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Billy Baldwin

American, 1903-1983

Billy Baldwin had the unusual distinction of being the first man to break the glass ceiling of interior decoration, which before WWII was ruled by a coterie of ladies. 

The look that Baldwin championed in the mid-century was entirely American: classical in foundation, but modern in spirit, free of ostentation and unconcerned with trends. “Be faithful to your own taste,” he used to tell clients, “because nothing you really like is ever out of style.”

By the 1960s, just about every American taste-making blue blood was Baldwin's client, including Jackie Onassis, Pamela Harriman, Nan Kempner, Bunny Mellon and Babe Paley. If you ever wondered who was responsible for Diana Vreeland’s unforgettable “garden in hell” crimson drawing room, it was Billy B, as his friends called him.

“I always say I love color better than people,” he once remarked. He also loved cotton, calling it “his life,” detested damask and satin, and claimed to have “made a lady out of wicker.” His quips were legendary.

Unlike most decorators of his era, Baldwin believed that every project should feature furnishings already belonging to the client, so that the client’s personality would manifest in the room’s atmosphere. That atmosphere would emerge out of Baldwin’s selection of other furnishings — both old and new, American, European and Asian — and his choice of colors, mix of patterns and keen sense of proportion and scale. If good antiques were beyond a client’s budget, he advised buying top contemporary pieces, rather than reproductions. What was important was quality, as well as comfort. A resolute anti-snob, Baldwin detested pretentious people. He believed decorating was a collaborative adventure embarked on with the client.

Embracing of new materials, including fake leather and plastic, in the mid-1950s, Baldwin covered the walls of Cole Porter’s tony Waldorf Astoria suite in tortoise shell vinyl. For that project, possibly his masterwork, he also designed floor-to-ceiling brass étagères, as he felt it “would be extravagant to do built-in bookcases for an apartment in a hotel.” His enthusiasm for chintz slipcovers prompted Porter to threaten, “Don’t you dare slipcover these pianos!” When the hotel suite was published, the étagères began showing up everywhere. Baldwin was not pleased. “If I find that something I am doing is becoming a trend, I run from it like the plague,” he declared.

For the New York City apartment of William and Babe Paley in the St. Regis hotel, Baldwin covered the damaged walls in a shirred geometric fabric, which started another trend. Among other much-copied design signatures were low slipper chairs, swing arm brass lamps, dark-hued rooms, rattan-wrapped Parson’s tables and arresting orchestrations of brilliantly patterned cotton prints.

When he turned 70, Baldwin retired and a few years later decamped to Nantucket where he had often summered, and which he loved in part for its strong, clear New England light. When he died at 80, he had influenced a generation of American decorators and shaped the tastes of Americans on a mass-scale, even those who never knew his name.

Browse a wide range of Billy Baldwin furniture on 1stDibs.

Average Sold Price
$2,735
Styles
Materials
Related Creators
Billy Baldon Dining Table
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Chicago, IL
This Billy Baldwin dining table with a 3/4" thick glass top and pickled oak wood frame is a stunning and sophisticated addition to any dining room. The table's sleek design and high-...
Category

1970s American Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Glass, Oak

  • Billy Baldon Dining Table
  • Billy Baldon Dining Table
  • Billy Baldon Dining Table
  • Billy Baldon Dining Table
H 29 in W 84 in D 45 in
Pair of Light Blue Flame Stitch X-Base Billy Baldwin Mid Century Modern Benches
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Chicago, IL
Vintage original upholstered pair of Billy Baldwin "Parson's style" ottomans or benches in light blue and peach flame stitch fabric. X base with stretchers for added stability. Perfe...
Category

Mid-20th Century North American Hollywood Regency Billy Baldwin

Materials

Cotton

Pair of Red Brick X Base Billy Baldwin Mid Century Modern Window Benches MINT!
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Rockaway, NJ
Pair of Red Brick X Base Billy Baldwin Mid Century Modern Window Benches MINT!
Category

20th Century American Mid-Century Modern Billy Baldwin

Materials

Upholstery

Bielecky Brothers Exquisite Set of Eight Rattan Dining Chairs by Billy Baldwin
By Billy Baldwin, Bielecky Brothers
Located in Philadelphia, PA
An exceptional set of dining chairs designed by Billy Baldwin for Bielecky Brothers, circa 1975. Stout solid hardwood frame construction painstakingly veneered in hand-wrapped rattan...
Category

Mid-20th Century North American Mid-Century Modern Billy Baldwin

Materials

Rattan, Hardwood

Billy Baldwin Pair of Vintage X-Benches Slightly in as is Condition
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Rockaway, NJ
Billy Baldwin pair of vintage x-benches slightly in as is condition.
Category

20th Century American Mid-Century Modern Billy Baldwin

Materials

Upholstery

Pair of Green and Brown Mohair X Base Ottomans by Billy Baldwin
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Palm Springs, CA
A glamorous pair of green mohair with dark brown velvet piping X base ottomans by Billy Baldwin. Newly upholstered. Measurements: 22” wide, 18” Deep, 18.5” High.
Category

1960s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Mohair, Velvet

Fabulous Pair of Billy Baldwin Upholstered X Motif Benches
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Hopewell, NJ
Super stylish iconic Billy Baldwin upholstered benches having classic X shaped stretchers. Newly updated with smashing Quadrille grey blue and white faux leopard fabric with brass na...
Category

1980s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Upholstery

Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere With Green Lacquered Shelves
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Locust Valley, NY
A vintage brass Billy Baldwin etagere with five dark green lacquered shelves.
Category

Mid-20th Century Regency Billy Baldwin

Materials

Brass

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Creators Similar to Billy Baldwin

Billy Baldwin furniture for sale on 1stDibs.

Billy Baldwin furniture are available for sale on 1stDibs. These distinctive items are frequently made of wood and are designed with extraordinary care. There are many options to choose from in our collection of Billy Baldwin furniture, although brown editions of this piece are particularly popular. Many of the original furniture by Billy Baldwin were created in the mid-century modern style in north america during the 20th century. If you’re looking for additional options, many customers also consider furniture by H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company, Smilow-Thielle, and Angelo Donghia. Prices for Billy Baldwin furniture can differ depending upon size, time period and other attributes — on 1stDibs, these items begin at $1,200 and can go as high as $24,500, while a piece like these, on average, fetch $5,350.

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