bloomies book of home decorating
An expert once noted, ‘As Barbara D’Arcy goes, so goes the nation.’ And some of us still do.
You may not know Barbara D’arcy by name, but chances are you’ve seen her influence. As chief decorator at Bloomingdale’s Lexington Avenue flagship in Manhattan, she has been credited with influencing an entire generation’s taste in decor. In 1952, D’arcy joined the Bloomie’s staff, working in the fabric department as a junior decorator. But with her imaginative style and fearless use of color, she quickly moved up the ranks, landing as the Fashion Director of Home Furnishings a mere six years later.
D’arcy is most well-known for the elaborate model rooms she dreamed four times a year. The almost-livable settings were more museum exhibit than department store display, as would-be decorators would stand and gawk from behind the velvet ropes on the store’s fifth floor. (This included Kirk White, a decorator at a rival store who came to Bloomie’s so suss out the competition. In 1966, D’arcy and White married.) In the 1973 book Bloomingdale’s Book of Home Decorating, you can see dozens of these rooms close-up, along with commentary on how D’arcy pulled them off and how you can too. She literally traveled all over the world to do research for her designs, casually name-dropping exotic locations throughout the pages: “I brought this beautiful terra cotta mantel from Italy” “this room … was a recreation of a room I had seen in a Palace in Portugal”. And rooms were often named after the people who influenced them, like Pierre Cardin and Victor Vasarely.
Of all the styles that D’arcy is credited with bringing into mainstream interior design — glass and chrome furnishings, ‘Country French’, orange anything — we’re really drawn to her use of multi-level architecture. From platforms and risers to conversation pits, multi-levels were one of her hallmarks, and one she employed often in her Bloomie rooms. ‘We are accustomed to think of walls when it comes to dividing a space…But cubes in space can function the same way,’ she wrote in the book. ‘The change of levels from one area to another provides different vistas. It’s much like viewing an area from down in a valley, and again from atop a hill.’ She was also a fan of mixing textures and eras. In a 1972 interview, she said ‘I love the shine and beauty of certain pieces of plastic furniture, combined with old wood pieces.’ In 1979, D’arcy oversaw the remodeling of Bloomingdale’s first floor, a design that remains today. Those black and white color scheme, checkerboard floors and marble counters? They’re all her.
The Cave Room, created using urethane foam in a can.
The Pierre Cardin Room
“In Japan, I visited a converted country farm-house…While there, I sketched the architectural details
and reproduced them in this model room.’
‘The room would certainly belong to a member of the Saturday Generation.’
‘I designed a supergraphic to run across the floor, up the wall, over the ceiling and back down again.’
‘The setting, the arrangement and the use of a multi-level platform give it a feeling of distinction.’
‘For those who like a middle line between traditional and modern.’
‘If you have an ugly view or windows that are not particularly exciting,
you could use a light wall in place of drapery…’
The Victor Vasarely Room
‘Wall projections. They’re very complicated to do, but they can be extraordinarily dramatic.’
‘Illuminated, architectural supergraphic.’