I was and am so excited to learn about Henri Samuel as I have never heard of him before, and now it seems his name is popping up all the time. so I want to share with you a fabulously talented designer who was insanely influential. When you look at his images you will
see how much of an interior design influence he was and is on today’s market. From Miles Redd to other great French inspired Traditionalists.
Where clothes are concerned, the only person I trust is Balenciaga,” Mary de Rothschild used to say. “The same goes for Henri Samuel in the field of decoration.” This encomium—which her cousin Edmond de Rothschild chose as a preface to
the auction catalogue of Henri Samuel’s collections at Christie’s Monaco—speaks volumes for the elegance of this great designer. It was an elegance that was appreciated by the most demanding of clients, notably the Rothschilds, the Vanderbilts,
Samuel was all the more at ease with high society because he himself was the scion of a refined and wealthy family. His father had been a banker and his grandfather a dealer in antiques. The young Samuel was originally headed toward a career in high finance,
but after two years’ apprenticeship on Wall Street he returned to decoration, his first love. At the age of twenty-one, in 1925, he went to work for Jansen, the noted design firm. He couldn’t have chosen a better place to learn his trade—there he assisted Stéphane Boudin,
the most celebrated interior architect in the profession. After moving briefly to Ramsay, another decorating house, Samuel took over the management of Alavoine before starting his own firm. His clientele was built up by word of mouth in Paris, London, Lisbon, Munich,
New York, Palm Beach and Los Angeles. All over the world people clamored for the “Samuel style.”
But what was it? Samuel himself confessed that even he was incapable of supplying a definition. What is certain is that he always sought to adapt his work to the spirit of each place and project and to the personalities of the people for whom it was intended.
He never did the same thing twice.
Samuel was one of the first true experts at mixing genres. He delighted in juxtaposing Louis XVI décor with abstract paintings or in placing Louis XIII cheek by jowl with Oriental objects. This eclecticism was reflected in his own home, a Louis XVI town
house on Paris’s rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. Visitors were amazed to discover a painting by Richard Lindner over an Empire table, Neoclassical chairs beside a table by Diego Giacometti and—why not?—armchairs made of brass and Plexiglas designed by Philippe Hiquily.
Yet if Henri Samuel was ready to sanction such flourishes, it was because he had not only perfect taste but also a perfect knowledge of the various styles and their history. When Gérald Van der Kemp engaged him to restore the Empire rooms at Versailles in 1957,
it caused a great stir; the lords of the museum world had never previously resorted to outside advisers. But in this project and others Henri Samuel was a master at the art of conferring a measure of intimacy on historic surroundings. Indeed, intimacy was a key word in
his scheme of things, and in recognition of this talent, the Metropolitan Museum in New York called on him to devise a mise-en-scène for the Wrightsman and Linsky donations, two collections of decorative arts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.