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Meeting Mr. Hadley

by habituallychic

03 . 25 . 09

Some of you might remember that I used to work across the street from the design legend Albert Hadley. One of the highlights of my day would be seeing him standing out front in the morning smoking his cigarette (see photo below). That would just make my day. I did get to meet him once at a party but at that time I was too shy to actually speak to him. My friend was supposed to set up an interview but she ended up leaving the company and I never followed up.

Fast forward a few years to when I was asking my friend and interior designer Grant K. Gibson what he would like to do or who he would like to meet when he was in New York this week and what did he reply…”meet Albert Hadley!” Luckily for both us, his friend Suzanne was able to make that happen yesterday!

We both of course nervous and excited and got out our Albert Hadley books by Adam Lewis to do our homework before the big event. At first, I thought that Mr. Hadley was going to think we were silly for wanting to meet him but then I remembered that when he was first starting out as a designer, he said he made it his business to meet every decorator he had ever read about so maybe he understood our desire to meet him and what it would mean to us.

At the appointed hour, we arrived via the little elevator and who should greet us at the door but Mr. Hadley himself! It is clear that he has never lost his Southern manners as he apologized for the state of place since they were moving things to the other side of the office. As he disappeared for a minute, Grant and I giggly like little school kids as we both realized the excitement of sitting in Albert Hadley’s office and tried to take it all in before he returned.

Mr. Hadley wanted to know what we were doing in design first so after we briefly talked about ourselves, we asked him what he thought was the biggest difference in design today from when he started. He brought up Mrs. Parrish (above) who began decorating for her friends who did whatever she said. They sought her advice and respected her opinion. These days we all agreed, clients have definite opinions of their own and that they also have access to the internet where they can buy a sofa today instead of ordering the best quality custom option that will last them a lifetime. He suggested that part of designer’s job should be to educate their clients.

His advice to young designers is to travel and not just see things but to learn. Don’t just sit behind your desk on the computer, get out to experience things in person. Read books and educate yourself to the different periods and styles. Mr. Hadley remembered the time in the 1920’s when designers like Jean-Michel Frank and others were collaborating whereas today, everyone seems to be doing their own thing.

We had to ask how he felt about the Kip’s Bay Decorator Show House this year since it is in honor of him and he seems always so humble. He agreed that he’s not one for a fuss but that it should be fun especially since many of the designers participating are his friends. One of his friends who happened to come up in conversation was Mario Buatta. He remembers telling Mario before one show house, “why don’t you do something different!” But Mario replied that chintz was what people came to him for and expected. We all agreed that we feel bad that he gets a bad rap for his style and that it bothers us when we hear people they “hate” a design or style.

I try really hard on my blog to expose people to different types of design and that there is no right or wrong in design. Just because something is not your style, that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate how much time and effort went into it and if the client is happy, that’s all that matters. I personally would not want to live in an all white space but when you hear a homeowner say that they work with color all day in their job and they just want to come home to a calm space, I can completely understand that logic and appreciate the space even more. If anyone takes anything away from today’s post, I hope it’s to always stay open minded. Perhaps that’s what has kept Mr. Hadley going all these years!

While Mario Buatta may have one particular style, it’s clear from the some of the photos posted here that Mr. Hadley likes to experiment. I especially love his own homes and how they look uniquely personal to him. He also doesn’t get tied down by his possessions and will pass some of his own possessions on to clients.

If I can give any advice to young designers or just anyone who loves interior design, it would be to read Albert Hadley: The Story of America’s Preeminent Interior Designer by Adam Lewis. Mr. Hadley is quoted heavily through out and it’s wonderful to hear about his life in design in his own words.

In the book, he describes working for Mrs. Astor and creating the library for Vincent Astor’s books, a room that Mr. Astor would have been proud of. He said is was his favorite room he ever designed. Albert Hadley doesn’t just design rooms, he designs iconic rooms. I don’t think he sets out to do that though. He sets out to do the best possible job, something we should all strive to do!

One thing I’ve noticed after going through many images of his work is that he uses a lot of red. In his hands, a bold color becomes almost a neutral and not at all too bright. Makes me want to paint something red in my apartment today!

Meeting Albert Hadley and reading about him is so very inspiring. He has achieved a lot since his birth in Tennessee but it is clear that he hasn’t forgotten where he came from and those who have helped him along the way. When we mentioned the story in House Beautiful this month, he was quick to point out that Harry Heissmann had done all the work and actually brought him in so we could meet him as well.

Clearly, Albert Hadley made our day by agreeing to meet with us and we will forever remember our time spent in his presence. He is a huge inspiration to many designer, young and old, and I appreciate that he takes time out of his busy day to share his story and advice with others. It wasn’t appropriate to take photos so Grant and I joked that no one is going to believe us since we don’t have the evidence but sometimes the memory is better than any photo!

My favorite part of the day actually occurred later when I received a text message from a friend who works in the D&D building. She had been in the same elevator as Mr. Hadley and since she had met him many times before, she reintroduced herself and said, “I think you met my friend this morning.” To which he replied, “Heather, yes. She’s lovely. I had a great time meeting with them.” That made my day, if not my year! Especially since I think that Mr. Hadley is beyond lovely! And I am very excited that the next time I see him, I will no longer be too shy to speak to him and I hope you won’t be either!

