NOW AND THEN: An Homage to McMillen's Betty Sherrill
Walsh choose classic furniture, dramatic fabrics from Brunschwig & Fils, and a bold black and white rug from Stark.
But let me be honest here. I had to spend a day of research to find out why Walsh's choices harkened back to the esteemed Sherrill, and I can tell you it wasn't easy.
First, I read the book Sixty Years of Interior Design. The World of McMillen by Erica Brown. Fantastic, but mostly about McMillen's founder Eleanor Brown. (I understand that Betty Sherrill's daughter, Ann Pyne, the current head of McMillen is penning an update. I will buy it immediately upon publication).
I also read the numerous tributes to Betty published by the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Architectural Digest, among others.
And perhaps the most helpful of all, I poured over the interview Betty gave to the New York Social Diary back in 2007. The pictures of Mrs.Sherrill's home published there are the most telling example of her style.
Still, unlike other iconic interior designers (think Dorothy Draper for example), I was unable to readily bullet point 5 elements that read Betty Sherrill design. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous quote on obscenity (quite an unorthodox comparison, I know!) , Betty Sherrill, and the McMillen "look" is a more subjective, "I know it when I see it" style.
It seems that McMillen became America's oldest interior design firm in continuous operation the straight forward way. Rather then imposing their signature stamp on a space, they give their clients what they want, albeit with the highest of good taste.
Here is what I did learn.
1. Her daughter Ann said in Architectural Digest, that "my mother's style was spunky with bright colors and country looking."
Surely Gil Walsh's room is filled with bright, cheerful color.
And nothing is more spunky than this chair selected by Gil Walsh and adorned with jaunty tassels.
Additionally, the pairing of red, yellow and green in Gil Walsh's room was no accident. Check out Mrs. Sherrill in her living room which features those colors, followed by a shot of the red desk, framed by the yellow walls and green in the curtain fabric in Gil Walsh's space.
2. In New York Magazine, Ann added that her mother believed that a room should be comfortable and provide for engaging conversation, stating that Betty "was about pulling up a slipper chair to the arm of a sofa."
For Betty Sherrill, its seems you can never have too many chairs. Betty also pulled them up perpendicular to desks. Check out this shot of Betty in her living room. Chairs galore.
And note the tiny slipper chair in Betty Sherrill's master bedroom also next to a desk--apparently chairs can work wonders as the perfect perch for books and objects.
Gil Walsh did the same. There are many chairs in her small room that can be pulled into service including this exuberant little slipper chair perpendicular to the desk.
3. Betty Sherrill seriously loved yellow and daffodils--she planted 40,000 at her home in Southampton.
Aaah the two-toned yellow walls with the flower decorative wall treatment (it's there, look closely), and these daffodil panels in Gil Walsh's room now make perfect sense.
4. And its not just daffodils. Betty Sherrill clearly had a penchant for floral and garden motifs.
She installed a garden trellis wall covering (very country) for the bar room in her city apartment and there are numerous floral fabrics and rugs throughout.
That green check fabric and all of the floral references in Gil Walsh's space clearly harken back to Betty's home.
5. Betty Sherrill believed that good design should have longevity.
She lived in her city duplex for 40 years but never redecorated. This meant that she invested in good stuff such as classic fabrics (like the ones Gil chose from Brunschwig & Fils) and fine antiques, preferably French (FFF as Betty said, i.e. fine French furniture). Don't forget that French slipper chair in Gil's room.
In the New York Times in 1977, Betty stated, "we always advise our young clients to buy one fine antique...which can make the whole room come alive."
I adore Betty's timeless dining room. Leopard print on the chairs, which happen to be Louis XVI and also on the floor! So chic!
Gil managed to throw in a zebra print pillow in her space (see above).
6. Betty Sherrill liked stuff, all sorts. She had a highly layered look with a mash up of old and new, contemporary and traditional. Somehow she made it all work.
Her art choices are a good example. So is her habit of displaying family photos and her love of little porcelain objects.
Gil Walsh layered in contemporary and traditional art and objects in her space too.
In an interview with Editor-at-Large at the Hampton Designer Show House, Elizabeth Pyne, Betty's granddaughter, paid Gil Walsh perhaps the highest compliment she could have received about her room. Elizabeth said her grandmother's presence in Gil's room was so powerful it made her cry. Pointing out the sweet little dogs flanking the snap shot of Betty, Elizabeth said her grandmother would have loved them.
So touching. I hope Gil saw the interview.
Do you think you would recognize Betty Sherrill's style now when you see it?
All photos of Betty Sherrill's apartment by Jeffrey Hirsch for the New York Social Diary.