Michael Krieger Remembers a Decorating Legend
My father was friendly with the prominent Decorator, Kevin MacNamara’s brother, and through him I was able to get an interview when 23 years old as an aspiring entrant in the then small world of American Decorating. Out of College, I had spent a year or so at Olgivy & Mather, the advertising giant, but longed for a different career, one in decorating, after being inspired by meeting the brilliant Albert Hadley and the now unknown but equally brilliant Harrison Cultra. The interview was short – I was told that because I had a blue blazer, and could speak English well, I had the job!
At the time, Kevin was on the short list of top decorators in America, and based in New York City, as most were then, he was an alumni of the legendary firms McMillen & Co. and Parish Hadley. As such, Kevin was well versed in the fresh “waspy” look that was the hallmark of those firms, but as time wore on he became increasingly infatuated with French architecture, furniture and decorations which became the basis of his “look” in the later part of his career. French was it, and was the focus of books littering the office, boozy lunchtime conversations at Gino’s on Lexington Avenue, and during the creation of “schemes” for the current clients. In particular, the book Les Pavillons: French Pavillons of the Eighteenth Century was a great source of inspiration and in which was a chateau that inspired Kevin’s house in East Hampton. Kevin was obsessed in creating the perfect French House, a passion that was furthered by his good friend Richard Neas, the accomplished decorative painter, whom shared the same infatuation.
It is important to note that that during this particular era in American decorating a fantasy such as this was encouraged and possible. After the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s when modernism was king for all but a very few of an exclusive super rich group, as the Mellons, the Rockefellers, the Whitneys, and the like, there was a resurgence in all things Classical and traditional. Furthermore, Kevin was the last of a generation of decorators trained in the old school where everything, mostly, was handmade by craftsmen who where often trained in families of generational craftsman. Trips to Europe to source fabulous antique furniture and decorations were de rigueur and Kevin had a stockpile for his French pavillon.
For quite awhile, Kevin had called his weekend home, shared with his then partner ,Peter McKean, a pioneer in home audio, a charming cottage on a back street behind the local gay watering hole in Wainscott. This was an informal affair, with a “provincial” flavor, and base camp for Kevin, Peter, and a constant stream of assistants and friends. As charming as it was, it wasn’t the statement house that the top decorators at the time were producing for themselves and Kevin wanted his!
The creation of the house, whose contents that Stair Galleries is now selling, was the pentultimate expression of Kevin’s skill, taste and expertise. Kevin was part of an era in American Decorating that I refer to as The Golden Era and he was at his height when creating his French pavillon in East Hampton. No detail was overlooked, no object unvetted, and every aspect of this creation was the culmination of his considerable experience and talent.