Billy Baldwin: The Dean of Decorating (Great Minds Lecture Series)

March 30, 2017 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Billy Baldwin: The Dean of Decorating (Great Minds Lecture Series)

Born William Williar Baldwin, Jr. in 1903, Billy Baldwin (“Billy B”) was one of the preeminent interior decorators of the 1900s.  During his career, Baldwin saw his name become synonymous with luxurious American style.  His roster of famous clientele featured icons of the 20th Century such as Cole Porter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Paul Mellons, and the William S. Paleys.  Both a classicist and modernist, Baldwin championed the incorporation of a homeowner’s personal taste and furnishings into a space meant to evoke comfort.  This he viewed as the ultimate form of luxury.  However, a man of very strong personal preferences, Baldwin felt that the ultimate enemy of good décor was affluence and he arduously avoided clientele that he simply didn’t “like”.


Following a brief stint pursuing an architectural degree at Princeton, Baldwin abruptly left his formal training when his work caught the eye of renowned NYC decorator, Ruby Ross Wood.  Wood reportedly lured Baldwin into the world of professional decorating with an offer he simply could not refuse… a wage of $35 per week!  As one who despised the term interior designer, Baldwin is noted as having once said that “good taste is the dullest thing in the world.”  Baldwin was known for his quick wit and intensely strong likes and dislikes. His infamous remarks include quips such as, “The word that almost makes me throw up is satin; damask makes me throw up;” “I certainly made a lady of out wicker;” and, upon specifying an intensely rich green for a Floridian project, handed the painter a gardenia leaf he had just spat on, and exclaimed, “This is what I want the walls to look like, including the spit.”


With a style characterized by immaculately appointed and bespoke spaces in which all elements were “starched and polished”,  Baldwin became a design legend famed for his refined tastes and personal approach to working with clients.  A man whose style was always as perfectly tailored and well pressed as his spaces, he himself claimed, “I go to bed every night with my arms across my chest, so I’ll make a nice package for someone to carry out!”