Billy Baldwin: The Bones of a Room – Lecture 2.

You dont keep a stellar client list happy without an ability to hold your ground (or in Baldwin’s case carpet) with great charm. He notes, The important thing was to keep our relationship a pleasure from beginning to end. Commercial work, didn’t interest him.  Which is a shame as the one time he was persauded by one of his A-list clients, he did Kenneth’s: THE 70’s hair salon, inspired by the Royal Pavillion Brighton,  the result is spectacular:

Those Rope tasselled armchairs – ooze sex appeal -even in curlers you’d feel glamorous.

Baldwin preferred the closeted  A-list life, he must have loved the relationships that ensued. He made it socially, proof: he was invited to Truman Capote’s Black and White ball, the ultimate party list.

Capote receiving whispered musings from one of his glamorous coterie

Cecil Beaton called his own success ‘social rising’, riven by feeling of middle class inadequacy in the face of aristo-fabulous-ness. Baldwin just felt he belonged. His pride in native American style, extended to innate self-belief, he famously said:   We can recognise and give credit where credit is due to the debt of taste we owe Europe, but we have taste too –  in fact we’re a whole empire of taste.  That is my flag , and I love to wear it.  

Baldwin’s Lecture 2  is about decorating the’ bones of a space’ – he pin’s his flag here too.

He begins with why we all still aspire to the ‘Georgian gem’ or open-spaced modernism: Architecture is more important than decoration. Scale and proportion give everlasting satisfaction that cannot be achieved by only icing the cake.

(he only thinks of tone and texture when planning scheme, colour comes last)

He says, if I were to build a house today, without question it would be contemporary. But if I fell in love with an old house I would enjoy the excitement of making it belong to me.

 The bones of the room is about the treatment of the architectural elements in decorating terms. Walls which create the great indoors, ceiling which you can’t avoid, windows and doors connecting you to the space beyond. SO… the bones according to Baldwin.


In an era of Farrow and Ball supremacy, with the occasional (yawn) feature wall or ‘break out’ wallpaper, Baldwin’s array of options is dazzling. His signature fabric covered walls, shirred or flat, currently seem dated, but their acoustic value and inherent luxury means their time will come again.

Red velvet walls seemlessly flow in curtains, parquet floors with rugs zoning the space, woodwork crisp white -note the trim above the dado rail echoing curtain tie backs

Shirred fabric in a small eastern pattern, a Baldwin favourite.  Door panels are outlined: echoing ceiling and cornice.

 Client Babe Paley in situ, one of Truman Capote’s SWANS and style icon.

Mirror: mirroring opposite window-views (two-for-one as Baldwin puts it). Plus its  light  enhancing qualities make it a popular Baldwin feature . See it in-extremis  below:

A Manhattan penthouse with his and her’s bathrooms: his panelled in black onyx, hers in mirror-on- mirror. Checkout the flaoting perspex chair, monogrammed towels and fur pile mats. Clearly she went to the gym alot, right?

Lacquer…shone the way.  Ruby Ross Wood showed Baldwin  her favourite room, a tiny jewel-box in the 1930’s which made a profound impression on him. The walls were lacquered a perfect Coromandel black-brown a color I fell in love with it all …Chinese lacquer flower paintings, gleaming beige satin, peach coloured brocade, black lacquer cabinets’.

This room inspired him all his life and his apartment over 30 years later is painted in the ‘Coromandel lacquer brown’.


Wooden panels, simply treated, adding an element of depth… Once living, nature’s canvas. Yes please.

striped backgrounds do wonders for groups of small pictures and drawings. Can’t wait to try it.


Can be decorative or they can be made to disappear. But in priciple Baldwin is  keen on doors, their capacity to define space, create surprise and keep the children out, all reasons which work for me.

Door fixtures set the tone, escutcheons and handles really do matter, its those daily details.

Doors  could be charming in bamboo, marbleised, mirrored, upholstered.

A corridor with mirrored doors, multi-coloured doors or chinoiserie feel stops being an A-B routing and becomes a pleasure.

Padded doors:  very gentleman’s club meets library.


It is the base on which everything rests and from which everything rises. The selection depends on whether its a room you sit in or a room you walk in.

 Rooms we live in should be quiet spaces, the floor should not jump up and say hello.

He goes on:

If you choose a brilliant-coloured carpet, you must use other brilliant colour in the room.

Baldwin’s apartment for Diane Vreeland, on a tight budget in a difficult space, got serious wow-factor. Vreeland famously asked for ‘a garden in hell’ and Baldwin delivered from the flame carpet upwards.

 Baldwin is a fan of patterned carpet, from Hicks style geometrics to plaid and floral, he believes that plain carpets show every footprint and become dingy. In our era patterned floor is quite a brave statement. You need to apply the scale ruler, large scale repeat balanced by small scale pattern and then add another family of pattern. To the power of 3: 3 patterns which echo and reflect in the space, otherwise the carpet is too loud.

Here the small geometric pattern carpet, plays with the leopard print and intricate wood work commode.  This is one of Baldwin’s most famous interiors, ‘no colour at all’ – total success. Look how he edges the walls at dado height, matches this to door panel trim.  This Echo re-occurs – in the piped chairs, the layered carpets, the reflective silver painting on mirror etc.  This room is all about the ‘mirrored’ subtle details and textures.

Baldwin was a great fan of Bessarabian rugs and contemporary Moroccan, their niaf graphic style, makes them work in a huge amount of places. Country classic below gets up-dated.

finally…In the country or by the sea, echo nature, the most practical floors are the best looking: clay tile, slate, stone, brick or marble.

On painting floors, Baldwin is a fan of assertive trompe l’oeil effects. But if your painting of staining he reminds us that you need to see the grain, otherwise the wood becomes dense and lifeless.


Dont overlook it!

Unless you have super-high ceilings, its vital not to have white ceilings unless your all-white. You need to add the wall colour a pipette at a time to white and get the right shade.

I love how baldwin’s eye translates light readings to decorating solutions. David Hockney talks of Californian light, how the hi-definition-shadows cast in movies were etched on his brain.

Baldwin explains how searing, clear tropical sunshine, Manhattan high rise and bucolic country retreat, all require very different handling. E.g  Tropical rooms need cool coloured ceilings to deflect glaring sunlight.

If you have the space and means, defining a room as ‘entirely evening’ allows for magic: Manhattan lit up becomes fairy tale, and the room dazzling beautiful with dark walls and a dark ceiling.  

This famous Manhattan living room with dark lacquer walls and grey-green ceiling is made to shine at night.

Baldwin said, Without light there is no beauty.  Flat light is boring, shadow and light create drama and impact.

Finally a word of wisdom from your gay best friend:

I know a woman who has a big, ugly mouth. Its impossible to reduce the size of her lips, so she has the intelligence to paint them even bigger with the brightest possible red lipstick. It gives her whole personality added pizzaz. Be brave try it in your rooms.

Beams with pizzaz. I love this interior.. So 3 cheers for Baldwin, an inspiration 50 years on – where is my lacquer sitting room, my child-proof door, my onyx bathroom. I think I’ll start with bright coral lipstick… TODAY.


One thought on “Billy Baldwin: The Bones of a Room – Lecture 2.

  1. Pingback: Billy Baldwin: Lecture 3 | adecorativeaffair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s