Monday, August 1, 2011

New Twist On Sister


A portrait of Sister Parish with her Pekingese, Yummy, by Aaron Shikler.
From Parish-Hadley, Sixty Years of American Design by Christopher Petkanas, 1995.
 There is a new book about my former employer, the legendary decorator Sister Parish, which will be available in the U.S. in November, 2011.  Dorothy May Kinnicutt (whose year of birth is often listed as 1910, but sometimes earlier), was dubbed "Sister" by her brothers and the name stuck even after she became Mrs. Henry Parish, 2nd.  In the Olden Days, when members of High Society were often in the newspapers only three times -- birth, marriage, and death -- Sister Parish quietly decorated the homes of the Rich for thirty years before becoming nationally known.  A newspaper headline announced "Kennedys Pick Nun to Decorate White House" when she joined the committee to contribute to the highly publicized redecoration of the Executive Mansion.  Bringing on Albert Hadley, the business partnership became Parish-Hadley for another thirty years, and the office continuing on several more after Mrs. Parish's passing in 1994.
The Guest Room at Greentree known as the Princess Margaret bedroom.
From Parish-Hadley, Sixty Years of American Design by Christopher Petkanas, 1995.
While it would be hard for The Devoted Classicist to name a favorite Parish-Hadley project, the sprawling mansion on the Greentree estate is certainly the most memorable.  One of several lavish residences of John Hay "Jock" Whitney and his second wife Betsey of the famous Cushing sisters (formerly married to FDR son James Roosevelt, her sister Minnie was once married to Vincent Astor and her sister Babe was married to Standard Oil heir Stanley Mortimer, Jr., before marrying CBS founder William Paley), the estate was created starting in 1904 with the purchase of five contiguous farms by Mr. Whitney's father, Payne Whitney, stretching across the entire width of Long Island from sound to ocean.  The original colonial farmhouse was expanded to become an enormous mansion, filled with exquisite art and made exceptionally comfortable with the help of Parish-Hadley and a sizeable household staff.  When Jock Whitney, Thoroughbred horse enthusiast and one of the wealthiest men in the world, was named by President Eisenhower as the Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the Whitneys became close friends of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, as well as the other members of the royal family.


Copyright 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd.  Author:  Martin Wood.  $60.00.
 It is not surprising that the guest bedroom at Greentree known as the Princess Margaret bedroom is featured on the cover of the new book by Martin Wood, as it is very representative of the style of Sister Parish, comfortable and without ostentation despite the elements of formality and the huge house.  The story of the redecoration of the room for the private visit by the Princess and Lord Snowden after their highly publicized 1960 wedding is told with photos in both books Parish-Hadley, Sixty Years of American Design and Albert Hadley, The Story of America's Preeminent Interior Designer.  A private suite of two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a sitting room was formed from a line of rooms, creating a passage through a former closet to connect the bedrooms withoug disturbing the existing nineteenth century French scenic wallpaper.  Tone-on-tone Swiss muslin curtains with tassel fringe paired with natural linen roller shades trimmed with Irish lace dress the windows with a matching treatment for the dressing table holding a triptych mirror and a pair of bronze candlestick lamps in the form of a palm tree sheltering a giraffe.  A carpet of a small geometric pattern is scattered with a number of antique hooked rugs, a favorite Sister Parish touch.  There is no use of chintz here, considered a trademark, but the bed with a custom shaped headboard upholstered with cotton matelasse is covered with a boldly graphic American quilt, quintessentially Mrs. Parish.

The publication of this new book is greatly anticipated as the Sister Parish style of decorating is still popular today.  The chapters start with "Where It All Began" and continue to "Twilight", plus a Bibliography, Notes, and an Index.  The author Martin Wood is known for his widely acclaimed previous design biographies, John Fowler: Prince of Decorators and Nancy Lancaster:  English Country House Style which showcase the forces behind the legendary London interiors firm Colefax & Fowler.


In affiliation with Amazon, the Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, and Parish-Hadley books are available through The Devoted Classicist Library here.   The books on John Fowler, Nancy Lancaster, and Colefax & Fowler are available here.

27 comments:

  1. Much anticipated, as you say, and not just by me. If I only bought one book in the Fall it would be this one.

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  2. Blue, that statement is quite an endorsement in itself! The publisher's publicity department graciously answered my request for the cover and the table of contents, but that is all I have seen so far. But, it does look promising, especially considering that the author is an authority on traditional interior design. I hope to follow up with a preview of this new book as the release date grows more near.

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  3. I had seen that cover and thought it was a strange choice considering all the possibilities. But it makes sense after reading your background story. Thanks for the Heads Up, John, I look forward to this book, too!

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  4. C.A.W., Greentree was a fabulous house when it was occupied by the Whitneys. I will feature more about it in a future post.

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  5. Helen, the publisher's publicity says it has 200 color illustrations. So it should be an eyeful.

