Billy Baldwin's apartment with the famous slipper chair
Billy Baldwin's apartment
|Kenneth Hair Salon|
Mr. and Mrs. Harding Lawrence Residence
|Cole Porter's apartment. Rendering by Mark Hampton|
|Mr. and Mrs. William Paley's Apartment|
St. Regis Hotel, New York
|Mrs. Clive Runnells Residence|
Hobe Sound, Florida
For a glimpse into Baldwin’s actual life, I would suggest an interview Baldwin gave to Francesco Scavullo in the 1970s for the book Scavullo Men. (There are also a lot of great interviews with leading cultural figures of the time, like Leo Castelli, Henry Geldzahler, Leo Lerman, and Sam Wagstaff.) This interview is not listed in Lewis’s bibliography, and I think that is a serious omission. When asked if he was spoiled, Baldwin refers to his mentor Ruby Ross Wood: “I really pity most rich people, and I don’t want to see very many of them. I think they’re boring. My old boss, Ruby Wood, said to me ‘Now, Billy Baldwin, you’re coming here from that nice town and you’re going to have a hard time because New York is very tough. But don’t forget one thing: you’re going to see an awful lot of rich people. You get as much of their money as you can. That’s all they’re worth—money—and we’re lucky because we’re going to get some of it.’” Baldwin is quite open about being “1000 percent homosexual” and about how he looks on serving the superrich and what it meant to be gay. When asked, “As a man, what were your feelings about becoming a decorator?” he replies, “Since the day I was born I’ve never had the slightest idea of being gay. It just seemed perfectly normal.”
With both of Baldwin’s volumes out of print, Lewis’s book provides a survey, if not a critical look, at the great decorator, who by the way loved being called a decorator. In the Scavullo interview, Baldwin responds to the question about the difference between a designer and decorator by saying, “Michael Greer, if you please, was the first person to call himself a designer so people wouldn’t think that he was gay. Designer is supposed to make a man of you. It’s perfect crap.” Despite its shortcomings, the volume is important for the library of future decorators—and designers too.
All images (unless otherwise noted) courtesy Rizzoli USA.