19 April 2011

A Top Ten Design Legend List

It's no secret that when it comes to the twentieth century, most design schools focus on modernism.  While students learn all about the Bauhaus to Post-Modernism, traditionalism doesn't get a look in.  Elsie de who?

So when I was asked recently to lecture to F.I.T.'s interior design club on the subject of my choosing, I thought why not take to opportunity to fill this gap as best as possible.  I only had 40 minutes, so I set the parameters of:
10 designers
only American
only traditionalists (i.e. reference historical styles)
active in the 20th century.

1.  Elsie de Wolfe - my starting point as arguably the first professional lady decorator

de Wolfe transformed a stuffy formal ballroom into a trellised indoor fantasy for Bess Marbury

2.  Mrs. Eleanor Brown, McMillen, Inc.  

As an early graduate of the new Parsons School of Design, Eleanor Stockstrom McMillen Brown approached her firm with a head for business.  That it is still thriving almost a century later is testament to its excellent foundation.  McMillen, Inc.'s style was heavily influenced by the fine neoclassical furniture sourced by Parsons' Paris Atelier founder William Odom.

 Mrs. Brown's own dining room - timeless elegance.

3.  Dorothy Draper

Draper made her reputation during the Depression as the one to call to give a project an overhaul on time and within budget.  She not only delivered, she delivered BIG - literally blowing up proportion and scale to exuberant effect.

The Greenbrier, Draper's masterpiece, called "Brigadoon" by one guest and that's exactly right.

4.  Billy Baldwin

From here on, men dominate the list.  Baldwin in many ways was the Bonnie Cashin of interiors bringing an American sportswear attitude to high style.  Cotton upholstery, humble materials such as rattan wrapped tables, and the like all brought everything but the chic factor down a notch.

A client's Matisse inspires the custom print of the upholstery.

5.  William Pahlmann

In his day, Pahlmann was considered the most influential decorator of the 20th century along with Elsie de Wolfe.  Eclectic decor?  He invented it.  His contributions to retailing are equally important.  He began his career on Lord & Taylor's fifth floor of home furnishings and was the first to set up themed vignettes.  As Charlotte Moss says, it's all about giving ideas and did he ever.

6.  Tony Duquette

Duquette never forgot the magic of fantasy and bedazzled his rooms with as much whimsy as trompe l'oeil.  "More is more" is definitely more in my book and if life should be a musical, then a Duquette room is the perfect soundstage.

7.   Parish Hadley

The perfect combination of cozy and curatorial, Sister Parish and Albert Hadley complemented each other beautifully like a chocolate covered pretzel.

8.  Michael Taylor
Taylor was a complete original and proved it with his California look.  Oh what an eye (and the extravagant ego to match)!

9.  Mario Buatta

The Prince of Chintz brought the English Country House style to Manhattan penthouses and how.  Buatta is also a king of color and comfort.

10.  Michael Smith
What better way to round out the list with the Obama's designer.  Architectural Digest EIC Peggy Russell certainly agrees - Smith graced the cover of her first completely new issue.  While Smith knows his way around Fine French Furniture, he trades in brocades for cool Indian-inspired prints.

What do you think?  Who made or didn't make your list?