Jan. 07


NOW AND THEN: The Beautiful Textiles and Extraordinary Legacy of D.D. and Leslie Tillett

by Lynn Byrne

Fabric by D.D. and Leslie Tillett

Parish-Hadley Bedroom Featuring Fabric by D.D. and Leslie Tillett

Recently extended one month -it closes on February 3– the exhibition on the textiles of D.D. and Leslie Tillett at the Museum of the City of New York is a  ”must-see” for anyone interested in fabrics and mid-century design.  

Although not a household name today,  the husband and wife team’s bold designs counted Brooke Astor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Billy Baldwin and Albert Hadley among their chic fans, making them true trendsetters during their day.  Their aesthetic is both exotic and classic with global influences ranging from traditional handicrafts in Africa, Japan and Mexico to contemporary art.

D.D. and Leslie Tillett Textiles

Some of my favorite Tillett fabrics.  A version of the chrysanthemums pattern was used by Jackie in her Hyannis Port home.

The exhibition is the first retrospective of the Tilletts’ designs and was mounted with contributions from several of their children and grandchildren who have carried on their design legacy.  Although a compact show,  it is bursting with color, making it the perfect antidote to January’s chill.  It is the Tillett’s  unexpected color pairings and use of texture that truly distinguishes  their work.

D.D. and Leslie Tillett

D. D. Doctorow met her future husband Leslie Tillett when she was went to Cuernavaca, Mexico on assignment for  her employer Harper’s Bazaar magazine.  Harper’s Bazaar had heard about the beautiful textiles being made by Leslie, and D.D. was sent to shoot a feature for the magazine.

She quickly fell in love with Leslie and gave up her job at Harper’s Bazaar to learn die-mixing and silkscreening,  joining Leslie’s circle of artistic colleagues that included Diego Rivera and silversmith Bill Spratling.  Interestingly, her photos taken during that first visit have never been published and are now on display for the first time in the exhibition. Also on display are articles of clothing made from Tillett textiles, their jewelry designs, sketches, paintings and other vintage memorabilia.

The Tilletts moved to Manhattan in 1946 and enjoyed widespread recognition during their lifetimes (Leslie died in 1992 and D.D. in 2008).  They became close friends with Jacqueline Kennedy, who owned a sundress in a smaller scale version of the raspberry print used by Parish-Hadley seen in the first photo. Also on display at the exhibition, is a portion of a tablecloth made by the Tilletts for Caroline Kennedy’s wedding.

In addition to their work for the luxury market, the Tilletts believed that design could be a force for social change. Together with Jackie Kennedy they helped launch Design Works for Bedford Stuyvesant in 1969, training a full staff and providing employment for many members of that community until it closed in 1978. The Tilletts went on to start a similar program in Nantucket and later consulted with the governments of Korea, China, Peru and Lesotho to develop handicrafts for export.  Leslie Tillett also wrote several books on needlework that examined the influences of Native American and African motifs.  With their strong footing in the high-end market, together with  their good works, it is most surprising that the Tilletts’ work fell from public view, particularly since their children and grandchildren have continued their design legacy.

 Today’s Tillett Designers

The Tilletts’ textile designs are still fabricated today by the their grandson Patrick McBride and his mother, the Tillett’s daughter-in-law Kathleen  Tillett, through the firm Tillett Textiles in Sheffield Massachusetts.  All of the fabrics comprising the backdrops in the exhibition were made by them.

Patrick also has developed his own fabric line, T4 Textlies, and he graciously shared some images of his latest creations with me.

The latest from Tillett and T4 Textiles

T4 Textiles are often featured in House Beautiful.

Tillett and T4 Textiles

Some of the T4 fabrics that have been featured in House Beautiful

Additionally, today’s interior designers can design custom colorways for all of the Tillett and T4 fabrics with the firm’s ColorPad method. Click here to try it!  (Have fun!).  Love this hot pink (and “hot-off-the-presses”) version of the chevron-style fabric I spotted at the exhibition, shared by Patrick.

