Albert Hadley: The Genius of Being Interesting

When I think about antiques, I think about history, and that got me thinking back to who inspired me as designer in the beginning of my career, and who continues to inspire me. And the name I keep coming back to is Albert Hadley.

I am certainly not alone in this. Albert Hadley was like a god in interior design circles. He designed for every famous American from the time he and Sister Parish founded Parish-Hadley in 1961 until she died in 1994. Just saying that my design was influenced by Albert Hadley is like a painter saying he was influenced by Monet.

But I’ve got a better story. And all because I was too young to know better.

When I was just starting out, I knew enough about Hadley to know that we had a lot in common. I had just finished a course in Paris with Parsons, and Hadley had been a Parsons instructor in New York City. I’d recently moved to Nashville, and Hadley was from Springfield, Tennessee. I was working at Bradford’s Furniture Company (which was a 126-year-old family business when it closed its doors in 2015), and that’s exactly where Albert Hadley got his start years earlier. When I felt it was time to take a next step in my career (much to my father’s consternation, since he suddenly had an unemployed and single daughter living in the big city), I decided I would just get on the phone and call up Albert Hadley. I was 24 at the time, and so calling up a world-renowned interior designer seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

I dialed up Parish-Hadley in Manhattan and asked to speak to Mr. Hadley — and HE ACTUALLY GOT ON THE PHONE. He was absolutely unbelievable. He listened to my story, and told me exactly what to do, and said to let him know how it turned out. Following his instructions, I proceeded to call William Hamilton, who was the best designer in Nashville, and ask for an interview, telling him “Albert Hadley suggested that I call you.” I got that interview, and two weeks later I had a job.

Great stories about his great kindness aside, Hadley was truly a design influence on me in a way no one else was. If you study his interiors, you will see that he pushed the envelope by marrying contemporary and antique furniture. One of his clients said about him on his 85th birthday, “I don’t want it to be modern, and I don’t want it to be traditional. I want it to look interesting. Who else would I ask?”

He was a visionary in just that — making it interesting.

So, when I ponder how to make sense of using antiques in the modern world, I go back to study what Albert Hadley did for more than 60 years. He didn’t go for stuffy with a room of antiques, or sterile with a room of just modern furnishings. He mixed the two in ways that can still amaze me. And he was never afraid to put a quirky little piece in a place where it might shine, just to keep things interesting.

Photo Credits:


Top image: Photography by Patrick Cline
Image 2: Left: Architectural Digest, Right: Pinterest 
Image 3: Left: House Beautiful, Right: by Patrick Cline
Image 4: Left: Veranda, Right: Sketch by designer Albert Hadley
Image 5: (clock-wise) Architectural Digest, Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest 

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  • Dinner two nights ago after Carousel with designers from Washington DC was even livelier when they started telling Albert Hadley stories once they learned I lived next door to his sister in Nashville. Albert apparently had a playful side that endeared him to people when his talent wasn’t dazzling them. Nashville to NY not such a long journey…..

  • Mary, I continue to love your blogs. I attended a lecture in Washington, D.C. by Albert Hadley and enjoyed it and loved his book. After the lecture I was waiting for the rain to subside and he and his driver offered me a ride to the metro stop. He designed interiors for the O’Herron’s from Charlotte, North Carolina whose son married a girl from Ahoskie. Small world it is and another brush with greatness. Keep it up girlfriend.