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Chez Chintz: 1942

Chez Chintz: 1942

May 12, 1942. "William S. Paley, residence in Manhasset, Long Island, New York. Living room, to large window." Large-format acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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More or less

"Less is more" wasn't coined by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but it was one of his mottos - the earliest reference I found was 1947. He probably wasn't thinking of this room, but it was his response to this aesthetic. Here's one of his living rooms:

Minimalist living room

Wow factor for all the wrong reasons

Were the terms 'over the top' or 'less is more' known in 1942?
The most startling part of this house is that each room tries to outdo the other.

Why yes, I believe I will have a cigarette

There's at least one ashtray on each table and I count cigarettes being offered in three different locations. Strange to think it was once a sign of hospitality.

This estate was called Kiluna Farm. Designed by Walker & Gillette and built in 1910 for the son of Joseph Pulitzer. It was demolished in 1990 after fire damage by an arsonist. More information and photographs of this room and the rest of the house is at a blog on Old Long Island.


Where exactly does one sit on that couch? I count ten pillows and maybe a foot of space between the pillows and the edge of the couch. Plus, that chair on the left has those awful armrests that come up about 3 inches from the level of the seat, meaning you can't really "rest" your "arms" on them. The only thing that looks even remotely comfortable is the wingback chair on the right. At least there are a few ashtrays scattered about so you can have a decent smoke.

Nice and Clean for Now

I bet they were tobacco stained in short order considering how many cigarettes are available for the residents and guests to puff on.

Book Storage

The problem with built-in bookshelves is that you can't pile extra books on top of them and there's no other obvious place.

The room ruined his eyesight

… which may explain some CBS programming decisions.


Back in 1970 when I went to a lot of bar mitzvahs, a delightful feature of the evening parties was the glasses of cigarettes on each table. They went well with the whiskey sours which the bartender happily doled out to the 13-year-olds.

Also, I wonder whether those books on the right are for reading or simply for decoration.

Sister Parish?

At first I thought this might be the work of Sister Parish because I know she was famous for chintz and I know she worked on Paley homes but upon reflection I don't think this is a Parish design.

The decoration is a bit sparse by Parish standards; she liked to cultivate what I would call a charming clutter and was unafraid to use more than one pattern. I can't see her matching the curtains to the cushions to the chairs. Also I don't think she started working with the Paleys until William was married to Babe, which was after 1942.

Chintz is no longer chintzy!

'Vogue' says that chintz is "back in a big way."

I learned 'chintzy' as a derogatory term. It was coined by none other than George Eliot, describing some muslin fabric: "the quality of the spotted one is best, but the effect is chintzy."

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'chintzy' as "suburban, unfashionable, petit-bourgeois, cheap; mean, stingy." None of those synonyms fits this:

Wartime Psychedelic

Wow! I all these patterns are something else, throw another pillow on that sofa so no one can sit down. What a difference 75 years makes in interior design trends. The window treatment is something else. Be sure your books are all the same size.
This was probably considered the ultimate in interior design at the time.

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