I could not let the passing of Albert Hadley, who is revered as one of the great interior decorators in recent history, go unnoticed. It seemed there was nary a mention on the morning or evening news about a man who literally defined good taste for more than 60 years. Not surprising, really.When I asked my students not too long ago if they had heard of Albert Hadley, not one of them knew who I was talking about. How sad.
Albert Livingston Hadley Jr. was born in Springfield, Tenn., just north of Nashville, on Nov. 18, 1920. His family moved often, and so his mother decorated many homes, always observed by Albert’s watchful eye. After two years of college in Nashville, he approached local decorator A. Herbert Rogers for a job as an assistant. This was his first step over the thresholds of the finest of homes, a social class that he would eventually be entering on a regular basis. He served his country in World War II and, with his G.I. bill, was able to move to New York City. Enrolling at the famed Parsons School of Design, his years of training paid off as he was noticed by Van Day Truex, the president of the school and arbiter of good taste and design. Truex would go on to be the design director for Tiffany & Co. In 1949, Truex offered the young Hadley a teaching position at Parsons, which he accepted.
In 1956, Hadley was hired by Eleanor Brown, who founded McMillen Inc., the finest design firm in the country. She ran her firm with the social correctness that was required to relate to their high-end list of clients. A maid served tea and cookies on a mahogany cart every afternoon. Hours were 9-to-5 with no weekend work allowed.
Six years later, Hadley had the opportunity to introduce himself to Dorothy May Kinnicutt, better known as ‘Sister Parish.’ This meeting spawned a 32-year partnership of two of the greatest designers that our country has produced. Hadley’s first assignment with Parish was to assist her with the breakfast room of theWhite House for Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Hadley continued to work well into his 80s. The list of designers under his employ or who have studied with him include BunnyWilliams, Thomas Jayne, Mariette Himes Gomez and David Easton.
With a client list with names like Paley, Gore, de la Renta, Astor and Getty, Hadley clearly did work for the crème de la crème of society. “Never less, never more,” Hadley once said, as a way of summing up his career and life. Adieu to an inspiration to anyone who studies, loves, appreciates or admires good interior design.
For a more detailed reflection of his life and work, I suggest the book, Albert Hadley: The Story of America’s Preeminent Interior Designer by Adam Lewis.