As an interior designer for some 30 years, I pride myself on researching and studying ‘the greats’ who have helped to shape the design world. I thought I had a pretty comprehensive awareness of all the talented people in this industry, yet I somehow missed one: George Stacey (1901-1993) really was the creator of ‘American Chic,’ as interior designer and author Maureen Footer proclaims in her new biography, George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic.
I was invited to a lecture given by Ms. Footer, who recently was in town to promote her book. The location of the stately Cass Gilbert-designed Central Library downtown provided the perfect backdrop for the musings about a man who came from very humble beginnings to become an icon in the design community.
Stacey was a graduate of Parsons, who then went off to Paris in the 1920s to further his aesthetic education. With a natural eye for quality, proportion and symmetry, he, with the help of a partner back in New York City, developed a very successful antique business. Stacey purchased and shipped the goods back to New York; the items flew out of the shop, giving Stacey some financial success at a very early age.
Returning to the States in 1933, Stacey took a position with the well-known and flamboyant interior decorator Rose Cumming. It was her connection to ‘the smart set’ that really helped make Stacey the darling of decoration. One of her blue-blood clients, Frances Cheney, had a unique building project that Cumming didn't feel inspired to do, so the project was handed over to Stacey. The rest, as they say, is history.
Stacey created a ‘modernist Monticello’ for Cheney and her husband, the first of seven projects that Cheney and Stacey would collaborate on. Their longstanding devotion to each other went far beyond a client/decorator relationship to the point that upon Stacey’s death, he was buried in the Cheney family plot.
Stacey had a clear understanding of how to mix humble and haute. His interiors were restrained but still made a clear statement of classical influences. As Footer notes, If it weren’t for Stacey, Sister Parish would never have been able to mix needlepoint and fine antiques.
Keep in mind that Stacey was decorating when the country was experiencing wealth like it never had before. It was a time when people actually wanted their interiors to represent their personal taste. There were no big-box stores, so people gravitated toward quality and the desire to have an interior that reflected cultured, civilized living.
As a result of Stacey’s approach, knowledge and style, his client list was a literal who’s who of the carriage trade. Society names like Duke, Astor, Whitney were all on his roster, as well as celebrities like Diana Vreeland and Ava Gardner. He even worked for royalty, assisting Princess Grace with her palace in Monaco!
Knowing when to ‘go out on top’ in his later years, Stacey kept in touch with his clients but didn't actively pursue new work. It was the 60s and the times had changed: Lucite and wicker were becoming the ‘new’ look, one that he didn’t feel comfortable with. Instead, Stacey stayed true to his course of antiques to the end.
George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic is a must-read addition to your design library. Find it at local bookstores and on Amazon—you’ll be glad you did!