The Tillett’s son Sean, through his firm Tillett and Rauscher, creates products from the fabrics made by Tillett Textiles, some of which are  currently on offer at the Museum’s shop. Tillett & Rauscher products

Finally, lighting for the exhibition was designed by the Tillett’s daughter, Linnaea, a lighting designer and professor of lighting at Parsons the New School for Design.  Her portfolio, which includes residential, commerical and landscape lighting, is stunning.   Click here to see it.  For those who want to read more about the Tilletts,’ Linnaea’s blog includes a marvelous account of her childhood growing up amongst such innovative designers.

Tillett LIghting

Lighting design by Linnaea Tillettt


Given the attention that a museum exhibition brings, coupled with the extraordinary talents of D.D. and Leslie Tillett’s descendants, it is hard to imagine that their name will ever fall into obscurity again.  Their vibrant fabrics explode with life and are true classics that are just as fresh today as they were when they were first designed.

D.D. and Leslie Tillett


First image from the book Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design by Christopher Petkanas.  Last image of the Tilletts from the Museum of the City of New York. T4 fabric images from Patrick McBride and from House Beautiful.  Photo of  Linnaea Tillett’s lighting design from her portfolio. Other images by me.  



Jan. 02


DESIGN BOOK ADDICT: The Things that Matter by Nate Berkus

by Lynn Byrne


nate berkus-The Things that Matter

Some things that matter to Nate

The Things that Matter by Nate Berkus is the perfect book to review on the second day of the New Year.  Why?  Because it is so much more than your average, “everyone has penned one”, design book.  This is not a bound version of  Mr. Berkus’ design porfolio.  In fact, he only designed a handful of the featured interiors.

In this, his second book, Nate gives us his philosophy for living.  While there are plenty of inspirational photos, you will miss the whole point if you don’t read the words that accompany the photography in The Things that Matter.

We have all heard the old saw, “home is where the heart is,” but as Nate compellingly tells us, you need to put your heart in whatever  home you find yourself.  Where you live should tell the story of you.  According to Nate,”the most successful interiors in the world are put together by people who surround themselves with objects that bring them joy.”  I couldn’t agree more.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

Best shoe storage ever! (My shoes bring me joy, do yours?)

Nate makes his point with a collection of memoirs beginning with his own, rather dramatic story.  He tells us of his youth, the drama of his coming out to his parents, a life-altering year in Paris, falling in love, and his Titanic-like experience of losing his beloved when they were both caught in a tsunami. Of course, along the way, he picked up a few objects that he can’t live without.

Twelve other, similarly dramatic, and fascinating,  tales are told.  My favorites include the story of Chris Gardner, the once homeless but now wealthy man whose life inspired the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness  and the account of sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s life.  She lost both parents in the Holocaust, and afterwards almost had both her feet blown off in Jerusalem, yet she devoted her life to joy.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

It is fascinating to learn why Dr. Ruth collects turtles.

So what does all this have to do with design?   Each story is meant to inspire  readers to showcase in their home the important objects in their lives, no matter how trivial, from granny’s picture, to shells collected on  their last beach vacation.  But how to do that, without creating a house that is a hot, cluttered mess?  That’s where the pictures come in.  They illustrate how one can live with the things that matter in a chic, sophisticated way.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

A collection of feather dusters where you might expect umbrellas looking mighty chic

Throughout the book, almost as an afterthought, Nate serves as a “house whisperer” of sorts, dropping hints as to how to display your stuff, and even edit it, so you show what matters most to you in both an eye-cathing and meaningful manner.  Dr. Ruth got wall-to-wall built-in bookshelves, plus  a a very attractive display cabinet.  The self-made, multi-millionaire Chris Gardner got a sophisticated library to house the 100 books Maya Angelou recommended that he read. Nate, himself,  kept moving residences until he got the “at home” vibe he was seeking.

Should you buy this book?  Only if you plan to actually read it.  I love the photos but they are greatly enriched by their written descriptions.  In fact, my only criticism of the book is that often Nate describes a very tantalizing room, but there isn’t a picture illustrating it.

If you prize your individuality and you want your home to express that, you will welcome this book in your library.  It will show you the best way to live with your things, and reiterate why it is important to do so.  For as Nate says, “…things matter….They’re what we live with and touch each and every day.  They represent what we’ve seen, who we’ve loved, and where we hope to go next. They remind us of the good times and the rough patches and everything in between that’s made us who we are.”

It is a fine message for the New Year.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

Images are scans from the beautiful photography by Roger Davies in the book and don’t begin to it  justice. 


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