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  6. I still love my worn copy of the Parish Hadley book, but I was disappointed with the two previous Sister Parish books. They could have been and should have been much better.

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  7. Chintz, we are due the definitive book on Sister Parish.

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  8. You are right about her look still being popular today. I have found inspiration in all her work.

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  9. Annette, it is interesting to see the influence of her design philosophy and how it continues today. The range is great, extending to even the more contemporary versions such as the interiors by John Saladino who often uses quilted throws and hand- braided rugs.

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  10. What is the story on that flower arrangement in the cover photo?

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  11. Dale, I am guessing that the cover photo was taken by William P Steele during the same session as the photo I show from the Parish-Hadley book and another used in the Albert Hadley book. During Mrs Whitney's lifetime, the only period that I visited Greentree, the house was filled with arrangements like this, made from flowers grown in the extensive greenhouses. So my guess is that the photographer just set one on the dressing table, thinking it contributed to the composition.

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  12. Fascinating story! And I love your selections in The Devoted Classicist Library. Amazon works for me, but you have to know what you are looking for. It is not good for browsing. They are just trying to sell what they have most of inventory. Your TDCL is a great service at an unbeatable value!

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  13. Thanks, Janie. I will be adding titles along with my own comments as we go along. As you saw, my part is making the recommendation and directing the referral, with the actual business being through Amazon as well as their third party sources.

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  14. "Sister Parish style of decorating is still popular today..." When was it ever not popular? Who wouldn't want a night in that bedroom?

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  15. Terry, some in the Media are only interested in what is New and Different. There is nothing wrong with that, but I only want to see what is Good.

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  16. Mike, you will be interested in seeing more of the house which I will feature in a future post. After Mrs Whitney's death, the property became home to the Greentree Foundation with the incredible art and furnishings sold to benefit the non-profit charitable trust.

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  17. Can not wait for this one-it is on the LIST, fortunately the LIST gives my family a wealth of options for the holidays.I love the Aaron Schickler portrait-I have seen this portrait but didn't know it was Schickler. pgt

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  18. P.G.T., I am fond of this portrait, perhaps because is shows Mrs. Parish with one of her beloved dogs. Schickler, perhaps best known for his portraits of Presidents and First Ladies, was a great friend of the Engelhards who were featured with their New Jersey home Cragwood in my posts on June 6 and 21. The Schickler portrait of Jane Engelhard was not included in the sale of furnishings, but his charming portrait of their parrot Jacob was.

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  19. P.G.T. and other readers, I regret that I made a mistake in the spelling of the name of the artist for Mrs. Parish's portrait. There is no "c" in Shinkler. It did not look right in Ms Tapp's comment, but I went back to my own notes and the Petkanas book which gave the incorrect spelling. I should have been suspicious when the Google search did not turn up the famous Jacqueline Kennedy official White House portrait, but only other references with the incorrect spelling!

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  20. Jphn, I did not check the spelling either- but I do have a small pastel of his favorite model- and the correct spelling is Aaron Shikler. It is hard to find a lot of info on him via internet-there is a catalog of an exhibition and the Kennedy portraits-He was well known in Winston Salem NC- doing many portraits there in the day- and that is my connection and how I acquired one of my favorite pieces of art. I hope you can unearth some things about him-as I continue to do-and also- Lisa of the blog Privilege has written about him-she has a family portrait by him- if I remember correctly it is of her and her siblings-check her blog for info. PGT

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  21. Thanks P.G.T. And please keep up the good work at your always enjoyable blog Little Augury.

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  22. What was it like to work with Mrs. Parish?
    Especially considering her "dual" personality..

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  23. Although my experience may not have been typical, I found her very consistent and easy to work for, despite her high standards. As head of the firm bearing her name, Mrs. Parish had no tolerance for her employees who were unprofessional towards the clients, many who were considered personal friends; I did not fault her for that. We were mutually respectful and appreciative of each other's talents.

    Many might be surprised to learn that Mrs. Parish had a wonderful sense of humor and that included the ability to laugh at herself.

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  24. Love this post and your blog. I was fascinated with this post since I live right behind what is left of the Greentree estate. I have done so much searching about what the inside of this grand home might have looked like, without much success. There is so much about this room I love - the mural, the window treatments and even the quilt. I would love to see what books are the shelf.
    Looking foward to finding out more about Greenleaf.
    Carey - A devoted follower

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  25. Wonderful, wonderful, and inspiring blog post!
    Fascinating! A kindred soul!
    I have been an admirer Of Mrs Parish since I first saw her work! (in my teens!)

    Who wouldn't want to spend the night in that bedroom! Not one thing would I change!

    ps brilliant about not accepting "anonymous" comments. There are some angry snarkies out there.....all; or at least most, "anonymous"!
    Cowardly at best.......

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