Barbara D’Arcy White of East Hampton and Manhattan, a powerhouse in the decorating field whose influence extended far beyond the “model rooms” at Bloomingdale’s that were her babies for decades, died on May 10 at Southampton Hospital of complications from pulmonary disease after a short illness. She was 84.
Between 1958 and 1973, Ms. D’Arcy, as she was known professionally, designed hundreds of small rooms for the store, each on a different theme -— Danish modern, French county, Southern antebellum — which upwardly mobile New Yorkers came to gape at as if they were in a museum, and to take away ideas for decorating their own apartments. The rooms had a roped-off area all to themselves on the fifth floor of the Lexington Avenue store, conveniently next door to the home furnishings department, and if the gapers later bought one or another item there, Ms. D’Arcy had accomplished her commercial goal.
Orange was her favorite color. Her house on Terbell Lane, where she and her husband, Kirk White, lived for 40 years, reflected that preference, especially in the kitchen. When The Star interviewed the couple 10 years ago, she said the house, which was part of an old Gardiner estate, was “a dump” when they moved in, but soon became the setting for a great many objects “that represented our taste and lifelong loves.” They traveled the world to decorate it.
Ms. D’Arcy, who was the author of “Bloomingdale’s Book of Home Decorating,” joined the store in 1952, as a junior decorator in the fabric department. An outgoing and attractive redheaded dynamo, she had graduated not long before from the College of New Rochelle, a Catholic school for women. By the time she met Mr. White, at a cocktail party in the 1960s, she had a devoted following of New York designers.
Mr. White, who at the time was head of the decorating department at W.J. Sloane, told The Star he first noticed her on a reconnaissance mission to Bloomingdale’s. He had already cased the furniture floors of other major department stores, he said, but the model rooms took his breath away. He described them as “eye-popping. Outlandish.” The couple married in 1966. They had no children.
Ms. D’Arcy was born on April 3, 1928, to James Joseph D’Arcy and the former Ida Marie Etzel in Manhattan, and attended Hunter Model School, one of the city’s most sought-after public schools, now Hunter Elementary and High School. She was with Bloomingdale’s for 42 years, eventually becoming the head of store design and visual display, and was named a vice president in 1975. She retired in 1995.
In the course of her career she traveled to some 80 countries, both for business and pleasure, picking up treasures wherever she went. A member of the Decorators Club in Manhattan and of the Ladies Village Improvement Society here, her many awards and honors included the Elsie de Wolfe Award for Interior Design.
In the city, she belonged to the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, where funeral services were held on Monday. In East Hampton, she and her husband attended both Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Both her brothers, Paul F. D’Arcy and Albert D’Arcy, predeceased her.
A memorial service will be held at St. Luke’s in June. The family has suggested memorial contributions to the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, 869 Lexington Avenue, New York 10065, or to the Southampton Hospital Foundation, 240 Meetinghouse Lane, Southampton 11968.