maid?



  9. I would love to see "Goodbye Again"! Come on Netflicks! What a fun post. At least the movies let us pretend it is glamorous :)

  10. Decorators are a special type of artists. They see the world differently then most people.

  11. Emily Evans Eerdmans7:02 PM

    Jennifer, Once again you have helped me put together the pieces. I am working on the Henri Samuel book and came upon a photo of Ingrid Bergman visiting his country house. I bet you a million francs she was researching for this film! xx, EEE