Billy Baldwin: Our Favorite Interior Decorator & Style Inspiration

Billy Baldwin is known as the “Dean of Interior Decorators,” as he never called himself a designer and didn’t particularly like the term. He approached decorating in a new and eclectic way for his era, mixing existing client furniture with new pieces and combining cozy comfort with perfected style. In addition to interiors that were both luxurious and comfortable as well as classic yet modern, Baldwin embodied style in his day to day and was added to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1974. He loved a classic suit with clean lines, similar to the clean-cut and hard-edged pieces he utilized in his pared-down spaces. He had a dislike for over the top styles like baroque. He had a love for humor and wit. Baldwin is a favorite of Amity Worrel, lead interior designer at Amity Kett, and his mixing of styles and emphasis on comfortable living have inspired many of our projects. 

A Brief History of Billy Baldwin 

Billy Baldwin was born in Maryland in 1903, where he grew up in a home designed by architect Charles A. Platt and found an early love for interiors. He started redecorating his own bedroom from scratch and eventually went on to decorate homes in the area. By 1935, he was discovered by the famous New York decorator Ruby Ross Wood, who invited him to work with her at her studio in the city. After her death in 1950, Baldwin branched out on his own. He created his own firm that valued design simplicity. Baldwin went on to decorate for high profile spaces and clients, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He retired in 1973 to Nantucket, where he passed away in 1983 leaving behind a unique design influence that endures today. 

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1974: Interior decorator Billy Baldwin in his self designed apartment. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Key Elements of Billy Baldwin’s Interior Decorating Style

Truly American Design

“We can recognize and give credit where credit is due, to the debt of taste we owe Europe, but we have taste, too.” – Billy B. 

Baldwin curated a distinctly American style that combined a mixture of cultural influences as well as old and new pieces. He created collected spaces that were designed to have a blend of materials that felt connected together rather than opposed. In concept, his rooms represented the diverse American fabric and ideals. 

Emphasis on Comfort

“First and foremost, furniture must be comfortable. That is the original purpose of it, after all.” – Billy B. 

In his designs, Baldwin emphasized comfort. He rejected old ideas of Victorian-era luxury that featured ornate and often uncomfortable furniture with intricate carvings and heavy legs. He believed luxury was comfort, opting for deep sofas, plush slipper chairs, and upholstery that went to the floor for a streamlined and soft look. 

Reuse of Existing Furniture 

”I do not necessarily believe in throwing out everything and starting from scratch.” – Billy B. 

Unlike other designers of his time, Baldwin was one of the first interior decorators to reuse existing client furniture in his design schemes. He believed utilizing existing pieces not only helped to create a blended feeling in the room but also that the full mood of a room could not be achieved without the personal involvement of the client. Simply put, some pieces just feel like home. 

Matisse-like Color Palettes 

“I almost started the vogue for a clear, Matisse-like decorating palette.” – Billy B. to Architectural Digest in 1977 

Like Matisse in his paintings, Baldwin selected colors that were fresh, frank, and forceful. He was known for creating rooms that didn’t shy from the use of color, selecting strong reds or deep browns to use throughout the entire space. When selecting colors, he was just as visceral and forceful as the colors he chose. Once specifying a dark green for a Palm Beach apartment, he spat on a gardenia leaf and handed it to the painter saying, “This is what I want the walls to look like, including the spit.” His favorite color, however, was “no color at all.”

Favorite Materials: Cotton & Wicker 

“[I am one of the] most active promoters [of cotton] since World War II” – Billy B. 

“I certainly made a lady out of wicker.” – Billy B. 

Baldwin gravitated towards cotton for its comfort and simplicity. He valued hiding the legs of furniture and extending upholstery or slipcovers to the floor, believing that too many naked chair legs left a room looking “restless.” Plain cotton drapes were also a favorite when it came to accessorizing windows. He also liked to incorporate the natural textures of wicker, straw, rattan, and bamboo. These casual materials could be used in high-end ways to add to a dynamic but luxurious feel. 

Simple, Unpretentious, and Enduring Decor 

“No matter how taste may change, the basics of good decorating remain the same: We’re talking about someplace people live in, surrounded by things they like and that make them comfortable. It’s as simple as that.” – Billy B. 

Baldwin’s style was both classic and modern. His rooms combined elements of simple elegance, unpretentious comfort, and fresh humor. His goal was to decorate rooms that were not only stylish on their own, but that also evoked comfort and sentimentality on part of the homeowner. He had the ability to curate uncontrived collections that were tailored and polished. He rejected clutter, ostentatious decor, and false decorations like fake fireplaces and books. He favored incorporating real books and personal collections into his spaces. His resolved interiors left nothing to chance, and his enduring legacy lives in popular decor pieces, like in Baldwin style slipper chairs and BILLY Bookcases at IKEA

Baldwin’s Influence in Amity Kett’s Interior Designs 

Baldwin’s enduring legacy lives on at Amity Kett and inspires our designs. We take his inspiration in mixing styles for a collected feel, as well as reusing client furniture and pieces to put their history and tastes front and center. After all, designing someone’s home is about making it comfortable and enjoyable for their unique lifestyle. We take after Baldwin in addressing every facet of a room’s interior to create comprehensive and complete spaces that work together. Also, we tend to favor quiet and settled rooms featuring upholstered pieces that hide the legs for visual simplicity. We’re also big fans of slipper chairs for added seating and creating practical divides for more open-concept spaces. As always, we follow Billy’s lead to put comfort and the client first. 

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