Mark Hampton, in his book Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century, wrote:
"If one were to come up with just the right phrase to describe the late Bill Pahlmann, it would probably be 'the best known decorator of his time.' " He became a household word, as well as an enormous influence on the design world, both commercial and private. He was also the first man to do so – not that one wishes to sound sexist. Before Pahlmann, there had been some very famous ladies in the decorating business who dominated nearly every aspect of the field, most notably the publicity that surrounded it ...."
" .... sooner or later a Siegfried figure was bound to arrive upon the scene. His name was William Pahlmann. Thirty five years ago*, anyone in America remotely interested in decorating would have known immediately who he was."
I'm sure William Pahlmann is not as well-known today as he once was and, occasionally, one still comes across photographs of rooms done by him that illuminate what Mark Hampton meant. On the other hand, there are photographs of rooms that make one wonder how he became as famous as he did. This is not to say Pahlmann was not a good decorator because he was, as this room shows. It is a room that could be extant today and be charming enough to be considered a time-capsule.
However, to my mind, there is a direct correlation between what made him famous and what makes some of the present generation of decorators famous – those elements of novelty and fashion that titillate the national publicity machine to giddy heights of febrility (and, which, inevitably date a room.) Also, to my mind, what gives this room a degree of modernity is the degree of visual clutter.
In her new and excellent book, George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic, Maureen Footer mentions William Pahlmann as a friend of Stacey's and that each influenced the other. George Stacey's influence certainly comes to mind here, not solely in the quality of the antique furniture, but in the gemstone-hues (that wonderful emerald–green chandelier) used in Mrs Carll Tucker's townhouse in New York City – the venue in 1967 for a decorator's showhouse to benefit the Epilepsy Association of America.
The dark paneled walls, offset by a bright gold painted ceiling, seem to me a beautiful and restrained setting for an effervescent printed linen that, frankly, might well have led the old-guard carpet to wonder about the younger generation, the flower-children of the 1960s.
In comparison with a room by his friend George Stacey, Pahlmann's rooms have, however formal the basis, a definite air of informality – as Mark Hampton wrote: "he could guarantee an atmosphere of lively, unconventional modernity where dinner jackets and finger bowls were less common than television and cashmere cardigans."
I'll write again about William Pahlmann in future posts. He's worth getting to know. I write above that one comes across photographs of rooms done by him that make one wonder why Pahlmann became as famous as he did, but I question now if his diverse (I won't use the word "eclectic") approach to design and modernity is lost to my jaundiced eye. Clearly I need to investigate further.
The fabric on the sofas and the curtains is, I think, "Carmel" by Franciscan Fabrics – a kind of floral sadly missed
The photographs are by Alexandre George for Architectural Digest, Fall 1967.
* Written in 1992.