No matter what you do in life, it should always have a red thread running through it.”

Albert Hadley (Salute to Albert Hadley by Veranda Magazine, 2013)

With his intent of making sure that everything a person does must make sure that it makes him stand out, Albert Hadley was the living embodiment of the red thread. He was the most legendary and remarkable interior designer and decorator that America had seen and embarked on a life journey that eventually taught America what style was all about. Embracing classic and contemporary, modern and Victorian, the designs that are sought after flash as the epitome of interior heaven because of Hadley’s thoughts. But what sparked this design interest in the young Hadley? How does one embark on the phenomenal journey while being true to themselves from the start to finish? What influence and impact does such kind of a personality have on the others surrounding him, when his work inspires people for decades to come?

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Albert Livingston Hadley_©Fernando Bengoechea

Pinning The Starting Point

“It’s about giving form to an idea. It’s about taking what’s inside and realizing it in the world. But in order to do that, you have to know things. You have to know history and art. You have to read and be curious” 

Born in 1920 to a family that moved homes often, Albert Hadley’s father owned a farm implement business. Living in Nashville in his earlier years, a young Hadley watched his mother decorate every home they moved into with the same passion and developed an interest in it himself. Captivated by the movies, fashion, and design magazines, he would often study the depictions in these mediums to gain sensitivity to this particular niche. Completing high school and two years of college, he approached a leading local decorator to work under him as a junior assistant. This allowed him to enter the lavish homes of the city and gain expertise in luxury residential style.

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Hadley Sketch_©digital.library.nashville.org

Living The Dream

“Decorating is not about making pretty pictures for magazines. It’s really about creating a quality of life, a beauty that nourishes the soul.”

After being drafted in World War II and working overseas, he returned and was able to fulfill his dream to move to New York. He attended the Parsons School of Design, NY in 1947 with the help of the G.I. Bill- a law that helped provide a range of benefits to some returning World War II veterans. Catching the attention of Van Day Truex- President of the Design School, Albert Hadley was able to acquire a teaching job shortly after his graduation in 1949 solely based on his abilities.

Teaching for about 7 years, Hadley was able to gain more insight from his teaching and acquired more knowledge about interior design and decoration by digging deep into history and other resources. Gaining a steadfast approach he moved on to work for Eleanor Brown at McMillen in 1956, the most prestigious decorating firm in the country. While in 1962, at the recommendation of Mr. Truex, he introduced himself to the grand dame of American interior decoration, Sister Parish. Together, they became one of the most distinguished interior designers in American history and the only two designers whose work is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.

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Albert Hadley and Sister Parish at their New York Office_©papercitymag.com

The New Alliance

Glamour is a part of it, but glamour is not the essence. Design is about discipline and reality, not about fantasy beyond reality.”

The Parish-Hadley Associates design firm created extraordinary and astonishing interiors for their well-heeled clientele like Astor, Rockefeller, Whitney, and Mellon. Albert Hadley’s first assignment with  Sister Parish as an assistant was the White House breakfast room of Jacqueline and President John. F. Kennedy. Bringing in her casual use of furnishings, draping, and covering to generate a sense of comfort, luxury, and nostalgia, Mrs. Parish always worked on her instinct, making the room exude extraordinary comfort and a sense of intimacy. The duo went ahead to work on several projects and had almost made it easy to identify their hallmark style including battery leather sofas, ornate mirrors, fringe, oriental urns, and ottomans the size of small foyers.

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The First Lady’s Bedroom by Sister Parish_©Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Library
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Hadley’s sketch of Showhouse room- one of his first designs in Parish-Hadley_©francesschultz.com

While both Hadley and Parish worked together on iconic designs, their methods differed as much as their tastes. Albert Hadley was a man of modern taste but with old-fashioned values and manners, which were reflected in his designs with the utmost simplicity, yet grandeur. He had an innate sense of planning, putting the architectural sense of the space first, and then proceeding to the decorative surface in an ordered precision of every room’s design. He always approached any design by first channeling history and mixing contemporary in equal parts to create a blended, yet signature look.  The duo always seemed to combine the comfort of livability with sheer elegance for their broad base of clients. One of the most astounding and seminal works of this duo stands to be Brooke Astor’s home library. The red-lacquered library with a brass-trimmed lining along the shelves makes up for one of the most iconic looks of the 20th-century residential design.

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Sketch of the famous Brooke Astor’s Library_©tdclassicist.blogspot.com
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Brooke Astor’s Red-lacquered Library_©michaelhamptoninc.com

The Red Thread

No amount of aesthetic folderol could make a poorly architectural room palatable”

Albert Hadley always considered interior design as an intellectual enterprise. He not only worked to increase his knowledge through personal reading and designing but always asked for insights from all the team members to learn from them. He would discuss his scrapbooks which contained content cut and pasted from several magazines ranging across fashion, design, and other social things. One of the factors that helped him keep every room visually stimulating was the commitment to work on the skyline of the room. He made sure that the design would be created in such a manner that it would make the eye move up and down, and across.

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Albert Hadley’s Apartment_©lonny.com

Another aspect of his cleverly thought-out designs was the detailed attention he gave to the architecture of the space he was working on- analyzing and detailing the windows, doors, and ceiling height first, creating an elegant skyline and then diving into the space’s decoration. His own apartment, which was of fairly modest size, gave the impression of a huge spacious abode owing to his excellent sense of scale and proportion. Luxurious yet intimate, playful yet serene, a series of bright bursts of Schiaparelli shocking pink, tiffany blue, and canary yellow, against the refined palette throughout the house obtained this contrast. 

Rough sketch by Hadley_©francesschultz.com

The Final Act

Working in a variety of styles over a range of clients and projects, his design always focused on “never less, never more”. Creating a perfect harmony of balance, colors, textures, and shades, he was always willing to learn from new experiences and looked forward to giving the clients what they never knew they needed. An inspiration and an icon, Albert Hadley passed away in the March of 2012, leaving a legacy of lavish and comforting interior designs.

References

  1. 2013. Salute to Albert Hadley by Veranda Magazine. [image] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV5VVUX6Z5E> [Accessed 11 September 2022].
  2. Francesschultz.com. 2012. Albert Hadley: In Memory and the Value of Sketching – Frances Schultz. [online] Available at: <https://www.francesschultz.com/2948/> [Accessed 18 September 2022].
  3. Lonny. 2016. Albert Hadley’s Sophisticated Apartment on the Upper East Side. [online] Available at: <https://www.lonny.com/Home+Tour/articles/gL6mSyH78nz/Albert+Hadley+Sophisticated+Apartment+Upper> [Accessed 18 September 2022].
Author

Tahoora, with a knack for writing, is in love with written words of all forms. She aspires to write about architecture to make it accessible, and more community driven to envision a world where the use of every brick, stirs up a conversation about its mindful place in the world.

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