History Lesson: Billy Baldwin
Posthumously nicknamed the “dean of interior decorators,” Billy Baldwin was a leading designer in post-World War II America. Known for his immaculate sense of order and arrangement, Baldwin’s style was a unique blend of modernist and classicist.
Baldwin was born into an old Baltimore family in 1903, where he grew up in a home designed by a leader of the American Renaissance Movement. It was there in his childhood home that his passion for interior decorating started.
After leaving Princeton to travel and visit galleries and museums, he worked at his father’s insurance company for a time. He continued to design on the side and eventually got a huge break in 1930, when Ruby Ross Wood, one of New York’s grand dame decorators, came across his work.
She immediately wrote him explaining her love of his work and invited him to join her in New York to assist with her business. He began working for her in 1935, and when she passed in 1950, he took over her business for 2 years. He explained that those 17 years working for her was “the importance of the personal, of the comfortable, and of the new.” After taking over Wood’s business for 2 years he decided to create his own.
Baldwin’s work was known to be neat, slick, and ordered. He liked a mixture of furniture that was both old and new and of different nationalities, but he insisted on some connection between the furniture. Unlike many other designers, he thought it was important to use some of the furniture that the client already had as he felt that the space would not be right without some personal history present.
He was known to be both a modernist and classicist, being the first man to break into the interior design world. Before WWII, interior design was ruled by a small circle of women, but Baldwin changed this forever.
He believed strongly in not following trends and instead told many of his clients to: “Be faithful your own style, because nothing that you really like is ever out of style.”
Baldwin retired in 1973 and died of a heart ailment in 1983, but his studio continues to champion his designs, legacy, and style.