Tuesday, March 17, 2009

1972 - Outspoken comment by William Haines

In 1972 Architectural Digest published a great interview with William Haines. Entitled Designer William Haines' Outspoken Comments, it is a real window into attitudes of nearly 40 years ago and into how a great decorator, for that is what he called himself, thought about his process, his clients and his profession. Of course, some of it is dated, some of it sexist, some elitist, some still current, but all of it is fascinating.

"Design is an opinion, not a profession."

"I loathe cozy cottages. They were made for farmers and peasants, not ladies and gentlemen."

"I contend there's no decorator in the world who can make a house good if the architecture is bad."

"Who can say what good taste is and what is bad? I don't know what taste is. It's like a fog ... you can see it and feel it, but you can never touch it."

"A house is a shell. The people who live in that house make it come alive and no designer in the world can do that for them. They have to make it their home. They must possess the house; it should not possess them."

"Trends? There are all sorts of epidemics." 

"Which came first, fashion or interior design? In the time of Louis XV, armchairs were designed to accommodate the ladies' voluminous gowns. Today we have big, deep sofas because we are a reclining culture. We sit more on the back of our necks than our derrieres."

Enjoyable though the article is, and there are many more statements like those above, for me the most pleasurable part is the photo of the room below - a delightful combination of architectural modernism, English or American Rococo, 18th century crystal, Mexican painting, neoclassical fireplace with caryatids and the beautifully updated klismos in the dining room, above. 

The roots of modern decorating are all here - the mix as it was in 1972 and not bettered since.

As William Haines said, "We're coming back into the sterility of the fifties today with all the plastic, the chromes and the mirrors. All that is going to be a cliche. Plastics are wonderful and we use them. But you do not divorce them from the past. You mix. Life is the same way. Interiors are becoming clinical. Decorators are softening the look a bit with using furs and skins. Of course, that's not new. A lot of us decorators did that in the thirties. Our best modern work was done twenty-one or twenty-two years ago, and it still stands up."

Change the date, change the materials, change the shapes, but the principles remain - "If you're designing modern, use the past."

At the end of the article it was stated that Mr. Haines like so many people did not want his home available on supermarket news stands, but Architectural Digest subscribers being both friends and clientele made the difference and helped the story be exclusive to the magazine. 

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