When Designers Were BraveObelisk Home
At a time when posting every detail of life, over-sharing and inundating our peers with hash tags, blog posts, e-blasts and TMI– how could anyone’s personal decorating DNA ever be considered cutting edge, contentious or controversial?
It takes a lot to raise an eyebrow these days, especially when it pertains to interior design–our most personal form of self-expression. There was a time when interior decorating could and did cause quite a stir, long before the interior design industry had style influencers, style spotters or thought leaders. There was a day when the interior design profession was entirely new and those inventing the profession had completely original, innovative and provocative ideas.
Elsie De Wolf, considered to have invented the profession of decorating, was first a powerhouse socialite, at a time when women–especially well-heeled women, didn’t have professions, much less bill their peers for services. Elsie encouraged clients to clear out their cloying but conventional Victorian clutter and lighten up their dull, dreary spaces with light color, mirrors and freshly painted furniture. “I opened the doors and windows of America, and let the sunshine in!” claimed Elsie.
Another controversial, blue blood decorator, Dorothy Draper, possessed what was considered to be a rare combination of both brains and bravado. Her stunning spaces were bursting with strong color and bold high-pastiche architecture. Glamorous, over-scaled cabbage roses danced against black and white marble floors. The self-assured Dorothy was as confident as she was striking, insisting on decorating her way or no way—shocking some, but ultimately turning brisk opinions into classic style statements that are still admired and immolated today.
Jean Michel Frank created modern, minimal architecture then surprised everyone by layering his elegantly lean spaces with maximalist décor. The French born designer brought a cavalier and chic sophistication to interior design with his use of sumptuous materials like parchment and shagreen he wrapped around tables and desks, sheepskin clad club chairs and arresting modern art. His unexpected design philosophy was a dichotomy of clean and curated, mind blowing at the time and to this day, the reason we have come to love spaces with tension.
Albert Hadley’s design-minded opposite and longtime business partner, Sister Parish, is also one of our courageous design favorites. This strong willed tastemaker popularized American Country décor; insisting style and comfort could live happily ever after. While helping Jackie Kennedy redecorate the White House, Sister managed to bring handmade quilts, rag rugs and miles of floral prints into the formal and mix—adeptly but controversially turning the “nations home” into a family home.
Each of these early design pioneers were daring because of their unique and visionary ideas. With conviction, clarity and consistency, each of these design heroes ignored the conventional thinking of their day and brought a new perspective to their new profession.
Without the support and influence that designers rely on today, these fearless decorators brought about lasting change. They doggedly, stubbornly and passionately expressed their opinions about lifestyles, décor, good-taste, excessiveness, minimalism, craftsmanship and modernity without inspiration from trade magazines, websites, licensing contracts, social media, blog posts, tweets or Pinterest boards. They were instinctive, plucky, originals– brave enough to just be themselves.
And that turned out to be more than enough.