Photos from House Beautiful and Albert Hadley by Adam Lewis

Comments Closed

  1. London Calling March 25, 2009 | 4:19 pm

    Lucky you. A memory I’m sure you will treasure.

  2. bill March 25, 2009 | 4:26 pm

    Definitely LUCKY YOU! I love his book & reference it often, I especially love his bedside table. So personal yet so beautiful.

  3. Michelle Gaillard March 25, 2009 | 4:42 pm

    Great post, Heather! I always say that the most important thing in whatever field you are in is to do your homework and your research! I continue to salute you for appreciating all styles of design and bringing your passion to the public.

  4. Kelly March 25, 2009 | 5:52 pm

    Awesome post, Heather! I will never meet Albert Hadley, but now I feel like I experienced that with you. He is truly a design legend and I appreciate the respectful words you wrote here… Fabulous pictures too.

  5. ArchitectDesign March 25, 2009 | 5:53 pm

    So glad to hear it went well! Open-minded: BRAVO!!!

  6. Musette March 25, 2009 | 6:12 pm

    What a lovely experience! I’m so glad to learn that he is such a gentleman – all too rare, these days. And his rooms are lovely; and yes, in his hands a bold color, such as red, becomes an exotic neutral (if such a thing exists)

    So glad you got to meet him and thank you for posting such lovely images.

  7. a day in the life of jewels March 25, 2009 | 7:13 pm

    wow! what an experience! super post!! take care!

  8. A Gift Wrapped Life March 25, 2009 | 7:14 pm

    What a wonderful day for you and a meeting to remember and inspire you. I felt that way about Vincent Wolfe and then got to meet him by chance……he was warm and charming as well. Mr. Hadley sounds like a true gentleman and I will look for his book. Thank you for sharing your memorable day!

  9. CB March 25, 2009 | 8:08 pm

    How wonderful!! Mr. Hadley is just my favorite — thanks for sharing.

  10. Jennifer March 25, 2009 | 8:23 pm

    oh how wonderful! I was hanging on every word as you described the experience — even more than usual. thanks for sharing!

  11. KEH March 25, 2009 | 8:48 pm

    THANK YOU for this post!! I’ve read your blog for a bit now and I enjoy it everyday. Thank you again for sharing this great experience with us and congratulations!!!

  12. Alice Olive March 25, 2009 | 8:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  13. maison21 March 25, 2009 | 10:14 pm

    how cool! i’m so envious! my first boss worked for mr. hadley when he was starting out, and he had nothing but the nicest, most complimentary things to say about him. judging from your interview, he did not exaggerate!

    congrats on the “get”!

  14. elle March 25, 2009 | 10:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing the experience! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Mr. Lewis’ book.

  15. Cakewalk March 25, 2009 | 10:44 pm

    What an informative and thought-provoking post. I so agree. Just because a certain style (be it decor, fashion, what-have-you) isn’t your own, that does not mean that you can not have an appreciation for it. If we keep an open mind, we can all find inspiration in so many random, unlikely things. And, I think it is wonderful that you got the opportunity to meet with such talented greatness…

  16. Dumbwit Tellher ♥ March 26, 2009 | 12:19 am

    What an enchanting meeting for you both. I only wish Mr. Hadley could read this posting. I think he would be quite pleased. What a lovely story.

  17. Suzy March 26, 2009 | 4:10 am

    You lucky lucky girl! Sounds like he’s as much a gentlemen as he is genius. What great advice for him to give, and how generous of him to give you his time. I’m sure you’ll both treasure that memory forever!

  18. The Antiques Diva™ March 26, 2009 | 9:42 am

    What an amazing experience and inspiration to us all to be bold – not letting shyness or fear get in the way! This is a day you will NEVER forget! And someday, someone might call you to set an appointment for they will be a young designer with a friend in town, and their one goal will be to meet “Heather Clawson” and you’ll return the favor delighting another young designer with your presence, grace and knowledge!

    By the way, I love the photo of Hadley standing outside smoking… that’s classic and I can just imagine what you were thinking when you snapped the pic!


  19. Zelda March 26, 2009 | 10:30 am

    you really do a big work for each post you do , thank you for all your effort and your interesting research

  20. Jill March 26, 2009 | 10:42 am

    I am so supremely jealous, I don’t think I can stand it! He is one of my design icons. The Parish Hadley book is my all time favorite. It never ceases to inspire me!

  21. The Buzz March 26, 2009 | 11:51 am

    Isn’t it wonderful to meet someone you admire so much and they turn out to be so lovely and genuine? We have forwarded your blog to Harry, a dear friend, who will love the mention. We can’t wait for the Kips Bay opening party!

  22. Renee Finberg March 26, 2009 | 11:53 am

    i loved it, this was a fabulous post !!

    and your personal experiences as they relate to hadley, are so sweet.

    you are adorable


  23. its me! erin with rosenow floral March 26, 2009 | 1:35 pm

    how nice to wake up to such a lovely post. congrats heather and thank you!!

