Thursday, March 12, 2009

Design Icon: Elsie De Wolfe

I would be remiss if I let Women's month go by without paying a little tribute to the fearless women interior designers that have come before us and paved the way.

Interior Decoration as we know it all started with Elsie de Wolfe
( 1865-1950)

A devotee of amateur theatricals, she turned to stage after father’s death, but retired early after a lackluster career. It could have been the rumors that her Paris couture was better received than her acting. Borrowing on her flair for the dramatic, Elsie created an occupation where none existed- Decorating. Through her society connections she was awarded the commission for the Colony Club in New York City. The Trellis Room at the Club “made” her. She is still known today for her latticework creations and wanting painting furniture white at the height of the dark and gloomy Victorian Era.

The Colony Club Trellis Room

Three things helped advance her career; her success as a set designer; her society connections; her own house’s decoration. In 1913 she wrote a series of articles for Good Housekeeping and they were complied into a book, The House in Good Taste. A longtime Francophile (no wonder I admire her) she used the rules of French architecture to collaborate on several houses integrating both disciplines with her mentor Ogden Coleman.
The small world of early 19th century society and Coleman connected to another first lady of Decoration- Edith Wharton. The design network continued when she discovered Tony Duquette. Drawn to his extravagant furniture, she commissioned pieces from him to disguise the lack of architecture in her projects that are still sought after today.

Her Hallmarks
Wolfe believed 18th century France was the peak of civilization and exemplified it in her beloved Villa Trianon. She treated houses as living, breathing things to be cherished. Wolfe is credited with creating the concept of decorating for a lifestyle- the art of living. There have been decorators as innovative as her; but she was the first to sell a concept. Elsie’s houses reflected a connoisseur's knowledge of the past that were always nothing but chic and luxurious.White’s style principles shone through in her interiors- simplicity, airiness; visual unity. Her favorite color scheme was green, white and black and a signature was her bathrooms that looked like sitting rooms.

Wolfe’s Style Iconography
Treillage ~Painted Furniture ~Rock Crystal ~Tented Ceilings ~Mirrors ~Trompe l’oeil
Awning Stripes ~Glass topped tables ~Writing desks and Secretarys ~Chaise Lounges
Chinoserie ~Campaign Furniture

Her Stylistic Heirs
Tony Duquette ~ Charles Faudree ~ Syrie Maugham
Whose style(s) are you heir to? Let me know.

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