Elsie de Wolfe is credited with being the first woman to make a career as an interior designer. She re belled against the cluttered, dark, Victorian look of her childhood and instead gave rooms a light, airy feel reminiscent of 18th century French style. A true Francophile, she married a French diplomat and took great enjoyment in scandalizing the court. Shortly after her marriage she entered a ball doing handsprings.
The famous cocktail parties at her salon in Gramercy Park were always the talk of the town and the place to be. De Wolfe heralded in a new era of interior design. Her rooms were always open and col orful with a touch of whimsy. Her use of faux finishes and animal prints continue to inspire us today.
In 1923, Dorothy Draper established the first interior design firm in the United States, which is still in business today. Born into a high society family, Draper began designing for her friends after they admired her own home. This led to a book called “Decorating is Fun!: How to Be Your Own Decorator” and the attention of architects.
Draper is best known today for her work in large public spaces including the Carlyle Hotel in New York, the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, and the “Dorotheum” restaurant at the Metropolitan Mu seum of Art. Her décor is high-style, bold and modern with exaggerated traditional elements. She loved to use bright, juicy colors combined with oversized black and white checkerboard floors.
A cousin of Dorothy Draper, Sister Parish had a very different design style from her relative. Her nick name came from being the only girl in a family of boys, but she was often mistaken for a nun during her career. Known for a biting wit and no-nonsense approach, Parish would take a tea cart through a new client’s house collecting unnecessary bric-a-brac as the first step in redesigning.
Parish is credited with popularizing the American country style during the 1960s. Her rooms were filled with flowery chintzes and fancy brocades combined with cozy patchwork quilts and rag rugs.
Jackie Kennedy hired Sister Parish to design a family home, and then brought her on as the first designer in the White House restoration project. Parish did most of the family’s private rooms and the Yellow Oval Room in her signature style.
Born in St. Louis, Zelina Brunschwig showed early talents in drawing and coloring. She graduated from Parsons in the 1920s and took a position as a designer for McMillen. When her husband Roger Brunschwig went to fight in World War II, she quit her job at McMillen and became the director of his company, Brunschwig & Fils.
Affectionately known as “Mrs. B,” she developed designs in bright, airy colors and introduced more cottons, as her European sources were unavailable in wartime. She is also credited with introducing the designers technique of scheming coordinates into showroom displays. Known for her gracious ness as a hostess and her firmness as a businesswoman, Mrs. B brought her distinctive French traditional style to America’s homes.