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Keep Calm and Carry On: AngloFiles on Decor

September 23, 2010

[Post-publication oopsie note appears at bottom.]AngloFiles is going to win a prize. But she needs your help.

Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Master blogger and Ultra-Anglophile Meg Fairfax Fielding of Pigtown Design is offering a prize to whoever* can most convincingly name a successor to mid-20th-century decorator-prince Billy Baldwin (1903-1983). Baldwin, whoarranged carpets and étagères for luminaries from Cole Porter to Jackie O., eschewed the chintz-y frou-frou of design predecessors, preferring a sleek and tailored look. And he hailed, like Mlle. Pigtown — and the notoriously nouveau Wallis Simpson, a.k.a. Duchess of Windsor — from Baltimore.

The now iconic “Keep Calm” poster is a reminder, however, not of the Pretentious Duchess but of her nemeses: the Royal family of King George VI, who essentially exiled her and her Nazi-loving, natty-dressing ex-monarch from the Sceptred Isle. George was thrust reluctantly onto Britain’s throne on the eve of war when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated it to marry the svelte Mrs. Simpson.

Wallis and Edward spent World War II under the Bahamian sun while their sovereign and his government toughed it out  back in London, preparing with stiff upper you-know-whats for what seemed an inevitable German invasion. The poster at top was printed in 1939 for mass distribution if things got really bad, but never used. (Thank Churchill for that, not to mention Lend-Lease, Bletchley Park and the Russkies, among others.)

George VI and his queen greet London air raid victims

All this is preamble to explaining that AngloFiles intends to persuade Pigtown that she is the heir to Billy B. She asserts this on the evidence of the decorous and decorative calm-keeping oasis — she calls it the Throne Room — established in her entry hall in the spirit of the King and Queen who stuck out the Blitz among their People. If you’re persuaded by the case that follows, do tell Pigtown yourself, via her comments, that you vote for AngloFiles as the heir to Baltimore’s Billy B.

Let’s turn first to Baldwin, whose appreciation for strong graphics matched that of the “Keep Calm” poster’s designers:

Baldwin, according to Architectural Digest, embraced lacquer, comfort, pattern, dark walls, rattan and cotton. He professed to hate fussiness or clutter (so just pretend you never saw this Red Room design for Diana Vreeland):

And the man knew (like me) how to transform a neglected corner with dramatic contrast, a great graphic and a snazzy but comfortable seat:

So, at long last, the reveal — The AngloFiles Throne Room:

While lacking the expanses of Jackie O’s pad on Skorpios, perhaps, the space honors Billy’s principles in its understated comfort. Walls in deep mulberry (they look red here, courtesy of iPhone) stand in dramatic contrast to the black-and-white toile cushion nestled in a glossy black high-backed banquette (okay, bench):

Note the seat’s curvy edges — a playfully Medieval contrast to its otherwise austere, Edwardian lines: Mixing and matching styles was a Baldwin hallmark. That the piece was a curb pick-up (wobbly, peeling, cushionless and painted puke-yellow) conforms to his preference for incorporating items already on hand.

So, tell Meg you vote for AngloFiles at Pigtown Design. While you’re there, check out her great post on Chatsworth, the storied stately home whose doyenne is the last of those marvelous Mitford girls.

By the way (and I hope Pigtown and Bad Dog Conor won’t throw out my contest entry for saying it), Baldwin — like Mrs. Simpson — happily ditched his hometown for more glamorous surroundings. “I was in revolt against Baltimore,” he once said, “a town in which there could not have been more than three or four French chairs. In New York there were thousands of French chairs—and lots of Rolls Royces so the traffic looked better.”

*Grammar addendum from MizParse: Lest you be tempted to over-correct her, AngloFiles means “whoever” and not, perish the thought, “whomever.” The pronoun in this case serves as subject in “whoever can name,” which entire phrase is the object of the preposition “to” preceding. “Whomever” can’t name nothin’. Thank you for your attention.


Oopsie: Pigtown’s contest is a drawing. You should vote anyway for the AngloFiles-Billy Baldwin tie, if only so you can have a chance to win the prize. Besides, you’ll like Meg’s blog.

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