If you read a Peak of Chic you will know that we had dinner last week with Jennifer and her friend Will Merrill. Will had commented anonymously a number of times when I was posting about William Gaylord, and eventually I posted a tribute to him under his nom de plume of Anonymous. Will was immensely helpful with the posts about William Gaylord whom he had known and gave me much advice as to what to look for. Luckily, everything Will suggested I was able to find in my stack of magazines.
So it was with great pleasure that I met Will for the first time at Jennifer's over pre-dinner drinks and though it was a school night it turned out to be one of the most interesting evenings I've spent in a long time. One of the many names bandied about, and believe me there were many, over that dinner table was that of Arthur E. Smith - a designer whose name I remembered and on going to my old magazines found I'd already marked an article in AD about a place in Manhattan that Smith had decorated.
I feel the photographs speak for Smith's design very well and I find I have little to contribute - the design is so delightfully clear and not at all dated. Who would have guessed that these rooms were published in 1977? What I had forgotten, and again I was reminded during Jennifer's dinner, that Mr Smith, a native of Vidalia, Georgia, had worked for Billy Baldwin whom he met first whilst working for antiques dealer Edward Garratt. After leaving Garratt, Smith worked as Baldwin's assistant for seven years and then as his partner until Baldwin retired in 1972.
Arthur E. Smith, Inc., was established in the year of Baldwin's retirement and according to his obituary in the New York Sunday Times, Smith began decorating for a formidable list of clients: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mrs Paul Mellon, Uma Thurman, George Segal and others.
His obituary also states, surprisingly, that his work appeared in Architectural Digest as well as House and Garden and The New York Times. The writer of Mr Smith's obituary goes on to say that "he was known for his shy, quiet manner, and the rooms he decorated reflected his personality. They combined his sense of style with understatement."
Further: "In 1990, in an interview in Architectural Digest, Mr Smith was asked if there was a minimum-size project he'd would accept. No, he replied, I will decorate anything from a lampshade to a villa, the size of the project means very little." Also, he never wanted rooms to look newly decorated, he said, and encouraged his clients to acquire dogs and cats, referring to pets as his secret assistants. They give the patina of age to things."
When he died in 1997 Arthur E. Smith was survived by his mother, his sister, and Andrew Crispo, his companion, Andrew Crispo of whom much has been written.
Quotations from The New York Times, Obituary, October 1997.
Photos by Peter Vitale from Architectural Digest, November 1977.