Do you know…
America’s first decorator?
The master at tailored relaxed traditionalism?
Who started the mix of humble and haute to great acclaim?
Love traditional interiors and the grandmillennial look, but unsure which traditional designers to go to for inspiration?
This series is for you!
We are continuing our look at important interior decorators with part II of the series. To read part I click here.
Learn about 3 more traditional designers every grandmillennial should know:
No. 4 Elise de Wolfe
Credited as America’s first decorator who brought a dash of celebrity to the profession, de Wolfe set out to eradicate the heavy overly embellished Victorian style from interiors. Born (1865) into a well-todo New York family, de Wolf was part of the social scene and even presented at court to Queen Victoria as a teenager. De Wolfe actually started her career as an actress on the New York stage, but she was better known for her onstage wardrobe than her performances, and she quickly became a taste-maker for the fashion minded. Styling French gowns by the likes of Paquin, Doucet, and Worth, these buying trips to Paris also introduced her to the architecture and interior design of the 18th century, which she came to adore.
De Wolfe got her first taste of interior decorating when her mentor and lover Elisabeth “Bessie” Marbury encouraged de Wolfe to decorate her home– Irving Place, which de Wolfe and Marbury were living together in by 1887. Her next big break came when she was commissioned to decorate the Colony Club in Manhattan, an elite social club for women that she helped to found along with Madeline Astor, Anne Harriman Vanderbilt, Anne Morgan and Payne Whitney.
Her work at the Colony Club earned de Wolfe acclaim and future work for its light filled interiors, pale color scheme, yards of chintz, and delicate French antiques. Of particular note and praise was her indoor garden pavilion, which featured trellis work on the walls and ceiling with wicker furniture and ivy in abundance. This became her signature style, and as she put it:
“I opened the doors and windows of America, and let the air and sunshine in.”
Although de Wolfe went on to design for the likes of Cole Porter, Condé Nast, Henry Frick, and the Duchess of Windsor, she shared her talent and decorating agenda with the broader public, writing for a ladies pattern book of the day a column on domestic style and then compiling her advice in the 1913 bestselling book, The House in Good Taste.
What de Wolfe is known for –
“I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint, comfortable chairs with lights beside them, open fires on the hearth and flowers wherever they ‘belong’, mirrors and sunshine in all rooms.”~ Elise de Wolfe
“Plain walls are the refuge of the artistically destitute.”~Elise de Wolfe
Let the light in! Be practical! De Wolfe’s book is filled with practical decorating solutions and advice that takes into account how one actually lives within a space. Don’t get so caught up in “the look” that you make a space unlivable.
The House in Good Taste by Elise de Wolfe
“The House in Good Taste – Elise de Wolfe” The London List
“Elise de Wolfe the American Pioneer Who Vanquished Victorian Gloom” Architectural Digest
Elise de Wolfe: The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration by Penny Sparke
No. 5 Mark Hampton
Mark Hampton is a highly regarded and recognizable name in the design world notably for his “relaxed traditionalism” that led him to design multiple projects for the Bush family, including the Oval Office during Bush senior’s presidency. Remembered as a genial person who’s vast knowledge of decorative arts and architectural history greatly informed his decorating, Hampton could work in any style to meet his clients’ needs. He even started out in modernism under the guidance of David Hicks.
But by the early 80’s, clients sought him out for his tailored traditionalism that blended antiques for a sumptuous comfortability. As he called it:
“a nice, undercooked look,” going on to add that “the single greatest vulgarity in interior decoration is pretentiousness.”
Hampton’s rooms were also remarkable for their architectural detail and sense of porportion.
Hampton grew up on the family farm in rural Plainfield, Indiana, and following the wishes of his parents, he first set out for law school at the University Michigan before following his own passions and switching to design. Sensitive to his profession’s perceived triviality, he wrote in the introduction to his 1989 book Mark Hampton on Decorating:
“to transform the bleak and the barren into welcoming places where one can live seems to me an important and worthwhile goal in life.”
What Hampton is known for – An expert blend of floral chintzes, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiques, both English and American, botanical and architectural prints, tailored but comfortable furnishings in a space that felt formal but lacked pretentiousness.
Hampton’s spaces feel formal but also warm and inviting. Look at the way he uses color, texture, and symmetry to create a feeling of comfort and charm.
“Decorators to Know: Mark Hampton” 1st Dibs
Mark Hampton Remembrance New York Times
Mark Hampton: An American Decorator by Duane Hampton
No. 6 George Stacey
Known for his flair, eclecticism, and modernization of traditional style, George Stacey defined American Chic for mid-century interior design circles. A graduate of Parsons, Stacey eschewed his family’s lumber business to study design first working as an antiques dealer and then a designer, training under Rose Cumming. Stacey famously mixed humble and haute in his spaces, combining Steuben crystal with klismos chairs, repurposed tableware, gilt wood with rattan, and super saturated shades with clean modern lines.
His famous collaborative partnership with socialite Frances Cheney really put him on the map after he re-decorated her Long Island house, which was dubbed an “Art Deco Monticello.” Stacey went on to design for society names like Duke, Astor, Whitney as well as celebrities like Diana Vreeland, Ava Gardner, and even royalty, assisting Princess Grace with her palace in Monaco. Biographer Maureen Footer credits Stacey’s work and style as directly influencing other important designers like Sister Parish and Billy Baldwin.
What Stacey is known for – An effortless blend of high and low that felt whimsical and fresh. He understood Classicism and so broke it’s rules with skill and flair.
Stacey’s saturated colors are inspiration to go bold and mix bright, intense hues. The way he uses them on antiques and streamlined furniture alike feels very modern and fresh.
George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic by Maureen Footer
“Style Legend: George Stacey” Veranda
George Stacey Remembrance New York Times
“A Client, Her Decorator, Nine Homes (And a Funeral)” House Beautiful
Stay tuned for part III of the traditional designers every grandmillennial should know!