  24. Anonymous March 26, 2009 | 1:45 pm

    Heather, I just received the link to your blog from Carolyn and I just had to send a little note to say how happy I was to meet you! Your post is great, I love it! Please be in touch! Warmest wishes, Harry

  25. Linda/"Mom" March 26, 2009 | 1:46 pm

    *** G’ morning, Heather… my COFFEE got cold!~~~ I was so engrossed in reading what you wrote that I even forgot I HAD a cuppa sitting here! Beautifully written~~~ straightforward, honest, sincere and direct~~~ a TERIFFIC read about a most DELIGHTFUL, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience! I remember, “waaay back when”, reading about Sister for the first time & thinking “So WHO I*S the person to whom this talented woman is the sister?”~~~ It makes me smile to remember that far back!!! I too, believe one can always enjoy AND learn from spaces decidely UNLIKE mine, and appreciate what THEY have to offer! THANKS for a MOST CHARMING 6:30 A.M. read!!! Blessings, Linda

  26. Grant K. Gibson March 26, 2009 | 2:09 pm

    I am still on cloud nine from meeting Mr. Hadley. It was a dream come true. I must add that he is just the most adorable thing ever with his tweed suit. I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home. It is a day I will never ever forget and I am so blessed for the time with him.
    Heather I adore you and am so glad that you came with me! I would have been tongue tied and more nervous than I was! I could have gone alone- but you were the perfect person to have come. I am most impressed with the post and how wonderful it turned out. You have honored AH in such a fabulous way and I am so happy to have shared this memory with you. We will talk about this one for years to come!

  27. Love Where You Live March 26, 2009 | 2:22 pm

    What a great post! I enjoyed reading it. And I agree with you on an important point . . . . I get to see many homes, thanks to one of my two jobs. And while they might not be “my style,” I can appreciate it, especially if it was done thoughtfully and with love. Cheers, -susan

  28. Love Where You Live March 26, 2009 | 2:22 pm

    What a great post! I enjoyed reading it. And I agree with you on an important point . . . . I get to see many homes, thanks to one of my two jobs. And while they might not be “my style,” I can appreciate it, especially if it was done thoughtfully and with love. Cheers, -susan

  29. Laura Casey Interiors March 26, 2009 | 3:26 pm

    Congratulations on a fabulous post and meeting with Mr. Hadley. What a legend he is and how lucky you are!

  30. annechovie March 26, 2009 | 3:27 pm

    What a great story – how fun to have the rare opportunity to meet and speak with one of the “living legends” of design, Heather! Thanks for sharing and allowing us to live vicariously through you.

  31. The Preppy Pauper March 26, 2009 | 4:07 pm

    Heather, I’m not a designer, but I’m enough of a fan of interior design to know the significance of meeting Albert Hadley.

    I’m thinking a baseball fan meeting Mickey Mantle or a rock fan meeting Mick Jagger. It’s a story for the grandkids.

    Thank you for including the pictures, they illustrate why Mr. Hadley is such an influential icon.

  32. katiedid March 26, 2009 | 4:21 pm

    What a fabulous experience! Ah…the benefits of living in NYC! I got to see him once in San Francsico, but just a brief book signing line meeting. Getting to actually sit down and chat must have been a thrill!

  33. Anonymous March 26, 2009 | 6:35 pm

    Congratulations Heather! I would consider it quite a coup – and a well-deserved one at that. I hope you’ll do a follow-up blog posting once you’ve really had the chance to think about actually meeting a design icon in the flesh. Your future is looking brighter every day.

  34. Found March 26, 2009 | 9:14 pm

    fantastic post heather! running out to buy the book this very minute!

  35. SuSu March 27, 2009 | 6:56 am

    You lucky, lucky girl! What a lovely man, too. I, too, am very curious and love to hear how a successful person got started and maybe glean a tip or two. I imagine Mr. Hadley would be a treasure trove. A wonderful experience…save it for your book!

  36. pve design March 28, 2009 | 8:46 pm

    How positively exciting for you and Grant to meet Mr.Hadley. I remember meeting Bill Blass and thinking how marvelous! He sat there smoking and I just thought he was the “President” of Design. It is always inspiring to meet mentors! Thanks for sharing this!

  37. Easy and Elegant Life March 31, 2009 | 6:57 pm

    How wonderful that he is so accessible. It must be thrilling to meet one of your heroes. I’m glad you got the chance. He sounds as delightful as you are.

  38. thevinylvillage April 7, 2009 | 1:44 am

    How exciting for you! Perhaps one day I’ll be fortunate enough to meet one of the “big guys.”

    I was just reading something on the Astor apartment the other day…I certainly hope that the next owner leaves the library alone!

  39. tealle April 30, 2009 | 3:28 pm

    These pictures are just beautiful and quite inspiring. Do you happen to know what color the light blue paint is on the walls of the room designed by Bunny Williams? I’m going to paint my living room and this color is just wonderful.