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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
$1,540
Styles
Materials
Billy Baldwin Oak and Glass Dining Table
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Chicago, IL
Pickled oak frame with 3/4" glass top. Glass top acsentuates the base by revealing the true craftsmanship and construction of the frame. Minimalistic contemporary look.
Category

1970s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Glass, Oak

Billy Baldwin Side Table in Oak with Inset Granite Top, 1980s
By Billy Baldwin, Paul M. Jones
Located in New York, NY
Architectural side table in oak with inset black granite top by Billy Baldwin for Luten-Clarey-Stern (LCS), American 1980's  
Category

1980s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Oak

Bleached Oak and Travertine Writing Desk by Billy Baldwin 1970s
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Ft Lauderdale, FL
Bleached Oak and Travertine Writing Desk by Billy Baldwin 1970s. Diminutive, faux-bleached oak wood and natural travertine stone writing desk or table by William 'Billy' Baldwin. Pu...
Category

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

Materials

Travertine

Billy Baldwin Tall Modern Shelf System
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Bridgeport, CT
Cream painted wood with single square openwork supports on the front and double ones on the sides. With a glass shelf on the top and seven other glass shelves. All glass shelves .5 i...
Category

20th Century Mid-Century Modern Billy Baldwin

Materials

Wood, Glass

  • Billy Baldwin Tall Modern Shelf System
  • Billy Baldwin Tall Modern Shelf System
  • Billy Baldwin Tall Modern Shelf System
  • Billy Baldwin Tall Modern Shelf System
H 88 in. W 48 in. D 10 in.
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

Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere
By Billy Baldwin
Located in Locust Valley, NY
A vintage brass Billy Baldwin in Regency style with six black lacquered shelves.
Category

Mid-20th Century Billy Baldwin

Materials

Brass

  • Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere
  • Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere
  • Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere
  • Vintage Billy Baldwin Brass Etagere
H 90 in. W 60 in. D 14 in.
Exquisite Pair of Restored Loungers by Billy Baldwin for Bielecky Brothers
By Billy Baldwin, Bielecky Brothers
Located in Atlanta, GA
These magnificent lounge chairs are shipped as professionally photographed and described in the listing narrative: Meticulously professionally restored, upholstered and completely in...
Category

1970s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Billy Baldwin

Materials

Rattan, Hardwood

Browse all Furniture from Billy Baldwin
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Billy Baldwin Sellers

Meg Braff Antiques & Decoration
4.8
Black Rock Galleries
5.0
Lobel Modern, Inc
5.0
Nicholas Wolfe
No Reviews Yet
Tom Robinson Modern
5.0

Billy Baldwin furniture for sale on 1stDibs

Billy Baldwin's furniture is available for sale on 1stDibs. These distinctive objects are often made of wood and designed with extraordinary care. In our Billy Baldwin collection, there are many options to choose from, although brown editions of this piece are particularly popular. In-stock we have 4 vintage editions of these items, while there is also 0 modern edition to choose from. Many original furniture by Billy Baldwin were created in North America during the 20th century in the Mid-Century Modern style. Many customers also consider furniture by John Mascheroni, Marge Carson and Pace Furniture Company if you are looking for additional options. Prices for Billy Baldwin furniture can vary depending on size, time period and other attributes. 1stDibs's price starts at US$2,800 and tops out at US$11,500, while pieces like these can sell for US$3,800 on average.

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