Decorators should never insist on throwing out everything the client has. Even when they are far from perfect, loved possessions add personality.
In his final lecture Baldwin emphasises the importance of ‘the personal touch’: because it’s the personal that breathes the life into a space that we emotionally respond too.
Baldwins’s opens with a wonderful story:
Cole Porter lived thoughout the 30’s in Paris – where his wife lovingly collected antiques and modern design (their apartment was designed by Jean Michel Frank). After her death he commissioned Baldwin to decorate his new Waldorf Towers apartment, and left the country. On his return, he looked round at the beautiful things he owned and said “Billy, is all of this mine?” he felt a new responsibility, explaining “For a person to really possess the things that belong to him, that person must know and understand them.”
So he pasted up the kings of France and England either side of his shaving mirror, memorising their names and dates – ultimately he became very knowledgeable about his treasures and proud of them, not as status symbols but for the beautiful things they were. Baldwin concludes, Nothing and I mean nothing, is interesting unless it is PERSONAL.
The ultimate personal entrance? Baldwin’s commode was a gift with his initials picked out, centre stage.
So how to create personal rooms? Stick to the things you really love. An honest room is always up to date.
First of all in it’s in the mix, period pieces, antique, far flung, hi-end, lo-end. What we remember about rooms is the mood, the atmosphere and this is only created by the personal. He elaborates: period rooms look like museums, they do not lure us into enjoyment.
Now antiques – they bring quality and a patina of time & love to a room
Great modern designs, these are the antiques of the future.
Buy something you really love, that is a sacrifice – or you save for: it is worth it and every year becomes more so, why? because of the joy it gives you.
Collections, must be learnt and loved, collected the hard way, not a mass bought installation, that’s devoid of meaning – that is mere decoration.
Remember – The pictures on your wall should be the most personal things you own.
Baldwin treasured this picture of a pair of dogs – it flows through his home interiors until he gives it to his great friend and love Woodson Taulbee, here it is below. Personal.
Baldwin’s ‘Bewares of’:
Novelty, the novelty of today will be the bad taste of tomorrow.
Trends, are there to promote business, they are the death knell of personal decorating.
Perfection, it causes sterility,
Rooms should never be finished, there’s always space for evolution.
Friends: You want your rooms to be yours and have your personality, beware opinionated creatures sticking their oars in.
Photos, keep them together, in an intimate space and do get rid of that smiling bride from 20 years ago in drawing room! (that’s us told)
Books according to Baldwin (and moi) are the best decoration of all, he is very disparaging of our modern tendency to intersperse them with decorative objects, which he feels loses the integrity of the books (I rather like it: it makes me see them in groups – my choice right? my home). Baldwin loves books surrounding doors and windows, Cole Porter’s library was in fact much photographed and the shelving Baldwin designed is still in production.
Books give a house energy, they become conversation pieces. Make sure those coffee table books are not “coffee table books”, over-sized and under-read.
Here are the book shelves at his house with the signature slipper chairs, wrapped cane table and hi-gloss coromandel brown.
I think this list could go on, flowers from the garden (or just your favourites), momentoes of trips and children – all have a place. Amy Fine Collins talks about decorating ‘with old friends’ which is the ultimate relationship to have with your furniture. I think we could add ‘the informal’: photos tucked in the mirror, that souvenir cushion and I really like a point of humour, even ‘ridicule’ as Ricky Clifton put it.
But this is Baldwin’s lecture and legacy, so we should let him have the last word (almost):
Minor changes can always be made later, but the point of view is there.
Baldwin’s point of view is still refreshing and vital – proof that the great designer is timeless.
Images from Adam Lewis, Billy Baldwin except final shot of the man himself from Habitually Chic.