The Rise of the Interior Designer & Reynolda Pool

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The Rise of the Interior Designer & Reynolda Pool

By Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs | @LearnReynolda

The Reynolda pool was part of the larger renovation project spearheaded by Mary Reynolds Babcock (daughter of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds) after acquiring Reynolda in 1934. With the indoor pool and basement game room, Mary planned to make the family home more “modernistic.”

Today, homeowners use tools like Pinterest and Houzz to piece together their vision. In the 1930s, Mary clipped articles and pictures of modern architecture and design, including the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, which, she concluded in a note written on a margin, was “to stir imagination. But not so extreme.”

The Rise of the Interior Decorator in America

Mary Babcock’s correspondence with her interior decorator gives a clear sense of her up-to-date color schemes for furniture, rugs, and drapery. She hired Eleanor McMillen Brown, founder of McMillen, Inc., a pioneer in the field of interior decoration. Brown ran what was probably the first professional full-service interior decorating firm in America and counted among her clients the Paleys, Fords, Aldriches, and President and Mrs. Johnson for the private quarters of the White House.  

Attending both business and secretarial school after having studied design for three years at the Parsons School in New York and Paris, Mrs. Brown was revered for her ability to combine great style with a keen sense of business. Moreover instead of working from her living room, as so many decorators have done when starting out, she took $13,000 of her own money and opened an office in a town house on East 55th Street. 

"I thought if I was going to do it at all, I'd better do it professionally," she once said. "That's why it's McMillen Inc. and not Eleanor McMillen. I wasn't one of the ladies " (New York Times Obituary, 1991).

Left: Art Deco Bar, Right: Mary Reynolds Babcock with friends in bar

Brown assigned a “baseball nine” of designers from McMillen, Inc. to the project, and on occasion she “stopped by” Reynolda herself to check on the arrangement of furniture in the new guest house and in the Bungalow. She advised unified color schemes in bedrooms, which became known as Pink, White, Yellow, Blue, and Maple Rooms. Tropical floral patterns were introduced to the porches, harmonizing with the potted palms, not to mention the Macaws in the pool birdcages. Large sofas were re-upholstered in muted greens and coral.

Sun Porch 


Game Room

Interested in Design? Visit the Museum before December 31, 2014 to see The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design and be inspired by the American story of furniture design.

Visit us online! Browse our online gallery of the Chairs at Reynolda.

This blog is part of a series that highlights the significance of Reynolda’s indoor pool and tracks the progress of the current Reynolda Pool Restoration Project. Follow #ReynoldaPool for updates.

#ReynoldaPool Project Update from Rebecca Eddins, Project Director: We are not yet midway through the project, but we've seen a great deal of progress over the last few months. Abatement has been completed along with glass removal and painting of the trusses and trim.  Below the pool itself, work on the plumbing has been ongoing.  The new glass has been delayed a few weeks coming from the manufacturer.  We expect a crew from Ludy Greenhouse Company to arrive next week and begin installation of the glass.  This is scheduled to take roughly four to five weeks. See photographs of the project on our Flickr page.

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