Until 2010, I had only read about the legendary Albert Hadley, his 33-year heyday with the renowned Parish-Hadley firm, and his work with the Astors, Paleys, Rockefellers and Gettys.
The first time I chatted with the patriarch of American design—who died in March at the age of 91—was during a Park Place telephone interview about Bunny Lane, a Bernardsville residence that Hadley helped design (read it at parkplacemag.com). A few weeks later, he surprised me, calling simply to say that he enjoyed the article. That was Hadley’s style: he eschewed e-mail and preferred to pick up the phone.
Shortly after, we met in person at a Schumacher “Celebration of Chintz” fabric introduction in New York. At the end of the evening, he invited me to visit his office sometime to continue our conversation. Of course, I was delighted. Like everyone else, I was in awe of Hadley, but his easy-going, Southern-gentleman manner put me at ease.
Preparing for my trip to his townhouse office on that warm June day, I wondered, What does one wear to visit Albert Hadley? This iconic, always-relevant designer loved bold color, so I chose a whimsical Kate Spade dress covered with pink and orange polka dots—and gold strappy cork platforms, just for fun.
Arriving at the uptown world headquarters of Albert Hadley Incorporated, I was struck by the simple, comfortable surroundings. Not too much, just enough, as was his mantra. Sitting across from Hadley, I hung on his every word and especially enjoyed his observations about the changing landscape of interior design and his classic anecdote about long-time friend Diana Vreeland of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and arguably the 20th century’s greatest arbiter of style and elegance.
“Today there is more awareness and understanding of the decorating profession. If a client is knowledgeable and involved, it can be a better situation because it makes the final result perhaps more personal instead of letting me do what I want to do,” Hadley said. “As Diana Vreeland once told me on our way home from a Sister Parish party, ‘Just give them what they never knew they wanted.’ And that’s our role in decorating—to interpret.“
After our meeting, Hadley rose from his desk, shook my hand, eyed me from head to toe and said, “I like your costume very much.” His use of the word “costume” intrigued me—but since he offered his opinion warmly, I took it as a compliment.
It was time for Hadley’s afternoon smoke. He accompanied me downstairs on the rickety elevator and we parted on East 64th Street as he gave me a smile, lit up a Camel and turned his face toward the sunshine.
Just as the design world will always hold Albert Hadley’s body of work in tremendous esteem, I will fondly recall my conversations with the late, great master.
English Chintz, Fit for a Princess
There was no one like Albert Hadley,” says philanthropist Nancy Buck “Princess” Pyne of Far Hills. “God, he had taste. Sister Parish said he had the greatest color sense of anyone she knew.” In 1962, at the start of their 50-year friendship, Hadley decorated Pyne’s former country home in Peapack, dubbed Cherryfields (now owned by stylemakers John Dransfield and Geoffrey Ross). Hadley used a simple, elegant English chintz in the livingroom upholstery and, several years ago, Pyne found vintage remnants which she lent to Susan North of F. Schumacher & Co. to reinterpret. Pyne Hollyhock print was reproduced in its original scale and detail on fine cotton in shades of charcoal, pale grey and ivory, as well as in tobacco and indigo blue colorways (fschumacher.com). The original fabric appeared in the July 2009 issue of House Beautiful, and the new pattern was featured by North’s husband, Tewksbury designer Joel Woodard, in his 2010 Mansion in May bedroom. When Schumacher named the collection for Princess Pyne, no one was surprised. At 80-something, Pyne continues to reign supreme with her signature wit, high-handed style and outrageous collection of chunky, funky jewelry that delights and inspires.