• A Parish-Hadley interior, photographed by Peter Frank Edwards/Redux

  • An interior by Parish-Hadley alum Brian Murphy, from Parish-Hadley Tree of Life, photographed by Sergio Villatoro

  • Caroline Kennedy’s bedroom at the White House, 1962, courtesy of JFK Library

  • Jackie Kennedy’s bedroom at the White House, 1962, courtesy of JFK Library

For interior design aficionados, Parish-Hadley Associates is an institution. Founded by Sister Parish (née Dorothy May Kinnicutt) and Albert Hadley, the firm had an indelible impact on American interiors, from the Sixties through the Nineties. Consider their clientele: the Astors, the Rockefellers, the Gettys, the Kennedys at the White House… See the slideshow above for some of our favorite rooms.

But few know that Parish-Hadley Associates was also a finishing school of sorts for many of today’s designers, churning out notable alums such as Bunny Williams, Brian McCarthy, Kevin McNamara, Harold Simmons and many others. The new book Parish-Hadley Tree of Life (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Williams and McCarthy, tells the story of the legendary firm through their eyes and their memories. Here, a few excerpts from the people who knew Parish and Hadley the best.

“Albert and Sister were yin and yang. The design part of it, the control, was Albert. I learned design from Albert. Even Sister learned design from Albert. With Albert, I saw the real design process in action. You start with elevations and floor plans. You learn to look at a room. You just don’t accept the room as is…. You walk in, it’s like a doctor giving the patient a checkup: What’s good here, what’s bad there, and then you come up with a plan to fix it.” Bunny Williams

“[Mrs. Parish had] a brilliant appreciation of wit. Once in Women’s Wear Daily, the editors had put together a timeline of fashion at the Winter Antiques Show, with photographs of highlights over a 15- or 20-year period. They must have shown Mrs. Parish three times, and she had on the same dress every time. The editors had not commented on it. They simply captioned the photos: ‘This is Mrs. Henry Parish II, 1965, 1972, 1980,’ or something like that. She thought that was hysterical. Some people would be mortified. Not her.” — John Tackett

“I came away from Parish-Hadley with one hard-and-fast rule: Comfort is the essence of decorating. It is not about sharp edges, or sharp colors. It is not anything that swears at you or jumps out at you. There is a softness and a gentleness about a well-decorated room that I equate with comfort. Anything that you can snag your stockings on is not comfort, even though it might look great.” Libby Cameron

“Just after we completed the [Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.], Mrs. Parish was invited to one of Mrs. Reagan’s frequent dinner parties at the White House. She was seated at a table with Don Johnson — this was during the heyday of Miami Vice. The next morning, I met with her to take her on a little tour of the Ritz-Carlton, where she was staying, because she hadn’t seen anything beyond the schemes. The first thing she said to me was, ‘You are not going to believe…’ She was so excited because Don Johnson, whom she thought the handsomest man in the world, had written his phone number on a napkin and given it to her. She pulled it out of her bag to show me. She was like a little girl who had just met her idol. It was priceless.” — Brian McCarthy

“One of the biggest things Albert taught me is to experiment. Design and decorating can be changed, but it’s better to try an idea on paper than to build it and then decide that it’s a disaster. Generate the ideas. Get them out there on paper. Then edit. That’s how we worked.” Douglas C. Wright

“As difficult as I found Mrs. Parish personally, I have great respect for what she did. She was fearless. She would buy these expensive rugs, and then cut them up to fit the room ‘Of course,’ she’d say, ‘if you save the pieces, you can reattach them back later.’” — Nicholas Miles Pentecost