Albert Hadley, 1920–2012

When Albert Hadley died in March, we lost the most influential contemporary master of American interior design.  As the New York Times obituary succinctly put it, “His taste was relatively spare and modernist, but he was willing to mix ideas, drawing on a deep knowledge of design history. And reflecting his own moderate temperament, he had a keen sense of how much was too much and how much was not enough.” His was a quintessentially American aesthetic—sophisticated yet unpretentious, elegant yet practical—that we’ve all learned from and aspire to. We wrote about Mr. Hadley most recently a year ago, when Tim Button and Barry Goralnick ran into him at the preview for a Sotheby’s auction of some of his furniture. Here some Designers Collaborative members share reminiscences of and thoughts about the great designer.

Albert Hadley in his New York City apartment

Albert Hadley in his New York City apartment

Scott Bromley: I met Albert soon after I arrived in New York in 1965, fresh out of architecture school in Montreal. He was a great friend of the textile designer Alan Campbell who was my neighbor on West 55th Street and introduced us. Albert remained a pal through the years and always encouraged me in my endeavors. In fact, he was one of those who strongly urged me to go out on my own in 1974. He will be much missed!

The living room at Cherryfields, Mrs. Nancy Buck Pyne's country house in Peapack, NJ, designed by Parish Hadley in 1963

The living room at Cherryfields, Mrs. Nancy Buck Pyne’s country house in Peapack, New Jersey, designed by Parish Hadley in 1963

Tim Button: I have been thinking about Mr. Hadley and how Barry Goralnick and I ran into him at the preview for the auction of his things at Sotheby’s. He was so gracious, as he always was whenever I saw him at design  events, even though I don’t think he remembered me. I’ve also been thinking about how such an impeccably well-mannered gentleman must have run his projects—the iron fist inside the most velvet of gloves—to make them come out flawlessly time after time. He must have had a fantastic grasp of human character to have worked so successfully and so repeatedly for that roster of formidable clients—Astors, Rockefellers, Bronfmans, Paleys, Gettys, Whitneys, and Mellons, just to name a few. What a remarkable man !

Brooke Astor's Manhattan library designed by Albert Hadley

With its red-lacquer-and-brass bookshelves, the library in Brooke Astor’s apartment from the 1970s is one of Albert Hadley’s most famous and influential rooms

Ron Bricke: I was a recent Parsons interior design graduate in the 1960s when I  first viewed Albert Hadley’s work. I had the opportunity of attending an exhibition at Cooper Union, which included a room by Albert Hadley.  It was staggering in its simplicity and ease—elegant, extraordinary, livable.  I remember being  was particularly stunned by the woven cellophane curtains. Altogether, a masterpiece. Not only was Mr. Hadley a brilliant designer, he was also (to steal a word from Clodagh) a thoroughbred of a type I have never experienced before or since.

The study in Albert Hadley's own Manhattan apartment

The study in Albert Hadley’s own Manhattan apartment

Glenn Gissler: Dignity is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Albert Hadley. The distinction and appeal of the work of Parish-Hadley initially eluded me, in part because my architectural studies offered limited insight into the very specific history of interior design and decoration. But over time I was able to distinguish and learn from the nuance and intelligence of Albert Hadley’s design work, which was marked by grace and restraint.  Although I did speak with him a few times, I mostly saw Mr. Hadley across a room at events. But his dignity always came through, as it did in his work, or that of his protégés, when I saw it in publications. In the harried 21st century the fine manners and generosity of an Albert Hadley are nearly obsolete. I can only hope that his example will have an enduring influence on the design world, and on the manner in which the design community nurtures its young and shows respect to its colleagues.

The bedroom in albert Hadley's Manhattan apartment

Albert Hadley’s bedroom in his Manhattan apartment  demonstrates his way with understated elegance at its best. The classic Hudson’s Bay scarlet wool blanket is by Woolrich.

Susan Huckvale Arann: I think the New York Times obituary got it exactly right when it said that Albet Hadley’s “brave and creative eye, distilling both classic and contemporary styles, made him a standard-bearing decorator.” His aesthetic certainly influenced my design.  I think his use of different shades of color in a single space was particularly timeless yet thoroughly contemporary—and always interesting.