Monday, September 12, 2016

The Travellers: Billy Baldwin's Finials for the Lawrences

The apartment of Harding and Mary Wells Lawrence
decorated by Billy Baldwin.
1970s interior design is more influential in today's work that many of you readers of The Devoted Classicist might realize.  The concept of a mix of antiques with sleek custom furniture, contemporary art, geometric carpets, and architectural artifacts is universally championed today as the Latest Big Thing in interior design.  The formula, however, is a classic that was perfected over forty years ago by legendary decorator Billy Baldwin.

Mary Wells and Harding Lawrence were terrific clients of Baldwin.  Mary Wells was an advertising genius who was introduced some of the most memorable ad campaigns of the twentieth century and her husband was the CEO of Braniff Airlines which experienced phenomenal expansion with a chic make-over in the late 1970s.  Between the two of them, both workaholics who combined business with pleasure in entertaining their contacts, they associated with the elite movers and shakers of the day.  Billy Baldwin decorated beautiful homes for them.  Their Dallas mansion was a landmark and their Riviera villa was among the most stylish ever.  (See The Devoted Classicist's series of posts on the villa, La Fiorentina).

A room in their large New York City apartment is shown in the lead image, and like the other residences, it has provided design inspiration to this day.  A bold striped dhurrie provides a base for arrangements of comfortable upholstered seating and a scattering of Warren Platner side tables.  Contemporary paintings and a Moroccan mirror over a mirrored interpretation of a Louis Seize chimneypiece blend with masterfully with Baldwin's expertise.  But perhaps the most memorable element in this room -- to my eye anyway -- was a pair of intricately detailed architectural finials on simple, white hexagonal stands.
It was a delightful surprise to see these finials, with their stands, show up again.  They again flank a fireplace and provide the primary architectural detailing in a room decorated by Charleston designer Amelia Handegan.  This undeniably fresh and up-to-date room appears on the dust jacket of the new book AMELIA HANDEGAN ROOMS.   The book will be released October 16, 2016, but can be ordered now at a discount by clicking on the title.

Remember that an appreciation of the iconic rooms of the past can be a valuable lesson in architecture and interior design today.  Search this blog to see other examples in The Travellers series.


  1. We met Harding and Mary Lawrence in Acapulco on a Braniff sponsored trip in 1977. We thought Mary rather la di da, but very colourful. It was certainly a memorable moment.

    1. That was an interesting time, both for Braniff and Acapulco! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Oh Wow John!
    I did not know about Amelia's book-
    Always loved that room BB did !
    Was it in River House?

    1. I am not sure. (The Lawrences had an apartment on East End Avenue in the late 1960s, but I cannot say with certainty that this is the same). Thank-you for commenting.


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