It is not everyday that someone gets to work beside an interior design icon like Mr. Hadley, "The Dean of American Design." Britton Smith, a designer at Albert Hadley Inc., has had a front row seat since he began there in 1998.
When I heard last month that Mr. Hadley was closing the doors of his firm, I knew I had to reach out to Britt, as he was there the longest. I was eager to find out what sage advice was offered, and how what he was privy to informed his design ethos. As Britt begins a new chapter forging out on his own, I wish him great success. I know he learned from the best, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Last night I attended Rooms With A View
in Southport, Connecticut, where designers who had worked with Mr. Hadley honored him, creating truly fantastic vignettes. Many incorporated his favorite shade of red, and other meaningful associations. Bunny Williams, David Easton, Thomas Jayne, Thom Filicia, Pamela Banker, Libby Cameron, Susanna Earls Carr, Harry Heissmann, David Kleinberg, Brian McCarthy, Brian Murphy, and Michael Whaley created the most unbelievable design moments in spaces spanning 5 feet x 8 feet. I encourage you to take a trip to Southport this weekend to check them out. You will be so glad you did!
When did you join the office of Albert Hadley?
A living room featured in House Beautiful in 2003
I am the last one left from Parish Hadley. I started there as second assistant in April of 1998 and got to be the lucky one to stay on board and carry over to Albert Hadley Inc. in 2000 until it closed last month.Had you worked for a designer before?
I was more or less a professional student. I had a Business and Fine Art degree and then studied Fashion Design at Parsons (my third BA)...I worked as a collections assistant at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute for 3 years as an intern while studying at Parsons. I then opened my own business in 1997 designing 100% natural and as environmentally friendly as possible luxury goods for the clothing and home furnishing industry. I developed a number of yarns, fabrics, textiles and dyes as well as a number of unique manufacturing processes- but eventually ran out of money and began decorating to make ends meet. I still own the rights to some of the things that I developed and hope to revisit them in the future.Now that Mr. Hadley is retiring, what will you miss most about working with him every day?
I will miss the daily interaction with Mr. Hadley the most. I learned something new from Mr. Hadley every day, and it was a gift that I won't be able to replicate.What are some of his memorable expressions that will stick with you?
Mr. Hadley often quoted Diana Vreeland "Give 'em what they never knew they wanted..." and "You can't reinvent the wheel."What is the best advice he ever gave you/ ever gave a client?
I feel that one of the most valuable reminders that he ever gave me was that I am not a client - which basically means keep it real and don't live beyond your means. As well as being a refreshing reminder that we are "the help."
And as far as watching his interaction with clients, I feel that he gently encouraged them to speak up and take in active role in the development of their projects. Nothing was ever dictated- and the more the client participated in the project, the better it came out. I think that it is the collaborative effort that has the most successful and pleasing results. And- it is one of the reasons that there is not a cookie cutter look- as each project was tailor made for the individual.How would he deal with using something the client owned and valued even though it may not have been a favorite of his?
Mr. Hadley cared deeply about the sentiments of the clients, and encouraged them to add their little touches. It is the "love" that makes the magic.What are his top 3 favorite prints? Yours?
Mr. Hadley had his own collection of prints that he made on fabrics and wall paper for clients in any color combination imaginable. It had wonderful results because the potential was limitless. It was especially fun to have the curtains match the walls if you wanted too- and it made finding the perfect shade of 'your color' a whole lot easier.
There were prints of every scale in the collection -from little ditsy things like "Jigsaw"- which was an amorphous all over pattern that could be used on walls and ceilings (great for kitchens, bath rooms and hallways...as well as difficult apartment rooms with lots of beams that would ordinarily make it difficult to stop the pattern. It simply creates a background or texture, and is also great in closets.
And there were wonderful medium scale patterns like "Happy"- which Mr. Hadley first printed for Mrs. Rockefeller. It is also an all over pattern, suitable for walls and ceilings. It is a classic American design that transcends time- and can look modern or country- depending on what you do with it. There are several colorways available at Hinson in Brunschwig and Fils that are worth exploring. Mr. Hadley had prints like Tree of Life that are large scale, but also have limitless potential. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Hadley developed it for the curtains in Mrs. Astor's "Money Room". Although it is a print, it has the feeling of cruel-work. There is also a version available at Brunschwig.Does Mr. Hadley have a favorite color and what is yours?
I would be inclined to say that red would be his favorite color if I were to guess. I don't have a favorite color, but one thing that I did learn is that there is no such thing as an ugly color- it just may not have been used in the right context. There is a Powder Room in Washington, DC that Mr. Hadley did with Gary Hager years ago that is a perfect example. If you were to look at a color chip I can almost guarantee that you wouldn't like it in the conventional sense. It is certainly not 'pretty'. However, when you see it in the context of the room, in a high gloss lacquered finish, together with the objects from the owner's collection- it is astoundingly chic and sophisticated. Magic in the sense that it never was in style, nor will it ever be out --it's simply beautiful.What are the last 3 design books you have bought that you really love and why?
I tend to buy books in piles and was just at the Strand and bought a few more that I didn't have- The Houses of Greenwich Village, Rustic, the Colonial Revival House- all of which are inspirational and would have something for everyone. I was also psyched to find the two volume set of New York Interior Design 1935-1985 (by Judith Gura) which is a must have as a cross section of the development of Interior Design in this country. My copy of Billy Baldwin: The Great American Decorator (by Adam Lewis) just arrived this afternoon. Full of things that I haven't seen before, and I'm looking forward to reading it. As well as a copy of Beaton: The Art of the Scrap Book, which was a surprise gift from a client, and honestly one of the most exciting and beautiful thing that I've seen in a long time. My collection of books and magazines are the most important thing that I own. Some of my favorites include Decoration (Librairie Hachette 1963) which is a delicious collection of French interiors from Louis XVIII through Jansen in the 60's. The rooms range from rustic out buildings to Mies van der rohe to the most sumptuous of posh - but they are all crisp and fresh. The David Hicks series, Billy Baldwin series, Parish Hadley, and the Mc Millen book are all must - haves, as well as America's Small Houses (1964), Les Pavillons (Connolly and Zerbe 1962).