Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An interior dramatist

Rooms designed nearly forty years ago for a couple, a psychiatrist and a writer, by William Gaylord, seem to my eye as contemporary today as when they were first created. My trawl through the 1970s is unearthing some real treasures like Mr Gaylord and the people mentioned in this and last week's posts. People I knew of, some merely blips on the collective printed mind and others who've simply fallen out of favor and their place in history is undecided. Some became very famous in the following decade only to fall victim to AIDS. There was a lot of dross too, and it might be interesting to cover that in the coming weeks.

William Gaylord's name is not well-known today or at least not as well known as it should be. Assuming there were not two San Francisco decorators of the same name, perhaps the reason he is not well-known is that he died young. According to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle he died of cancer at age forty. As I say, assuming the person of the obituary is the same person I'm writing about.

William Gaylord designed these rooms in an old Victorian, more properly known as a Queen Anne Revival, house that had survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. The choice was made not to furnish it as it might have been in the 1880s but as a contemporary space within old walls - "a contradiction and a delight."

William Gaylord made no architectural changes - no walls were removed to open the small if tall spaces, in fact it was spruced up, had its more excessive moldings removed, and a couple of fireplaces updated with modern materials. He painted out the background, furnished the rooms with contemporary pieces - pieces that still look contemporary to eyes used to seeing vintage furniture in decorating schemes - and gave it what must have been one of the first instances of the "lampless look" so popular in the decade to follow.

Lighting was from spot lights and was used to create a dramatic punctuation of the room suitable for whatever activity took place there. There were no lamps because there were no lamp tables for them to go on, and there were no end tables because "the small rooms could not be burdened with furniture whose function would be only to hold up lamps."

The simplified but dramatic background was solely a foil for well-chosen objects such as Joe Colombo's Elda chair from 1964, Rothko, Newman and Stella paintings, plants, flowers, and the owners.

"Were he not called a decorator, Mr Gaylord would like to be known as an interior dramatist."

Quotes from San Francisco Victorian by William Moore
Photography by Russell MacMasters
All from Architectural Digest, November/December 1975.


  1. I'm mercifully free of what style is these days. Never heard of the lampless era. What strikes me first if the stand AD iciness and heavy vegetation.

    I enjoy your style histories. Are there charts showing the ebb and flow of popularity, say, of mirrored furniture? It's done with hemlines.

  2. I like his verbal sense that gives "a contradiction and a delight" and "interior dramatist." I wonder how many interior designers had literary leanings.
    I'm aware of the "lampless" phase yet no one had ever quite put a finger to this before...

  3. I lived in NYC, but got to know Billy and he was truely a charming, good looking, and very talented designer. He learned a lot from his friends, Tony Hail and Michael Taylor, but his "look" was totally individual.
    One of his best, and most unique, interiors was his own Knob Hill apartment that was photographed by Architectural Degist, and made a "star" of him! His early death was a great loss. Will

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I shall look for his apartment photos but I must say this house made a star of him for me. I am looking for more on him. I have been very kindly given a number of "leads" recently and fully intend to follow up on them. I am grateful to you all.

  5. I will Look for my files, and send them to you (if I can find). Will

  6. I have been following along on these posts- this is an era of design- that I don't fully understand. The work of William Gaylord is far superior to my eye- than that of the well known Spectre. I love his approach, on a whole-timeless. GT

  7. Jay Spectre was one of a number of exciting, for the time, 1970s/80s decorators who were part of the AD stable and one almost had the feeling that whatever they did AD published. Much of what I have seen does not appeal to my taste but it is undeniably of its time and that is the point.

    I wish I had more of Mr Gaylord's work to show - I am searching.