Tuesday, July 20, 2010


.. very much to my taste and the latest in an occasional series about libraries.

As I said on Friday, one thing leads to another, and this post leads me back to where I'd begun - with Billy Baldwin. In Billy Baldwin Decorates there are photos of Mr and Mrs William McCormick Blair, Jr's living room and dining room. Though the room shown below is not one of the illustrations in that book, photos of a refreshed but essentially unchanged Baldwin library were published nine years ago in House Beautiful - a room, nacreous, well-mannered, sunny in disposition and very much to my taste.

It's very hard to put one's finger on precisely what it is that makes this room so special for it is a true example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The more one attempts to analyze it the further it seems to recede, as does a dream that fades more quickly the harder one tries to remember it.

This is what the Germans and by extension psychologists call gestalt: perceiving something as a whole rather than through its separate aspects. One way to think about this is to imagine eliminating one element from the room - the painting for example. Obviously it is the biggest thing in the room so eliminating it altogether would leave an enormous gap, but even substituting it with a different painting would transform the mood. An example on a smaller scale - imagine the fauteuils replaced by a pair of club chairs and immediately there would a very different room - it would become prosaic. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts then changing one aspect drastically alters the whole.

This then is the ineffable quality of chic - an indefinable, harmonious balance between many things that, somehow, works.

Photos by Eric Boman to accompany text written by Marie Brenner for House Beautiful, September 2001.


  1. I have really enjoyed your series of posts and the discussions on what is chic and harmonious and the subtle distinction from period, style and trends. A lot of time and money is spent trying to shape our tastes (annually) but the Billy Baldwin room is like beautiful bone structure...it just is.

  2. But would it have worked without the doggy bed under the table? Just teasing. I love this room.

  3. As you point out so effectively, it's all in the balance; and when one
    element is removed, even hypothetically, that balance is disrupted.
    This sort of exercise fascinates me, it could be applied to nearly
    any room having that elusive essence of 'timeless chic' but the example
    you've chosen is an ideal illustration. I remember that article in HB
    and the implication that the room was altered in small ways after
    Billy Baldwin's death. It might be instructive to see the original, in
    order to learn how the balance was maintained.

  4. smilla4blogs - thank you. You're quite correct when you say a lot of time and money is spent in shaping our modern taste and as I said a few posts ago what is modern is what we are persuaded to buy. Ah me!

    Rose, what doggy bed? I thought that was where the master of the house slept when he was in the .... !

    Mr Worthington, thank you. I wish I had photos of the original incarnation but the text the article, if I'm reading it aright, simply said that a refreshing had taken place for what that's worth. I loved the room back in 2001 and have kept the clipping in Billy Baldwin Decorates since. My partner commented the Blair resembled our living room in coloration and mood, and in a way it does, but we're till tinkering with the balance. You've given me another idea, for which I am very grateful. Now I just need to find the time.