The name George Stacey may not be well-known in design circles today, but New York author and interior designer Maureen Footer believes it should be.
To prove her point, Footer has written a sumptuous and compelling book titled “George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic” (Rizzoli, 2014).
Bryan Batt will welcome Footer to New Orleans with a champagne reception and book signing on Tuesday night at his gift and home accessories shop, Hazelnut.
According to Footer, no one would think twice today about combining a ceramic Chinese garden stool with an 18th century French desk, but such combinations were unheard of before Stacey rose to prominence in the 1930s.
“In a way, his approach was a reflection of America’s success and the fact that we felt increasingly confident to express our own identity and not look to Europe for our design cues,” Footer said. “Stacey used French and Italian antiques, but he combined them with other things that were unexpected at the time. No longer did everything have to match. We take that for granted today, but Stacey was the one who pioneered this relaxed, self-confident American style. Renowned 20th century decorator Billy Baldwin called him ‘The King.’”
Stacey’s client list — which included Diana Vreeland and Princess Grace of Monaco — was every bit as haute as was Baldwin’s. But unlike the gregarious Baldwin, Stacey did little to promote himself.
“He didn’t write books as Baldwin did, and most of his work was obtained by word of mouth. He wasn’t the dapper man about town type, but was very restrained, very shy,” said Footer. “People weren’t constantly taking selfies of themselves or documenting all their projects back in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s one of the reasons that his name is not as well-known as Baldwin or Sister Parish. But flip though a copy of Vogue from that era, and he is referred to again and again.”
Footer was first exposed to Stacey when she was doing research for a project and wanted to use Stacey’s approach to the apartment he had designed for Grace Kelly as a template of sorts.
“I found his work intriguing and began to delve into it further,” Footer said. The process took four years and resulted in the book, testimony to her tenacity in discovering everything she could about Stacey and his contributions to the design world.
Footer makes a point of saying that Stacey’s designs were rooted in classicism, even if they “broke the rules” that had been established prior to the 1930s.
“He understood proportion and scale, color and light,” she said. “If he painted a room a dark color, he would have mirrors, black lacquer and sparkling chandeliers to reflect light and make it a dynamic and pretty space as opposed to a cave.”
Only Stacey, said Footer, could have taken a windowless squash court and turned it into an enchanting retreat for himself, as he did on the Peacock Point estate of his longtime clients, Frances and Ward Cheney.
“In that way, that made Stacey one of the first to promote adaptive reuse, something we have all embraced since,” Footer said. “He maintained the red lines on the walls of the squash court but managed to turn a windowless white box into a chic living space with his signature palette of reds and greens. Today, plenty of people live in old firehouses or a school house, but he helped introduce the idea.”
Few have the financial resources that Stacey’s clients had, but that does not mean his approach to interiors cannot be applied today.
“The eclecticism that he espoused is as relevant today as it was when he pioneered it 70 years ago,” Footer said. “The high-low message applies anytime someone notices a table with great lines at a flea market, brings it home, paints it and adds it to the mix. You don’t need to watch what others are doing for cues, because you can be confident in making your own choices.”