Friday, November 27, 2009

"There was a time ...

... when I wanted to get rid of everything that had gone before. Now I simply want to add something - to explore unfamiliar possibilities."

So said William Gaylord of his new flat in an 1870 house on Russian Hill with views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, an 1800 square foot space he gutted and remodeled, leaving nothing of the 1870 interior. He was then thirty years old and this flat shows a development, but not away, from his previous Knob Hill apartment that made his name when he was twenty-five.

"I like to think of myself as an engineer as well as an artist. I like to build, to build rooms - to build the furniture, the carpet, the walls, rather than just gathering things together to fill a room."

What's remarkable about this space is how it feels, thirty-two years after it was published, as contemporary as anything being done today. Of course, there are dateable elements such as the travertine coffee tables, floating chrome-clad fireplaces, a chrome and glass soffit above the entry and the bench at the foot of the bed, but none of these are in any way conspicuously unusable today. In fact, after thirty years and dusted off by time, these elements have charm.

Gone is the suffocating thicket of tropical plants so prevalent in these years, replaced by a couple of Australian bottle trees, a bromeliad or two, and on the dining table a fabulous bunch of the flowers that swamped the 1980s, stargazer lilies. A pretty cyclamen sits in a basket on the travertine, unexpectedly diminutive and subtle.

Mr Gaylord achieved drama in this color-neutral interior through lighting -the lampless look again - using library lights, pin spots and ceiling cans. Apparently there were nineteen dimmers in the living room. In the bedroom small lights were built in - "I read in bed, so I installed little bullet lights hidden behind the draped curtains. You push a button, and they hit the book - not your head or your face or your knees. Designers so often overlook comfort because they don't study how individuals like to live."

The furniture is classic: Louis XVI, reproduction and signed original; slipper chairs and sofa designed by the decorator and covered in pale leather to contrast with the dark leather of the 18th century chairs; M5 chairs surrounding a marble slab (supported on steel plates hidden in the chrome base and anchored in the specially strengthened floor). The bed, at first glance a tester bed, with its curtains of ribbed silk hanging from the ceiling, stood in a room upholstered in suede.

"The only reason I have French chairs is that I've never sat in a chair more comfortable."

"I like order and control in design, but just form and function are not enough. A room has to have comfort; it has to have a little intrigue; it has to have fantasy. The unexpected in a room is the vital element."

"If I build closets like that for someone, they have to adjust to them. They have to adjust to putting their shirts in order. But when they do, it enriches their lives with a quality of living that no one had every made available to them before."

This is probably the last post about William Gaylord if only from the point of view I have nothing more in my hoard of 1970s magazines. I have access to 1980s issues of Architectural Digest and perhaps I shall find something there. I hope so, for it is interesting to see in his work, and that of others I have mentioned already and intend to discuss in the following weeks, the foundations of Noughties contemporary design - that is, until it was highjacked by the purveyors of mid-century modern.

Photos by Russell MacMasters from Architectural Digest, May/June 1977.


  1. I am so impressed. I love that fireplace ~ just divine.

  2. OH Great! You found them! Long Story, but I do not have have these pictures.

    I did not remember the details, but the pictures defiately show the "feeling" that I remembered----one of simplicity, serenity, elegance, luxury. and comfort. And then there is 'my" sofa and chairs again!

    Thank you so very much. Will

  3. Thank you, Janet. As I said, after thirty years these things begin to have charm. Amazing, how some things look old fashioned and others remain fresh.

  4. So great! and yes as you have pointed out to me the plants are the only thing that gives it up- I am so glad you pointed it out to me, now I can easily edit them out and find a new appreciation for the interiors of the era. G

  5. Great post. That takes me back. Growing up in LA in the 80s.