Monday, January 18, 2010

How quickly we forget

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.


  1. Thanks for the intro to Arthur E. Smith. I'm not surprised that you've marked Mr. Smith's work. I hope you'll show us more. I do enjoy that you can't predict where talented, ambitious folks will emerge.

    Do you know the artist of those paintings or collages? The big red one with 3 figures looks ready to step into the room. The 2 heads on the black mantle give me a chuckle.

    My cat(s) work hard every day giving our stuff patina. But I don't think JoAnn will buy calling it patina.

  2. Barry --- Great post!
    The thing that brought up his name over drinks was an article in an AD Book (American Interiors, published in '78) that I had recentely pulled off the shelf and reread. In an article about Smith's own apartment, what stood out to me was ,"Billy Baldwin had been looking for someone not previously trained by another interior designer. Arthur smith filled the bill and struck Mr. Baldwin as a young man of notable ability with a useful architectural background as well as sure sence of color and composition.
    And then quoting Baldwin, it continued " Send them out to get samples", says Billy Baldwin, describing his teaching technique with trainees. "That's how you learn whether they have natural taste. Arthur never brought back things I didn't like."
    What better traing could you ask for?

  3. I am going to remember "They give the patina of age to things." I can just see a dachshund on that chaise. Of course the similarities to Billy Baldwin, I see, but why wouldn't anyone want to work for perfection. Beautiful rooms.

  4. shy quiet manner AND Andrew Crispo? My, but we humans are a complicated lot....

  5. Will - you're right, I did forget the source of that conversation. Darn!

    Terry - I'll find out who the paintings are by if I can. As to patina, its not what I would call it.

    Little Augury - I agree, beautiful rooms even without the dachsund.

    The Down East Dilettante - Ah! So you know of Mr Crispo. Complicated indeed, these webs we weave.

  6. I ve saved the clipping of this apartment in my files ever since the issue came out. So glad to see it get its just deserves! The best part for me has always been the mirrored chimney breast and those two little slipper chairs. I went to dinner at Arthur's apt with Andrew and friends the night before Andrew was going off to jail- a curious evening for a young person. They lived in adjoining apts in a loft conversion building off the west-side highway in the Village. They were all very strange people. Arthur actually inherited BBs business and all his clients he did very well probably much better than Mr. B. By the way who is Ulma Thurma?

  7. Dear Anonymous - I'd love to talk, sub rosa. If that is acceptable to you email me through my profile on the blog. That aside, I too love the slipper chairs in front of the mirrored chimney breast - in fact the whole apartment looks totally, unostentatiously glamorous to me. I could move in.

    Uma Thurman it should have been - sorry for the typo.

  8. Greetings Blue!
    My Godfather is William Merrill (WM Twigs) and he turned me on to your delicious blog! I heard all about the divine dinner you shared with Jennifer---what fun! Thank you for the kind comment on my new blog, The Czarina of Chic. Please let me know if you are ever in Winter Park, Florida---I would love to show you my condo which Uncle Will designed. Arthur E. Smith can't hold a candle to Uncle Will's divine work in my home!
    Cheers, Carson

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  11. The article on Crispo's apartment is not about the loft space in the West Village. Those wonderful photos were taken at Mr. Crispo and Mr. Smith's shared apartments were on E. 79th Street where they lived prior to moving downtown. While the rooms were not overly large, 3 apartments had been joined (two adjacent on one floor and one downstairs) to create a beautiful space. Arthur Smith was a kind, intelligent and extremely intelligent gentleman. He would wave his magic designer wand and create the most fantastic vignettes out of nothing. His eye was beyond reproach as was his reputation. The marvelous private art collection of Andrew Crispo was hung throughout their living quarters in a way that showed off the artwork and the interior design in a completely joined environment that was beyond was just damned good sensibility.