About half way through the marvelous book Parish-Hadley Tree of Life, John Murray relates the wonderful story of Albert Hadley’s annual reading of Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” at the office Christmas party hosted each year by Mrs. Parish, quoting this excerpt:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste…
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others... they too have their story.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…
Be yourself.–Max Ehrmann
I began to wonder. Is this book about decorating, or about life?
Parish-Hadley Tree of Life is a fabulous collection of memoirs from 30 Parish-Hadley alums about their time at the firm and what they learned there, coupled with images of some of their work, then and now. Although Brian McCarthy and Bunny Williams produced the book (and I am sure it was A LOT of work pulling together this gorgeous volume), as Bunny herself told me, she really didn’t write all of the chapters. The words come directly from each designer featured, all of whom went on to have highly acclaimed careers.
Still, with all those voices, there are definite constants. Graciousness is a mantra, both with respect to the rooms designed and in the attitude of the designers and clients. Generosity and kindness are repeatedly mentioned. Without exception every designer spoke of Mr. Hadley’s gentle but wonderful mentoring, and his giving spirit. Curiosity and how it made life, and design richer is emphasized. The importance of comfort in a home is strongly noted. The way Mrs. Parish insisted that furniture be grouped for conversations and that there always be a place to set your drink or book is a common refrain. It isn’t just about looking good. Ultimately it’s the people who matter.
Yet, the book is not highbrow. In addition to these virtues, the designers included in Parish-Hadley Tree of Life also share the many practical lessons in good design that they learned at the firm. What makes a good floor plan, how to manipulate fabrics, the need to vary the heights of objects and furniture in a room, are all covered among many other valuable nuggets.
And then there are the rooms. My goodness, it’s all in there. Not only do these top designers tell us what they learned at Parish-Hadley, they show us.
While most of us are not blessed with a world class art collection or a living room large enough to accommodate several seating areas (like many of the homes shown in the book), there is much to learn about color and pattern combinations, scale, proportion, rugs, furniture, display and style—just by drinking in the pictures.
I don’t think my regular readers are surprised at all that I am recommending this book, what with the important role Parish-Hadley played in the design history of the 20th century. I hope you have enjoyed some of my favorite images from the tome.
Perhaps you are surprised, however, that I am recommending this book because the stories told will enrich your life, apart from decorating.
Mr. Hadley’s favorite poem quoted above says everything, both about how to design and about how to live. Then again, maybe they are the same thing.
Many thanks to Jill Cohen Associates for the review copy and for providing the beautiful images from the book.