Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Down the hall

Down this forbiddingly bland hall in the General Motors building lay a feast of color unsurpassed in the corporate world then or since. The office suite had been designed in a curious blend of styles for the Helena Rubinstein cosmetics company by Joseph Braswell, a name that one comes across in older issues of Architectural Digest, and judging by these interiors a hellishly good decorator.

Color as part of a corporate identity was not a new concept in 1971 when these photos were published but this degree of individual identity expressed in the design of offices was rare, if not unique. That a corporate office was located in a Modernist building was to be expected by this time (it could be argued that by the seventies Modernism had taken over from Neo-classicism and become the preferred architectural style of authority) and also to be expected was a rigorous furnishing scheme based on a pared-down industrial aesthetic, in a relatively neutral palette.

What is so refreshing about this almost forty-year old design is the mix of style - Modernism, Baroque, Colonial and Park Avenue Traditional. I describe it a curious mix but if one considers the previous decade's upheavals and the resultant solidifying of traditional attitudes it should not be too surprising.

Here is the traditional corporation allying itself with the old guard, indeed stating by its choice of location, architecture, furnishings and art that it is part of the establishment, yet feeling the need to soften the totalitarian message with a reception room masquerading as a Park Avenue drawing room in full fig, flushed through with the bright colors of the 1960s, and by the use of Baroque and Colonial furniture from both sides of the Atlantic.

She moved down the hall
So I paid her a call
She flashed a smile
I stayed awhile ...

Photos uncredited as far as I can ascertain, but are from Architectural Digest, March/April 1971

Quote from She Moved Down the Hall by The Four Seasons.


  1. Yes, and when put in the design "timeline" it really stands up- la

  2. There's almost a (David) Hicksian colour palette being employed here, especially in the last photo. How invigorating it must have been to work in an office so beautifully decorated.

  3. I agree about the Hicksian color - I immediately thought of him when I first saw the photos. The second to last photo shows that glorious portrait by Graham Sutherland which maybe the source of the color palette.

  4. Ms Estee Lauder's office was also in this building. But rather than hire Mr Braswell, she decorated it herself. Some might say it smelled better than it looked!

  5. seriously -how cool is that. Why is my office so BORING by comparison :-(

  6. Mr. Tackett - I'm going to try and find photos of Ms Lauder's offices. Mr Braswell was/is quite a talent.

    Architect Design - what can I say? Is it the corporate chicken farm - greige cubes all the way? You should see mine - 1970s concrete breeze block decor relieved by wall-plugs and blue tack. I have left it as-is - why mess with perfection?

  7. What a great analysis of the aesthetics of these offices. Delighted to discover Braswell and to see this absolutely gorgeous deployment of colour and styles.