The 1962 time capsule house with William Pahlmann interiors continues to enchant me. There have been some comments (on other blogs that picked up the story) that don’t agree — but to me, these Pahlmann rooms demonstrate how it’s possible to combine color, texture, fabric, furniture, accessories, lighting — combine it all — in a way that is extremely livable…and transcends any particular “trend” in taste. I’ve been under water, immersed, staring daily for hours at mid century decor in all its incarnations for nearly 10 years now, and these Palhmann interiors may be my favorite yet. Today, I want to walk through some of the photos again, to pull out some of the “lessons” from the best of the past that I believe they present.
1. Yes, you can combine patterns successfully — To be sure, the den (above) combines patterns in a way that we are not accustomed to seeing today. This room, more than any other to me, demonstrates Pahlmann’s genius eye — because I think he pulls this mix off perfectly. There is both a complexity, and an ease, that is so pleasing. I don’t know that there is an exact formula for getting a pattern combo like this “just right” (rather than: “disaster”). It’s an alchemy of color, pattern and scale. For example, notice how the stripes on the ottoman and easy chair — aided by the blue elephant — pull your eye up into the seating area… my eye then keeps moving counter clockwise to take it all in.
2. Pick a dominant field color — and a complementary “punch” color — A key reason the “clashing” patterns work so well together is that the colors of the upholstery and wallpaper are closely related (so that’s one thing you do not have to visually harmonize). But, without the punctuation of the blue accent color — and also those bright yellow pillows — the effect might be too flat. The carpet looks to include both the primary and accent colors. And obviously, there is a motion, a dynamism, to the carpet pattern. Wow, do I adore the look of that carpet.
.3. Get formal with symmetry — The front of the house is very symmetrical, so it makes total sense that the entry way repeats and reinforces that symmetry. Symmetry also makes for a more formal look, which I think is appropriate for an entry way — and for this house, which in reality is quite grand — six bedrooms in Montclair, New Jersey. That said, the lime green cushions and the whimsical window treatments tone the toniness down. I suspect that rug is not original. In fact, staring at all of the interior shots from the real estate listing, I suspect some of the original area rugs have been removed, along with some of the art work.
.4. Love you some pinch pleats — The dining room is fundamentally formal, so again you see symmetrical lacquered china cabinets. The key message about this room today, though, is: The window treatments. Pinch pleats over sheers are The Official and Essential Midcentury Window Treatment. I also love the valance — which I consider an optional basic. Note how the sheers are bowed to hug the bow window; that’s the way it’s done; I believe there are — or were — traverse rods just for this situation. Finally, my mom says that through most of the 1950s, pinch pleats ended just above the window. In the 60s, decorators took them to the ceiling. I officially declare that either way is acceptable, with the note: Taking pinch pleats all the way to the ceiling can help the room feel taller. But I think it all depends. Oh, and in general: Bring those pinch pleats to the floor, but not touching. No puddling, but no high-waders, either.
5. Don’t dinkify your area rugs — Another thing I really like about the dining room is that the area rug — which I am sure must be a William Pahlmann original design — is Big. A dining room table and its chairs — even when pulled out — should sit fully on the rug beneath. To be off the rug is subconsciously or even consciously disconcerting — tippy.
6. Sofas go long and low — I’ve been researching William Pahlmann online. One article said he had a rule that says: If ceilings are no higher than seven or eight feet, the sofa should not be any taller than 30″. To be sure, the midcentury look was long and low — in great part because ceilings were lower. Sounds like a reasonable rule of thumb to me.
.7. Harmonize your interior design with your outdoor views — Is it an accident that the yellow pendant light and tile in the kitchen match the yellow patio umbrellas visible from the kitchen window? I don’t think so. How absolutely pleasing this little touch is. My friend Margaret Roach, who has the wonderful essential blog A Way to Garden, often talks about designing your garden as a view from the window. “Look out the window if you want to make a garden,” she says in Gardening 101. If you have a midcentury home, you likely have some big windows. Work ’em.
.8. Love you some wallpaper — I know that wallpaper is scary. But you only live once. Stare down your fear, and give it a try. It might just make you ecstatically happy. Like in this kitchen. Oh and look how the kitchen curtain is matched to the wallpaper — that definitely is a designer touch.
.9. Day beds are very functional and versatile. I think I read that William Pahlmann introduced day beds into the midcentury consciousness. I think that in many spaces, they are a wonderful idea. I have them in our guest room, which also serves at my husband’s home office. I put J.C.Penney bolsters on them. I had custom slipcovers made for mine, but you can also find mass-produced daybed and bolster covers designed to make the whole set up look like a sofa. Pull ’em off, make the bed all regular-like — and you have a guest room. My daybeds sit at 90 degrees into a corner and read like an L-shaped sofa…. when guests come, we roll them apart and side-to-side for sleeping. Twin mattresses are cheap. Pahlmann looks to have designed a built-in for the daybed in this room.
.10. Bow down to the bargello — Bargello and needlepoint pillows everywhere. I repeat: These pillows are just the greatest, and can still be found relatively inexpensively on ebay. I also see them at estate sales — they were ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. They are beautiful.
11 — Don’t dinkify your lamps — The lamps in these Pahlmann interiors are not small. I’m not sure that tall lamps make sense in a bedroom — you don’t want the bulb to shine directly onto your eyes if you are laying down reading. But in general, I think these interiors demonstrate the opportunity that lamps present to architecturally anchor a room. Don’t default to lamps that are dinky, especially in main living spaces like living rooms — use them to add height and to help your eye move around the room to take it all in.
12. Tailored bedspreads — Both bedrooms shown have lovely tailored bedspreads. If you are aiming for midcentury toward the modern (rather than chenille flamingoes or Bates) I think tailored is the way to go. I have done several stories about where to find bedspreads for a midcentury bedroom.
.13. Color is the easiest way to add drama — William Pahlmann loved color, and he learned how to work it. I think this rumpus room is fantastic.
.14. Get eclectic — William Pahlmann is credited with introducing “eclectic interior design” into America, including into the critical New York City design scene. He mixed eras and cultures and juxtaposed old and new in a way that first appalled — but ultimately delighted and changed — our view of what can look good together. Bah humbug with homogenous shackles. Make your own rules! And in that vein: Please ignore everything I tell you!
15. Match your jelly beans to your slipcovers and pillows — Okay, so this one may not be classic Pahlmann advice. But real estate agent Linda Grotenstein said this home has been beloved in so many ways — including, the owners matched the jelly beans to the slipcovers, which are switched out each season. Gribbit!
Want to buy this beauty? You need 1.4 million clams — I’d demand all the furniture and accessories, too, of course! See Linda’s listing for this gorgeous home here.