Referencing Cultural Context: The President Hotel by William Pahlmann

Presented by: Morris Hylton III, Nam-kyu Park

Referencing Cultural Context: The President Hotel by William Pahlmann William Carroll Pahlmann (1900-1987) was a prolific and acclaimed interior designer during the postwar period. Eschewing a strictly traditional or modern style, Pahlmann developed an eclectic approach to interiors that mixed furnishings, decorative objects, and fine art from different periods and cultures. In describing the cultural references in his work, Pahlmann said, “Decoration today is a veritable United Nations of Art. It is a wedding of ideas and an exchange of ideas from many countries and many sources.” The focus on other cultures may have derived in part from Pahlmann’s understanding of the American context during the decades that followed the Second World War, particularly the economic prosperity that allowed for greater home ownership and increased travel. “A contemporary house,” he offered, “may have styles from diverse periods and places…travels are definitely influencing our styles of architecture and decoration.” Pahlmann’s referencing of past and other cultures while creating interiors tailored to contemporary lifestyles resonated with corporate as well as residential clients. In the 1950s and 1960s, Pahlmann would complete some 20 hotel projects. One of his largest commissions was the 19-story, 800-room President Hotel in Hong Kong (1962-1963). The owners requested that the hotel have “western comfort,” but incorporate “Chinese motifs and artistic treatment.” The project received an award from Institutions Magazine who described the hotel as blending “the romance and color of the Orient” with “American technology.” This presentation shares the results of a case study analysis of the interiors of the President Hotel. The content of primary source materials was examined including rendered perspectives and drawings, specifications, correspondence, historic images, and the designer’s own writings. The President Hotel example provides insight into Pahlmann’s design strategy. Chinese culture is integrated through color palettes, decorative arts and antiques, and ornamental elements. Many of the fabrics and some of the furniture were sourced locally despite sanctions by the United States. At a moment of burgeoning globalization, William Pahlmann offered an alternative direction by contextualizing his interior designs through cultural references.


  • Pahlmann, William. The Pahlmann Book of Interior Design. New York: Cromwell, 1955.
  • Scope and Content of Series XIV “A Matter of Taste” Column, William Pahlmann papers (Accession 2388), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807 (
  • William Pahlmann papers (Accession 2388), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807 (
  • Zolotow, Maurice. “Million-Dollar Decorator.” Saturday Evening Post. No 21 (1957): 28, 141.
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