Real Estate / Home + Design

The Rockefeller’s Decorator: Legendary Design Firm Celebrated in New Book — and the Author is Houston-Bound

BY // 10.06.15

Founded by Sister Parish and Albert Hadley, the legendary Parish-Hadley Associates design firm (1962-1999) remains one of the most fabled names in interior design. Parish, Hadley and their phalanx of acolytes produced stunning environments for families with soaring taste and budgets to match. Rockefeller, Kennedy, Getty, Astor, Whitney, Mellon — you get the idea.

A new book, Parish-Hadley Tree of Life: An Intimate History of the Legendary Design Firm by Brian McCarthy and Bunny Williams (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $60), chronicles the firm’s founders and 30 of its most talented alumnae, featuring room after room of Parish-Hadley hallmarks such as buttery leather sofas, ornate mirrors, fringe, Oriental urns, leather-jacketed books and ottomans the size of small foyers — confections that require a deft touch and nerves of steel to pull off.

The most renowned designers who graduated through Parish-Hadley’s rank and file include the authors themselves, Brian McCarthy and Bunny Williams, as well as David Kleinberg, Mariette Himes Gomez, Harold Simmons, Thomas Jayne, William Hodgins, David Easton and Thom Felicia. The designers detail personal experiences working at the firm, along with images illustrating how their rooms were shaped by the august firm.

The designers’ stories are great fun, and the photographed views of Park Avenue apartments are achingly tasteful. Mrs. Parish’s ethereal habits are noted, including one misty description of … packing: “Her housekeeper had folded up all her clothes in layer after layer of tissue paper. Every garment came out just so, not a wrinkle in sight.” Information spills forth, and then there’s this: “[Designer] Nick Pentecost would never walk into [Parish’s] office. Every day he’d come in, turn to Jeanne at the front desk, and say, ‘Is she dead yet?’ They just didn’t mix. ” And where else will you read this? “I had the walls covered in a dimensionally textured Venetian plaster treatment, based on kuba cloth, to create a feeling of intimacy.” The last bit is from McCarthy, and proves that the book is mind candy for those whose hearts race while strolling through decorative centers.

Brian McCarthy will be in Houston Thursday, October 8, 6:30 pm, for cocktails, a talk and a book signing at Greenwood King The Lobby, 3201 Kirby Drive. The event is gratis, but RSVP is a must —

Scroll through the photographs at the top of this story to see images of Parish-Hadley projects and principals of the firm.

Brian J. McCarthy is bringing stories of Parish-Hadley to Houston. (Photo courtesy
Brian J. McCarthy is bringing stories of Parish-Hadley to Houston. (Photo courtesy

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