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Celebrating Women Who Paved The Way in Interior Design

Women were first making their mark in the interior design and decorating industry just over 100 years ago.  In the early 1900’s two talented and innovative women were instrumental in opening people’s eyes to new and refreshing decorating options.  We’d like to celebrate their contributions to our industry in this blog by telling you a little bit about each of them.

Elsie de Wolfe is known as the first commissioned Interior Decorator in America.  She was born in 1859 in New York City and started her professional career as an actress in the 1890’s.  It was her great fashion sense that was first noticed. As an actress she was praised for her wardrobe selection, which consisted of couture fashions she personally ordered from Paris.  In 1905, de Wolfe decided to become a professional decorator and one of her first jobs was decorating The Colony Club, New York City’s first women’s club. The public immediately took notice of her work. In a time where dark furnishings, heavy drapes, thick rugs and limited color use were the norm, de Wolfe’s feminine style stood out.  Her designs featured glazed chintz, tiled floors, light drapes, pale walls, and wicker chairs, a welcome change to dark and heavy interiors!

Elsie de Wolfe’s career took off and she wrote the book “The House in Good Taste” in 1913.  After The Colony Club, she went on to decorate more clubs, private homes all over the country and in Paris and even a dormitory at The Barnard College.

Another native New Yorker, Dorothy Draper is marked in history for establishing the first American interior design firm in 1923 at a time when women owned businesses were very rare.  Draper invented “Modern Baroque” style, which was a grand departure from the period room decor of the times. The distinctions of her interiors included the use of never before seen vibrant color combinations such as pink and chartreuse or black and white.   

Her look was dubbed the “Draper Touch” and featured cabbage rose chintz with bold stripes, black and white checkered floors, and intricate plaster designs and moldings over doors and on walls and ceilings.  She loved designing open spaces for hotels, resorts and theaters.  She also designed jet plane and automotive interiors! You can still see her work in The Victorian Writing Room at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulpher Springs, WV.

Elsie de Wolfe and Dorothy Draper were pioneers of American interior design.  Their confidence in presenting new ideas in design to the public is admirable and inspirational.  It reinforces the idea that creativity, focus and positive attitude are qualities of successful individuals.  

If you have the creativity and drive to start your own decorating business, we’d like to talk to you about a Décor & You franchise opportunity. Decor&You® has the experience, knowledge, resources, education and ongoing support to help you build a very successful and profitable decorating practice with no experience necessary.

Call our Southbury, Connecticut  Decor&you today for your free color consultation 203-405-2126

elsie de wolfe dorothy draper design history interior design history


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